Michelle Nunn Seeks Funding for Dangerous Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing (UPDATE 1)
(APN) ATLANTA — In a move that once again raises questions about why Michelle Nunn is even seeking the Democratic Party nomination as a U.S. Senate candidate, Nunn has again aligned herself with Republicans, this time in opposing President Barack Obama’s de-funding of the proposed MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina late last month.
Nunn’s support for MOX was first reported by the Augusta Chronicle newspaper.
The facility would have turned nuclear bomb waste into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors.
President Obama has pulled the plug on MOX, something that environmentalists are cheering. However, people who are not happy include U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC); and U.S. Reps. Jack Kingston (R-GA), Paul Broun (R-GA), and Phil Gingrey (R-GA); and Michelle Nunn.
“I was surprised about Obama’s decision. We’ll take the victory,” Glenn Carroll of Nuclear Watch South told Atlanta Progressive News.
“This is a deep political issue; the weapons aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. The question is what to do with all this plutonium? There are many reasonable alternatives to MOX,” Carroll said.
“Michelle Nunn isn’t listening. They can’t get any reactors to use the leftover plutonium. If the fuel is not irradiated, what’s the point? It’s a factory to nowhere,” Carroll said.
“Nunn is out of her league talking about the $30-billion MOX project when she knows nothing about it or SRS,” Tom Clements, an advisor to the South Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club, wrote in a post on Nunn’s Facebook page.
It is not immediately clear whether Nunn’s family ties to the nuclear industry are the reason for her position on MOX.
Nunn’s father, former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn (D-GA), is co-chairman and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Threat Initiative. Sam Nunn has also been in business with Ted Turner for years, buying up Russia’s used weapons-grade uranium, a bargain at about one billion dollars, according to Carroll.
Progressive Democrats, including her opponents in the Democratic Primary, have criticized Nunn for supporting the Keystone XL Pipeline; for supporting the once-proposed U.S. Invasion of Syria; for opposing same-sex marriage as a matter of policy; and for opposing the timely implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Affordable Care Act Implementation:
“This move by DOE is welcome as the MOX program is unsustainable due to run-away costs and the shut-down of the project must be carried out quickly while DOE immediately initiates options to dispose of plutonium as waste. We have long called on DOE to abandon the mismanaged MOX project and implement viable disposition alternatives and this request finally gets DOE on the right track,” Clements said, according to the Nuclear Watch South website.
WHAT IS MOX?
MOX is a nuclear fuel containing plutonium oxides mixed with conventionally used uranium oxides.
“The MOX program would have used the plutonium to produce fuel for commercial nuclear reactors. Nuclear Watch South has long been concerned about the MOX program’s significant security and safety risks, in addition to its massive cost, now estimated at $30 billion,” according to Nuclear Watch South’s website.
Plutonium for nuclear weapons was manufactured in five reactors at the Savannah River Site (SRS) in Aiken, South Carolina, and also at Hanford in Washington State.
Plutonium was separated out of the irradiated nuclear reactor fuel by chopping the hot radioactive spent fuel into little pieces and then dissolving it in industrial solvents. The separated plutonium was transported to nuclear weapons labs and manufacturing sites all over the country.
Left behind at SRS were 35,000,000 gallons of liquid hazardous wastes which are still being kept in underground tanks some twenty years after plutonium production has stopped. The liquid wastes are contaminated with lethal, highly radioactive elements such as cesium 137 and cobalt 60.
The fifty year-old tanks are beginning to leak and threaten to contaminate the largest freshwater aquifer recharge area in North America, according to Nuclear Watch South.
REPUBLICANS ECHO NUNN’S SENTIMENTS
U.S. Rep. Broun joined in the chorus to resume the program.
“Failing to act on MOX will not only result in millions of dollars in penalties placed on the backs of taxpayers, but it will also jeopardize our national security and international credibility,” Broun told the Chronicle.
“It is simply unacceptable to halt progress on this vital facility. This move will not only stick taxpayers with an annual $100 million penalty, but deal a serious blow to our credibility in the international community,” U.S. Rep. Gingrey added.
Clearly, Nunn and her Republican colleagues are not considering the threat of a nuclear catastrophe similar to Fukushima.
Nor are they considering nuclear power’s long-term depletion of the Savannah River, the radioactive pollution it creates, nor the correlation between nuclear power plants and increased rates of cancer and other disease rates in the areas surrounding plant locations.
According to the 2014 federal budget on Nuclear Energy, care of the U.S. Department of Energy, “The program envisioned in the FY 2014 Budget is a very long term, flexible, multi-faceted approach to dispose of the nation’s commercial and defense waste. The estimated programmatic cost of this effort over its first 10 years is approximately $5.6 billion. “
“The sooner that legislation enables progress on implementing a nuclear waste management program, the lower the ultimate cost will be for the taxpayers,” the briefing stated.
Plutonium does not occur in nature and there is no “natural” state to which we can return it. Plutonium is extremely toxic and bonds with lung tissue if inhaled, eventually causing lung cancer. Plutonium can catch fire when exposed to the air.
In January 2013, then-Secretary of Energy Steven Chu stated in the Strategy for the Management and Disposal of Used Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste, “Safe, long-term management and disposal of used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste must remain a priority.”
But it is not Michelle Nunn’s priority.
UPDATE: This article originally identified U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham as from Georgia; it was an inadvertent error: Graham represents South Carolina.