Forum addresses plutonium pit expansion at SRS


AIKEN — A forum regarding the Department of Energy’s proposed expanded production of plutonium pits at Savannah River Site was held Friday evening.

About 70 people gathered in the auditorium of the Aiken Municipal Building to hear speakers present information against the proposal and encourage the public to write to their representatives in opposition to the plan.

The Department of Energy has proposed to use the former Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility as the location to produce about 50 plutonium pits per year. The pits make up the radioactive cores of nuclear weapons.

Tom Clements, director of Savannah River Site Watch, said the department should not rush into a new project at the MOX plant, which was shut down in October.

“They just bungled that project they’re rushing into a new mission for it, this is a recipe for failure,” Clements said. “What needs to be done is Congress needs to engage in a full scope investigation into fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement and what happened with that bungled project.”

Instead of expanding the production of the pits, which Clements said would increase the transport of plutonium across the country and pose a security risk in handling the radioactive material at the site, the department should focus on cleaning up the waste that already exists.

“We’re very concerned about the additional nuclear and chemical waste burden that is at our site, and we don’t need any more waste at the Savannah River Site,” Clements said. “The challenge to clean up the 35 million gallons of high-level waste that exists at the site is where the focus should be, not bringing in new materials that pose additional risk.”

The cost to repurpose the MOX facility for the production of plutonium pits is estimated at about $4.5 billion, Clements said. He said the plan would create jobs, but so would cleaning up the waste.

Dr. Rose Hayes was on the advisory board for the site from 2009 to 2015. She said the site already contains about 12 metric tons of surplus plutonium.

Others who spoke at the forum included Karin Sisk, president of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina; executive director of Tri-Valley Cares Marylia Kelley; director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico Jay Coghlan; and Ann Suellentrop with Phsyicians for Social Responsibility.

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