Critics of U.S. plutonium cleanup program seize on new report

WASHINGTON Critics of a multibillion-dollar program to convert excess U.S. weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for industrial nuclear reactors under a 2000 treaty with Russia have seized on a newly disclosed report to renew calls for an end to the project.

The fiscal 2016 defense authorization law includes $ 345 million in funding for a plant under construction at the DOE’s Savannah River site in South Carolina, which will take 34 metric tons of plutonium and mix it with uranium to kind safer mix-oxide (MOX) fuel pellets for use in commercial nuclear reactors.

Congress should still proper the funding authorized in the law, but supporters say they do not anticipate any concerns.

Critics argue the MOX project ought to be halted right after years of delays and expense increases, even even though any adjustments could jeopardize one of the couple of agreements with Russia that is nevertheless operating smoothly.

Francie Israel with the National Nuclear Safety Administration said the U.S. Division of Power (DOE) was continuing function on the project for now, but several analyses had shown that diluting the plutonium and disposing of it at a site in New Mexico would cost significantly less than half of the MOX strategy.

Russia has its own program to eliminate 34 metric tons of plutonium.

A previously undisclosed report completed by privately-held Aerospace Corp for DOE in August concluded that diluting and disposing of the plutonium – or downblending – was the least technically complicated of a number of options and had the lowest price risk since no new facilities had been required.

“This report confirms that … the downblending option is clearly significantly less complex, significantly less risky and cheaper,” stated Edwin Lyman, senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, urging Congress to finish its parochial support for the MOX plan.

Lyman stated DOE would likely seek to end funding for the project as portion of its fiscal 2017 price range proposal. Aerospace concluded in an April report that it could price $ 30 billion to total the MOX facility, almost ten times the estimate of the firm, CBI-Areva MOX Solutions.

CBI-Areva MOX Services, a joint venture of U.S.-based Chicago Bridge & Iron NV and Areva SA, a French state-owned nuclear group, argues that the U.S. project is already 68 percent comprehensive and it will be done in 5 to 9 years. The organization says it will price $ three.3 billion to total the work, on prime of the $ 4.5 billion already spent.

A Nov. 16 overview completed by High Bridge Associates, a project management firm, for CBI said the downblending choice was risky due to the fact cramming also much nuclear material into the New Mexico facility could result in a fission reaction.

It mentioned that adding material to the web site would demand a new environmental influence statement, which could delay operate on the internet site if it sparked calls for the facility’s style life to be extended to 1 million years from ten,000 years, just as has occurred for the Yucca Mountain internet site in Nevada.

The High Bridge report also raised issues that a modify in the U.S. method could prompt Russia to withdraw from the 2000 treaty, as it has done with other people, reversing nuclear non-proliferation efforts at a time of growing tensions with Moscow.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal Editing by Alan Crosby)

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