Environmental groups want to halt a plan to ship spent nuclear fuel from Scotland to Savannah River Site, saying it could make bomb-grade uranium more vulnerable to terrorists.
The spent fuel would be moved from the Dounreay research facility in Scotland to SRS, where its highly enriched uranium could be removed at the South Carolina site’s H Canyon facilities, said Tom Clements, southeastern nuclear campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth.
The material should instead be processed at Sellafield, a former weapons plant in Cumbria, United Kingdon, said Clements and another environmental group – Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment.
“As the United Kingdom has facilities which could handle this spent fuel, plans for its shipment to the Savannah River Site must be halted and it must be managed in the United Kingdom,” Clements said.
The plan to move the waste was revealed in public records, including a 2012 letter of authorization from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which said the schedule would be established by the U.S. Energy Department, the National Nuclear Security Administration and its Foreign Research Reactor Program.
That authorization was extended in June to Dec. 31, 2014.
Martin Forwood, a spokesman for the Cumbria group, said in a news release Thursday that sending the material to SRS contradicts the publicly announced plan by the U.K.’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to send the fuel to Sellafield.
“It also raises major concerns about the trans-Atlantic transport of this highly enriched uranium which, officially described as weapons grade material, is prime terrorist material,” Forwood said.
The U.S. government’s Foreign Research Reactor Program, initiated in 1996, is an effort to recover spent fuel from research reactors in other countries and safeguard it at Savannah River Site, where storage is provided in the site’s L Basin.
As of 2011, more than 15,000 spent fuel assemblies from two dozen countries were in storage at the site, with an additional 8,400 assemblies expected to arrive by 2019, according to a fact sheet from SRS contractor Savannah River Nuclear Solutions.
A major goal of the program is to reduce and safeguard weapons-usable nuclear materials at civilian sites across the world.
Opponents of the Dounreay shipment, however, believe it should be handled in the U.K., which has its own reprocessing facilities.
“While there are claims that the shipment would be done for nuclear non-proliferation reasons, the UK is a nuclear weapons state that must manage the material without considering dumping the problem on SRS,” Clements said.