Plutonium from Japan could land at Savannah River Site

  • Posted: Sunday, April 6, 2014 12:01 a.m.
    UPDATED: Sunday, April 6, 2014 9:13 a.m.

The destination of Japanese shipments of weapons-grade plutonium that will be taken in by the United States cannot be confirmed; but many are speculating the plutonium will eventually wind up at the Savannah River Site.

President Barack Obama recently announced that the United States secured more than 700 pounds of the material from Japan. The administration considers the move a win, since securing nuclear materials has been a part of its plan for several years.

Local officials are far from celebrating, though, since many speculate the material will end up at SRS.

Keri Fulton from National Nuclear Security Administration public affairs said that information is unavailable for security reasons, and would not confirm where the shipments will be stored.

“The material will be transferred to secure facilities in the United States where it will be stored until it can be permanently dispositioned,” Fulton told the Aiken Standard. “For security reasons, we can not disclose the location of the final destination. The final determination of where the material will be processed is yet to be decided.”

Dispelling further rumors, Fulton added the new shipments are not part of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication, or MOX, agreement involving the facility under construction at SRS.

“This is not part of our nonproliferation agreement with Russia,” she added. “It is part of DOE's Global Threat Reduction Initiative, which seeks to remove or dispose of civilian nuclear materials that could be attractive to terrorists for use in a nuclear weapon.”

According to an article from the Weapons Complex Monitor – a magazine that provides intelligence and inside information on cleanup and waste management within Department of Energy sites – the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control has been seeking information on the Japanese shipments, as well.

SCDHEC spokesman Mark Plowden was quoted in the article about the Energy Department's intentions.

“It is not known whether DOE is planning to ship plutonium from Japan to SRS,” Plowden said in the article. “(SCDHEC) will press DOE to make a waste determination for the Japanese plutonium prior to any planned shipment to SRS.”

After hearing the news, local officials already began taking a stand against it. The SRS Citizens Advisory Board discussed the issue during its bimonthly meeting last week.

Board member Bill Calhoun said the board already has taken the position that it doesn't want to see any new nuclear materials at SRS.

“My point is that the CAB, based on public input, strongly voted that we did not want to receive additional receipts of foreign nuclear materials, and that we should be cleaning up legacy waste that's already on-site instead of bringing in new materials,” Calhoun said.

Derrek Asberry is a beat reporter with the Aiken Standard. He joined the paper in June. He is originally from Vidalia, Ga., and a graduate of Georgia Southern University. Follow him on Twitter

@DerrekAsberry.

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