Savannah River Site becoming International Nuclear Waste Dumping Ground
Two ships have left the United Kingdom (UK) bound for the Tokai Nuclear Facility, near Tokyo, Japan, to load 331 kilograms of plutonium for shipment to SRS
This is under the guise of nuclear non-proliferation, but much of the plutonium did not originate in the United States.
According to the South Carolina Sierra Club and Savannah River Watch (SRW), the DOE is making these decisions in secret, without public comment, to make SRS a dumping ground for nuclear materials from around the world.
The plutonium would be shipped into Charleston harbor over a seven year period from seven countries including from Japan, Germany, Switzerland, the UK, and other countries
DOE wants to import up to 900 kilograms of plutonium to SRS for storage until the government decides its final destination.
Some 331 kilograms (730 pounds) of the highly fissionable material will come from Japan by the end of March 2016, according to Kyodo News.
Japan has a domestic stockpile of ten metric tons of weapon-usable plutonium, with plans to make more. Another 236 kilograms of plutonium will come from the UK.
SRS already has 13 metrics tons of plutonium with no place to go.
“We strongly object to foreign-origin plutonium coming into South Carolina when DOE’s program to manage surplus weapons plutonium is in shambles,” Tom Clements, Director of Savannah River Site Watch (SRS Watch), said in a press release.
“As DOE’s plutonium fuel (MOX) project has totally failed, it’s time for DOE to live up to its commitment to remove plutonium from South Carolina and not bring in more with no viable disposition path out of the state,” Clements said.
South Carolina and Georgia are being put at risk for a very long time, if large amounts of plutonium are dumped and stored at SRS with no exit strategy.
“Savannah River Site owes a certain karmic debt for burdening the world with tons of weapon-grade plutonium, but there’s zero justification for bringing plutonium from Britain and Japan into South Carolina,” Glenn Carroll, Director, Nuclear Watch South, told APN.
Nuclear waste has been piling up at SRS since the 1960’s. Scientists have not found a safe long-term solution for getting rid of this waste because, essentially, plutonium is forever: it has a half-life of 24,100 thousand years, and will remain hazardous to the environment and human health for an unmanageable 250,000 years.
During the past fifteen years, DOE has moved plutonium from other nuclear sites in the United States to SRS to make mixed oxide fuel (MOX) for nuclear plants.
However, with most of the world turning to renewables, except for South Carolina and Georgia, there is no longer a market for MOX.
Thus, the 51-plus billion dollar plutonium fuel (MOX) project has failed, and SRS has tons of nuclear waste with nowhere to go.
Currently, SRS has approximately 36 million gallons of high-level radioactive liquid waste (HLW) in 43 tanks underground awaiting disposal. Each tank is about the size of the Georgia State Capitol Building rotunda, and some of the older tanks have leaked, according to DOE.
The Defense Waste Processing Facility (DWPF) at SRS is processing some of the HLW into a solid glass form. About four thousand canisters of HLW have been glassified since 1996.
Under U.S. law, high-level nuclear waste is to go to a geologic repository with a stable environment thousands of feet underground in a dry environment. But no such repository exists, so it will stay at SRS.
Even with glassification, SRS is still the wrong location to store HLW because of the high water table at SRS that is only ten feet beneath the surface in places, and which endangers the underground water aquifer.
Plutonium is the worst of all the fission byproducts from nuclear weapon production. It will remain hazardous to humans and other living creatures for hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years.
Even if buried underground, these wastes could eventually escape back out into the biosphere with disastrous consequences.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is considering a lawsuit against the federal government for failure to process or get rid of the plutonium already at SRS.
“South Carolina will not be a dumping ground for weapons-grade plutonium and nuclear waste,” Gov. Haley said in the State newspaper.
The DOE may, in the distant future, ship tons of plutonium now at SRS across the country to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico. It is now closed due to a radiation leak caused by using the wrong kind of kitty litter.
Transporting plutonium across continents, states and oceans is a dangerous gamble that represents a “Mobile Chernobyl” with an accident waiting to happen.
If environmental groups can track these ships, trucks, and trains moving plutonium and other HLW around the world, why can’t terrorists?
It is turning into a game of musical chairs as to where the nuclear waste will go next. No county wants it and no nation has yet solved the problem of what to do with it.
The environmental and health dangers of the nuclear age have been ignored by the folks who think nuclear weapons keeps us safe and nuclear power is clean and cheap.
A long term safe disposal site for irradiated fuel and high-level radioactive wastes is a myth. It will have to be managed in perpetuity to prevent catastrophic leakage of radioactivity into the environment.