Originally created 07/27/06

Supporters, detractors fuel MOX plan debate



AIKEN - The battle over what to do with the nation's excess plutonium is turning into a doozy.

Those who support building a plant at Savannah River Site that would turn it into fuel for commercial nuclear power plants, and those who disagree and say it should be left at Energy Department sites across the country, have been speaking out.

"We have weapons-grade plutonium in my backyard and I want something done with it. I think the rest of the nation does, too," said U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., Wednesday during a House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee hearing.

Mr. Norwood says he supports the proposed mixed-oxide, or MOX, plant that would turn plutonium into reactor fuel.

But there are at least 14 environmental conservation and nuclear watchdog groups that don't.

"Funding the MOX plutonium fuel facility, which would include transporting this fuel and storing it at civilian nuclear power plants, is a recipe for disaster," these groups, including Greenpeace International and Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, wrote to U.S. Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio, on Tuesday.

Mr. Hobson is a lead advocate of immobilizing plutonium and could prove key when Congress debates funding for the project later this year.

He led the House charge not to provide any money for the project in next year's budget, while the U.S. Senate voted to spend $419 million, $50 million more than the Energy Department request.

The U.S. agreed in 2000 to build its MOX plant at the same time Russia built a similar factory. The deal was that both countries would get rid of 34 metric tons of plutonium, but Russia has since opted to use alternate technology, and those who side with Mr. Hobson argue that all bets are off.

"At this point, I think it's very unclear if the Russians are going to do anything with their plutonium," said Tom Clements, a senior adviser with Greenpeace International.

Meanwhile, several members of South Carolina's and Georgia's congressional delegations met Tuesday with Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman and Rob Portman, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, to express support for MOX and sufficient funding to SRS.

"We all share the same goal of moving forward with the MOX program and continuing our cleanup efforts," U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a statement.

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

WHAT'S NEXT:

Congress isn't expected to make a final decision on MOX funding until year's end.