United States Wants to Send Plutonium to France

U.S. officials are seeking permission from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to ship 300 pounds of weapon-grade plutonium to a French facility that will manufacture mixed-oxide fuel assemblies for a nuclear reactor in South Carolina, the Associated Press reported today (see GSN, May 15).

The shipment would be part of a plan to dispose of 34 tons of plutonium from U.S. nuclear weapons by turning it into mixed oxide fuel for use in U.S. nuclear power reactors.  Nuclear nonproliferation groups, however, said the plan is risky and worry that the plutonium could be diverted.

Energy Department spokesman Joe Davis rejected the criticism of the program.

"We will have safe and secure transport for any plutonium that we ship," Davis said.  "Charleston and federal DOE officials are capable of making sure the shipments arrive safe and secure," he added.

The Energy Department is planning to transport the plutonium from Los Alamos National Laboratories in New Mexico to Charleston, S.C., and then on to France.  The United States does not currently have a mixed-oxide fuel manufacturing plant, but U.S. officials are looking to build one eventually in South Carolina.  In the meantime, they plan to send the plutonium to France next year so it can be tested in a commercial reactor test in 2005.

Davis said that commercial reactor tests are an essential part of the plutonium disposition plan (Josef Hebert, Associated Press/CNN.com, Oct. 10).

October 10, 2003
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U.S. officials are seeking permission from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to ship 300 pounds of weapon-grade plutonium to a French facility that will manufacture mixed-oxide fuel assemblies for a nuclear reactor in South Carolina, the Associated Press reported today (see GSN, May 15).