Plutonium shipment arrives at N.M. plant

  • Posted: Friday, August 31, 2012 3:45 p.m.

The Department of Energy has confirmed that the first shipment of contaminated weapons-grade plutonium has been transported from the Savannah River Site to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

The shipment took place on Aug. 16, according to a presentation made at a Citizens Advisory Board meeting on Aug. 28.

The plutonium was packaged into pipe overpack containers, which were shipped to the site’s E-area to be certified and shipped to New Mexico. Before that, the “Non-MOXable” plutonium was blended with an inert material to less than 10 percent plutonium.

According to an Interim Action Determination signed by David Moody, manager of the Savannah River Operations Office, preparing and packaging 500 kg of plutonium materials would require about 120 shipments.

DOE is examining alternatives for disposing of plutonium in light of federal budget cuts that have derailed plans for new multi-buillion-dollar facilities at SRS, according to the Associated Press.

“It is essential that DOE immediately conduct a comprehensive analysis on an array of options for disposal of surplus plutonium as nuclear waste,” said Tom Clements, nonproliferation policy director for the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability. “Given the myriad of problems with the plutonium fuel (MOX) program, DOE should immediately develop a safer and lower-cost Plan B for disposing of plutonium as waste.”

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant has a limited capacity for transuranic waste – about 175,600 cubic meters – meaning only a small volume of plutonium stored at SRS may be taken to the facility in New Mexico.

About 13 metric tons of surplus weapons-grade plutonium is stored at SRS.

The DOE is conducting a series of public hearings across the country on the disposal of the plutonium, the next of which will be Sept. 4 at the North Augusta Municipal Center, 100 Georgia Ave.

The open house will begin at 5:30 p.m., followed by a presentation and public comment section at 6:30 p.m.

Teddy Kulmala covers the SRS and courts beat for the Aiken Standard. He is a graduate of Clemson University and hails from Williston.

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