Don't believe 'environmental groups' about SRS MOX project

 

 

I read an article in this newspaper March 14 that reported contentions by “environmental groups” (read that as anti-nuclear, anti-Savannah River Site) that the SRS mixed-oxide project costs were too high.

They based their concern on increased operating costs and costs to modify facilities rather than building a new facility to disassemble plutonium pits. The latter approach, if taken, is a cost-saving strategy, not an increase in cost.

 

ANOTHER PERPLEXING statement in the article is: “The groups contend the MOX program’s operating costs will exceed $10 million.” Indeed, the project’s own estimates are that annual operating costs of the facility will be on the order of $400 million, creating several hundred jobs for the next 20 years.

I spent a portion of my career participating in deliberations concerning the disposition of plutonium pits and other plutonium-bearing materials. I can assure you that there is no responsible, low-cost approach to managing plutonium. Every proposed solution costs a lot of money and/or leaves the plutonium vulnerable to recovery for use in nuclear weapons, and that includes what we are doing now – storage and surveillance.

The MOX project not only converts this material into a form that can never again be used for nuclear weapons but into a fuel that will produce $50 billion worth of electricity and will enable us to eliminate the expense of storage and surveillance of the plutonium in the future. From a societal point of view, we accomplish all of our stewardship and nonproliferation goals; eliminate the need for future costs of management of this material; and generate pollution-free energy.

We should not forget the reason we are doing this. We made a deal with the Russians after the collapse of the Soviet Union to reduce the number of strategic weapons in our arsenals. The Russians knew that the MOX approach would assure them that the plutonium would not be used in weapons again.

 

AS PART OF the same deal we agreed to buy enriched uranium from dismantled Soviet weapons. Those weapons once aimed at the United States and our allies now supply 10 percent of our electricity. These programs brought relief to a generation of Americans, Russians and people of all nations who had been living under the cloud of the Cold War, fearing the worst.

The MOX project is an incarnation of the notion of turning swords into plowshares. We should rejoice that we have agreements that reduce the nuclear weapons threat while turning the weapons into energy for schools, hospitals, manufacturing and homes.

One has to wonder how a legitimate “environmental” group can oppose a project that is such a perfect solution to the problems at hand. This project has not had a single environmental violation; has recorded more than 8 million work hours without a lost day because of injury; compiled a superb safety record; and the latest Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspection reported that the project is up to all safety and quality standards.

These groups complain that there are no takers yet for the MOX fuel. But when it is economical for utilities to use the fuel, agencies will buy it. It is a business decision. Getting paid for any of the cost of production of the MOX fuel is a bargain, as no other plutonium disposition option has any recovery-of-cost option.

 

THEY COMPLAIN that cost estimates for the completed project have changed. Of course, the final costs of the project will be different than projected in 2007 – prices change. The actions of these groups to obstruct progress on nuclear projects – whether it is MOX, new nuclear power plants or nuclear materials management programs – also contribute to the costs of these projects. Time is money and unnecessary delay increases costs, which you, the taxpayers, pay.

SRS is the place to deal with the nation’s energy issues, and the MOX project fits right in with all the other critical programs at SRS. The project has been conducted safely and at a high level of excellence that we have grown to expect from the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration, and their contractors.

While we all want SRS programs to be conducted with the same respect for the environment to which we have grown accustomed, it is time to say “no” to these so-called “environmental” groups.

 

(The writer is executive director for Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness.)

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