Environment News Service

Environment News Service: AmeriScan: August 8, 2000


WASHINGTON, DC, August 8, 2000 (ENS) - The Nuclear Control Institute and Idaho’s Snake River Alliance have condemned a Department of Energy (DOE) plan to reprocess 26 metric tons of spent fuel from plutonium breeder reactors using an experimental technology known as "pyroprocessing." "Direct disposal of this breeder reactor fuel is consistent with environmental protection, nuclear non-proliferation and cost savings, while the pyroprocessing choice is unproven and dangerous," said Dr. Edwin Lyman, scientific director at the Washington-based Nuclear Control Institute, a non-profit organization which focuses on nuclear non-proliferation issues. "There is no technical justification for pyroprocessing breeder reactor fuel."

Pyroprocessing, also known as electrometallurgical treatment, is a spent fuel reprocessing technology first developed for the Integral Fast Reactor program, which was terminated by Congress in 1994. "Although billed by its promoters as a ‘proliferation-resistant’ technology because it doesn't separate pure weapons-usable plutonium if operated as designed, numerous reviews have identified ways in which it could be modified to do exactly that," said Beatrice Brailsford of the Snake River Alliance. DOE presented its preferred alternative for managing 60 metric tons (MT) of breeder fuel in the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Treatment and Management of Sodium-Bonded Spent Nuclear Fuel, which was released Friday. The 26 MT to be pyroprocessed consists of spent fuel from the shutdown Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II) at Argonne National Laboratory-West. The 34 MT that is to be stored was discharged from the Fermi-I fast breeder reactor in Michigan, a sodium-cooled reactor shutdown in 1972. The Fermi fuel will be stored while DOE validates techniques other than reprocessing for preparing the fuel for direct disposal in a geologic repository.

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