BLUE RIDGE ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENSE LEAGUE
PO Box 88 ~
Glendale Springs, North Carolina 28629 ~ Phone
(336) 982-2691 ~ Fax (336) 982-2954 ~ Email:
August 29, 2001
Don Moniak (803) 644-6953
Lou Zeller (336) 982-2691
A Report on the Plutonium
"Delay" Made In Bad Faith
by Don Moniak
The decision this
week by the Department of Energy (DOE) to
"delay" plutonium shipments to the
Savannah River Site (SRS) involved several
omissions of information and was another act of
bad faith by an Agency with a long tradition of
bending federal law and misleading the public.
1. DOE has no long-term storage or
stabilization strategy for SRS. One
condition for transferring Rocky Flats plutonium
to SRS was a modern storage facility designed for
"long-term" storage (up to 50 years)
and also for stabilizing 1800 kilograms (kg) of
plutonium already stored at SRS.1
Long-term storage remains essential because the
plutonium disposition schedule runs past 2020;
there is at least up to 800 kg of non-surplus
military plutonium scheduled to remain at SRS
indefinitely2 ; and another round of nuclear arms
reductions will add more surplus plutonium. DOE
abandoned one storage facility after spending
about $75 million on design and excavation work,
is not funding a replacement, and the SRS
K-Reactor was only retrofitted and analyzed as an
interim stopgap of ten years while long-term
storage capacity was developed.3
2. Plutonium is not ready for shipment
and continued delays in the Rocky Flats to SRS
schedule are inevitable. A second
condition for the transfer requires Rocky Flats
to first stabilize its plutonium (with a few
exceptions) into a form meeting DOE's long-term
(up to 50 years) plutonium storage standard.4
Latest estimates on the Rocky Flats-SRS program
and packaging an estimated 3.2 metric
tonnes (MT)5 of plutonium oxide powder and
3.8 MT of plutonium metal into an
estimated 2060 long-term storage
can" around an "inner can"
holding up to 4.5 kg of Pu metal and 5.0
kg of Pu oxide.6
storage containers into "9975"
each plutonium shipment truck with an
average of about 23 shipping containers8 and trucking about four loads
per federally armed convoys of 4-6 Pu
loads to SRS.
that making a single shipment under the current
plan and budget requires Rocky Flats to have at
least 90-100 containers of plutonium stabilized
to meet the long-term storage standard. As of
late July there were only 24 containers complete,
operations were shutdown in subsequent weeks, and
there is unlikely to be enough to ship by October
3. DOE made some plutonium shipments to
SRS last year. An exemption to the
stabilization condition were 291 items of surplus
plutonium in classified shapes that required
declassification prior to stabilization: 200
plutonium hemishells, 6 metal pieces, and 85
plutonium/enriched uranium hemishells and parts.10 All
but the 85 plutonium/uranium parts were shipped
to SRS last year.11
1 Conditions were defined in Storage and
Disposition of Weapons-Usable Fissile Materials
Final Environmental Impact Environmental Impact
Statement, (S&D PEIS) (DOE/EIS-0229, December
1996) and the January 1997 Record of Decision
(ROD) for the S&D PEIS which committed DOE to
consolidate long-term storage of separated
plutonium not in weapon component form (pits) at
SRS. Shipments from Rocky Flats plant were
targeted for a 2001 start date, (although later
amended to January 2000), but would not begin
"unless and until" three conditions
were met: long-term storage capability at SRS,
stabilization of Rocky Flats plutonium, and the
decision to immobilize plutonium at SRS. DOE made
its formal decision to immobilize at SRS in
January 2000 but "suspended" the
program this past March and appears poised to
abandon it or replace it with the plutonium fuel
program in violation of the spirit, if not the
letter, of the National Environmental Policy Act
2 DOE reported 2.1 MT of plutonium at SRS
in 1996, of which 1.3 was "surplus,"
leaving 0.8 MT as "national asset"
plutonium for possible future military use.
Source: Plutonium, the First Fifty Years.
3 Evaluation of Savannah River Plutonium
Storage and Stabilization Options. May 2000
(Issued November 2000). Prepared for DOE under
4 DOE Standard-3013-00: Criteria Packaging
Plutonium Metals and Oxides for Long Term
Storage. September, 2000.
5 1 Metric Tonne = 1,000 kilograms = 2,200
pounds = 1.1 U.S. ton.
6 The plutonium is within various metal
and oxide forms at concentrations ranging from 30
to 95% plutonium by weight, so the total mass of
the material being moved is greater, and involves
other toxic substances such as enriched uranium,
thorium, and beryllium. SRS estimate of 2060
containers from Rocky Flats included 161
containers of "Rocky Flats swap"
material from LANL (96) and LLNL (65). Sources:
See Endnote 3 and Supplemental Analysis for
Storing Plutonium in the Actinide Packaging and
Storage Facility and Building 105-K at the
Savannah River Site. U.S. DOE July 1998.
7 DOE has "more than a thousand"
9975 containers, but needs more than 2000.
Source: LA-UR-01-3702. Transfer of Excess Nuclear
Material from Los Alamos to Savannah River Site
for Long-Term Disposition.
8 In February 1998, Kaiser Hill wrote that
if SRS interim storage was ready in January 2000,
they could transfer the plutonium in 32 months.
This project, which included three additional
tons of plutonium in residues now planned for
direct disposal at WIPP in New Mexico, involved
129 shipments at a rate of 4 trucks per month
about 24 items per truck and a total of 3100
containers. Source: February 1998 Kaiser Hill
Letter to DOE-RFFO on Acceleration Strategy for
Integrated Nuclear Material Disposition.
9 After years of delays and cost-overruns,
Rocky Flats finally began operating its Plutonium
Packaging and Stabilization System (PuSPS) on
June 14, 2001.
10 In enclosure 2 of a March 26, 1999
letter from DOE to DNFSB, Management of Rocky
Flats Environmental Technology Site Classified
Metal Parts at the Savannah River Site, DOE
stated that SRS declassification capabilities
"may be inappropriate" for another 89
plutonium parts. Declassification and
stabilization of these parts is planned at Los
Alamos and Livermore, with subsequent transfer to
11 Announced February 28, 2001 at SRS
Citizen Advisory Board "All Committees"
Meeting, and confirmed in March 2, 2001 email
from DOE-SR Office of External Affairs to Don
Moniak of BREDL. The total mass of these items is
classified. BREDL estimates a minimum 2.5 kg Pu
per hemishell pair, or about ~ 250 kg Pu sent to
SRS last year.