The Department of Energy plans to get rid of 13 metric tons of orphaned plutonium destined for Savannah River Site with a multimillion-dollar factory that will be built there, an official announced Tuesday.
The factory will cost between $300 million and $500 million, and construction is supposed to start near the end of 2008, Allen Gunter, a nuclear materials director for the DOE, told members of the SRS Citizens Advisory Board during a meeting in Augusta.
Plutonium shipments to SRS have been a source of turmoil for South Carolina officials in recent years.
Former Gov. Jim Hodges sued the DOE in 2002 to block it from entering the state.
The Aiken County Council has an outstanding suit against the agency related to the issue.
In general, they've complained that the federal government didn't have clear plans to get the substance out of the state after it was shipped in.
"I think DOE is certainly aware of the local concerns," said Ernie Chaput, a former DOE manager at SRS. "This may be one effort on their part to address those concerns."
The DOE plans to a build a mixed-oxide, or MOX, factory that will turn 34 metric tons of plutonium being taken out of weapons into fuel for commercial power reactors. But until now there's been no path out of SRS for another 13 tons of the material that is too dirty to run through MOX.
"Between the two, we're able to dispose of all unusable plutonium," Mr. Gunter said.
The new factory will mix plutonium with glass and place it in steel canisters. The process is called "vitrification"
In addition to new construction, the process will utilize an existing facility at SRS already used to neutralize other highly radioactive substances, according to the preliminary designs Mr. Gunter presented.
The plutonium eventually will be shipped out of state, presumably to the Yucca Mountain burial site in Nevada.
Construction will create up to 300 jobs, and up to 500 more people will be needed to operate it, though many of those will be existing personnel, Mr. Gunter said.
What Mr. Gunter introduced Tuesday is not related to the Consolidated Plutonium Center that might be located at SRS. That facility, which was discussed last week in North Augusta during public hearings with federal defense officials, would produce new plutonium for existing weapons, in addition to research and development.
Still, Mr. Gunter said, "we kind of work together."
Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Construction of the new facility is supposed to start near the end of 2008, according to Allen Gunter, a nuclear materials director for the Department of Energy.
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