WASHINGTON, D.C. - If Twitter, Savannah River Site and the Presidential inauguration have anything in common, those paths met Thursday at an anti-nuclear demonstration in Washington, D.C., co-sponsored by a Navy veteran and activist John Penley.
The divergence of two presidential paths brings nuclear issues and SRS to the forefront of many minds. As the Obama Administration leaves and the Trump Administration takes charge, a suspended Russian nuclear agreement and a Twitter launched consideration of a “nuclear arms race” stand out.
Penley said, “It’s our fault the nuclear agreement with Russia broke down, Obama is responsible for that.”
The Russian agreement in question is the Plutonium Management and Distribution Agreement, which initiated construction of the yet unfinished Mixed Oxide Fuel fabrication facility, or MOX, in progress at SRS.
The agreement bound each of the two nations to de-militarize 34 metric tons of weapons usable plutonium. Under the agreement, the U.S. was to utilize MOX to turn plutonium into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors.
The Department of Energy under the Obama Administration announced last year it wanted to officially pursue an alternative method to handle the plutonium called dilute and dispose. In the fallout from that decision, Russian President Vladimir Putin suspended the agreement.
“That decision was a big surprise to me. I had a Russian reporter call me to ask for comment and I had to do some research,” Penley said.
He said if the U.S. and Russia start another nuclear arms race it would spread and he called the scenario deadly and, “very scary.”
Penley said that the bilateral agreement was a great bargaining chip and conversation item between the two nations. He also said that of the nuclear activity that has taken place over the years at SRS, he was in favor of the MOX facility. Penley said the facility would take a considerable amount of nuclear material out of the sphere of nuclear war –enough to construct more than 10,000 nuclear warheads.
His rally was inspired by the barrage of tweets from President-elect Trump calling for a bolstered nuclear arsenal. He said we got into a nuclear mess at the end of one administration and he hopes the next can do things a little differently.
“I hate to ask him for anything, but we are asking Trump to reestablish that treaty with Putin, I don’t think that would be hard to do,” Penley said.
The event drew a crowd and included a number of outspoken anti-nuclear activists, including former Green Party Presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein. Stein is not only an outspoken opponent of nuclear weapons, but also nuclear energy production – a future byproduct of an operational MOX facility.
MOX is over budget and years beyond deadline. The facility has seen decreasing funding over the last few years. The 2017 funding level is $340 million which has been called just enough to continue by some industry experts.
Penley said MOX is important not only for jobs in the area but is a key element in minimizing the nuclear arsenal and promoting America’s nuclear non-proliferation missions.
“It’s bad enough as it is,” he said. “But if another nuclear arms race happens, a whole lot of the world’s resource could get sunk into it.”