Jul 28, 2012
By John Fleck
From the Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer
After spending $382 million on a failed 13-year effort to build aplant in South Carolina to dismantle plutonium parts from old nuclear warheads,the federal government is now considering doing the work in an existingbuilding at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
An announcement Friday on the latest effort to dispose of thenation’s surplus plutonium also raises the possibility of sending someleftovers to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southeastern New Mexico. Threepublic hearings on the proposal are scheduled in New Mexico next month.
The Department of Energy in 1999 proposed building a PitDisassembly and Conversion Facility at its Savannah River Site in SouthCarolina. The idea was to turn plutonium bomb parts into feedstock for nuclearpower plant fuel as a way of disposing of the dangerously radioactive nuclearmaterial.
In the years since, the agency spent $382 million in planning anddesigning the Savannah River project before deciding last year to cancel it.
Instead, the agency focused on finding a way to do the work atexisting facilities. Two sites are under consideration: an old plutoniumprocessing building at Savannah River and Los Alamos National Laboratory’s1970s-era Plutonium Facility.
The Los Alamos building, a concrete blockhouse where the lab alsobuilds new plutonium bomb parts, did the research and development work onplutonium pit dismantlement, with the idea that the system would be used in thenew building at Savannah River. Now, the Department of Energy is consideringsimply using the research equipment to do the work at Los Alamos, according toFriday’s announcement.
In addition, the proposal includes the possibility of sendingplutonium waste that is unsuitable for burning in nuclear reactors to WIPP, a2,150-foot deep radioactive waste disposal mine near Carlsbad.
Three hearings have been scheduled to take comment on theproposal, all to be held from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.:
Aug. 21 – Holiday Inn Express, Los Alamos.
Aug. 23 – Courtyard by Marriott Santa Fe, Santa Fe.
Aug. 28 – Pecos River Village Conference Center, Carlsbad.