Originally created 02/25/03

Public gets news on MOX plant



AIKEN - A much-anticipated Nuclear Regulatory Commission report on a proposed Savannah River Site project has been released.

The draft report, called an environmental impact statement, details new elements of the Department of Energy plan to construct and operate a mixed-oxide fuel fabrication facility at the site.

The plant would convert weapons-grade plutonium into a form usable by commercial nuclear power plants for energy generation.

Under federal law, the public must be allowed to weigh in on the plant's potential effects on humans and the environment.

The report gets into areas as specific as the cumulative distance that nuclear materials would be transported to and from the plant over its planned operations period - 2.1 million miles. Those critical of the project have responded.

"It raises a host of questions which should have been answered by now if the program as proposed were moving smoothly along," said Tom Clements, a spokesman for Greenpeace International.

Mr. Clements was still reviewing the lengthy document Monday, but offered a some early observations:

  • The Energy Department has not identified enough reactors to complete the MOX project according to its timetable. Two power plants in the Carolinas have stated interest in MOX fuel, but no plant has applied yet to burn test fuel, a necessary step toward licensing.
  • A waste-solidification building has been identified in the report as necessary to MOX operations, but "DOE has not even admitted that such a facility is needed," the environmentalist said.
  • The report does not address environmental impact if the United States were to expand plutonium disposal through the program.
  • Plans for MOX were developed under the Clinton administration as a peace agreement between United States and Russia. Each country pledged to rid itself of 34 metric tons of weapons plutonium.

    Reach Eric Williamson at (803) 279-6895 or eric.williamson@augustachronicle.com.

    PUBLIC INPUT

    The public comment period on the environmental impact statement ends April 14. For more information on the report, or to get a copy, call Tim Harris, of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, at (301) 415-6613.