Environment News Service

AmeriScan: January 5, 2000

$1.4 BILLION TO DISPOSE OF 50 TONS OF PLUTONIUM

WASHINGTON, DC, January 5, 2000 (ENS) - The Department of Energy (DOE) will dispose of up to 50 metric tons of surplus weapons grade plutonium as part of efforts to cut the U.S. plutonium stockpile. Up to 17 metric tons of the plutonium would be reduced to a powder and immobilized in glass through a process called vitrification. Up to 33 metric tons would be converted to mixed oxide (MOX) fuel for commercial nuclear reactors. The DOE plans to build three new facilities at a cost of $1.4 billion at its Savannah River Site in South Carolina. One facility would disassemble nuclear weapons, remove the plutonium and convert it to oxide powder. The other two would convert plutonium to MOX fuel for use in the Catawba Nuclear Station near York, South Carolina, the McGuire Station near Huntersville, North Carolina, and the North Anna Power Station near Mineral, Virginia.

"This decision sends a strong signal to the world that the U.S. is determined to reduce surplus weapons-grade plutonium as quickly and efficiently as possible to ensure that it cannot be used in weapons again," Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said. But some environmentalists and nuclear activists have expressed concerns over the use of MOX fuel. Many believe it is too dangerous to burn MOX in commercial reactors that were not designed to use such fuel. Tom Clements, executive director of the Nuclear Control Institute in Washington, says his group and others plan to start a campaign to educate the public about the dangers of MOX.

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