Originally created 07/22/06

Report calls for plutonium plans



AIKEN - Plans to consolidate the nation's excess plutonium in one place need to speed up to ensure secure storage, according to a report released this month.

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board gave that assessment to the U.S. Energy Department in a July 12 study about plutonium storage at Savannah River Site.

The Energy Department has considered consolidation for several years. A panel of high-level officials in the agency has been examining the issue since early 2005, but no timetable for a decision has been released.

The agency plans to ship at least 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium to SRS, which is supposed to be converted into fuel for commercial nuclear power plants. Some experts say the site is best suited to store all of the country's excess.

There is an estimated 100 tons of plutonium that is not being used in the country's nuclear arsenal.

"DOE continues to languish in making a decision on ultimate disposal of its excess plutonium," the board's report states. "Until this decision is made and executed, the board believes consolidation of excess plutonium in a single, robust facility suitable for extended retrievable storage is logical from safety, security, and economic perspectives."

SRS is modifying a former nuclear reactor at the site for plutonium storage. Officials have said it will be capable of storing more than 34 metric tons of plutonium.

There are other Energy Department sites being considered for consolidation, including Los Alamos in New Mexico.

"It's not clear to me at all that we're a slam dunk to get it," said Mal McKibben, a former SRS employee and the executive director of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness.

Tom Clements, a senior adviser with Greenpeace International, said he was uncertain what was best to do with excess plutonium.

In addition to SRS, plutonium is stored in at least three other Energy Department sites around the country.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.



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