News

DATE=1/28/97
TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT
NUMBER=5-35552
TITLE=PLUTONIUM DISPOSAL CONTROVERSY
BYLINE=DON HENRY
DATELINE=WASHINGTON
CONTENT=
VOICED AT:

INTRO: A PRIVATE RESEARCH INSTITUTE AND THE NUCLEAR ENERGY INDUSTRY ARE TAKING OPPOSITE VIEWS (TODAY/TUESDAY) OF THE U-S GOVERNMENT DECISION ENDORSING A TWO-TRACK APPROACH TO DISPOSAL OF SURPLUS WEAPONS GRADE PLUTONIUM. VOA'S DON HENRY REPORTS THE TWO SIDES AGREE, HOWEVER, THAT THE AMERICAN STRATEGY MUST INCLUDE WAYS TO HELP ENSURE SAFE PLUTONIUM DISPOSAL IN RUSSIA.

TEXT: THE PRIVATE INSTITUTE FOR ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH CALLED A NEWS CONFERENCE IN WASHINGTON TO DENOUNCE THE FORMAL DECISION ON PLUTONIUM DISPOSAL MADE BY THE U-S DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY IN MID-JANUARY.

THE GOVERNMENT AGENCY HAD CONDUCTED EXTENSIVE PUBLIC HEARINGS THE PAST SEVERAL YEARS BEFORE CERTIFYING THE TWO-TRACK PLAN. IT CALLS FOR USING AT LEAST EIGHT OF THE 50 TONS OF SURPLUS PLUTONIUM AS FUEL IN NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS AND VITRIFYING, OR MIXING, THE REST WITH MOLTEN GLASS AND STORING IT IN THE FORM OF GLASS OR CERAMIC LOGS.

ARJUN MAKHIJANI OF INDIA, HEAD OF THE PRIVATE ENERGY INSTITUTE, CONCEDES THAT BOTH DISPOSAL METHODS WILL SERVE THE UNDERLYING PURPOSE OF PREVENTING SURPLUS PLUTONIUM FROM BEING USED IN NUCLEAR WEAPONS.

// MAKHIJANI ACT //

THEY WILL ACCOMPLISH THE GOAL OF MAKING IT ESSENTIALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO STEAL THIS STUFF, BECAUSE IT WILL BE VERY RADIOACTIVE, AND THEY WILL MAKE IT VERY DIFFICULT FOR ANYBODY WHO GETS THEIR HANDS ON IT -- IF THEY COULD GET THEIR HANDS ON IT -- TO EXTRACT THE PLUTONIUM AGAIN AND RE-USE IT IN WEAPONS.

// END ACT //

HOWEVER, THE NUCLEAR SCIENTIST OPPOSES THE FUEL TRACK. HE SAYS PLUTONIUM HAS TO BE TURNED INTO A MIXED OXIDE AND ADDED TO URANIUM FOR NUCLEAR POWER PLANT USE.

ALTHOUGH THIS MIXED OXIDE, KNOWN AS MOX, WOULD ADD SIGNIFICANT ENERGY VALUE TO THE NUCLEAR FUEL MR. MAKHIJANI TICKS OFF SEVERAL REASONS WHY HE OPPOSES THE MOX PLAN. HE SAYS IT WILL BE EXPENSIVE TO MANUFACTURE MOX FROM WEAPONS GRADE PLUTONIUM, AND MOST REACTORS ARE NOT DESIGNED TO USE IT. FURTHERMORE, THE METAL GALLIUM FOUND IN WEAPONS GRADE PLUTONIUM MAY PRESENT SEVERE LONG-TERM RADIATION PROBLEMS.

MOREOVER, HE SAYS ONE OF THE BIG CONSIDERATIONS IN PLUTONIUM DISPOSAL IS HOW TO HELP RUSSIA USE UP THE MANY TONS IT HAS IN SURPLUS. HE SAYS ONLY SEVEN REACTORS IN RUSSIA AND 10 IN UKRAINE COULD POSSIBLY USE MIXED OXIDE PLUTONIUM AND NONE ARE UP TO INTERNATIONAL SAFETY STANDARDS HE SAYS THEY WOULD HAVE TO BE MODIFIED TO USE MOX, AND FUNDING FOR THAT IS UNCERTAIN.

THE INDIAN SCIENTIST VISITED RUSSIA LAST YEAR AND SAYS THE RUSSIANS CONSIDER PLUTONIUM A NATURAL TREASURE. HE SAYS THEY SUPPORT THE MOX DISPOSAL CONCEPT BECAUSE THEY COULD GET SOME USE OUT OF IT, BUT DO NOT LIKE THE SECOND TRACK OF THE AMERICAN PLAN -- STORING IT INDEFINITELY AS A WASTE PRODUCT.

MR. MAKHIJANI SAYS THE RUSSIANS WOULD BEST BE SERVED BY STRENGTHENING THEIR URANIUM FUEL SALES AND VITRIFYING ALL SURPLUS PLUTONIUM WITHOUT CONSIGNING IT FOREVER TO THE SCRAP PILE.

// MAKHIJANI ACT //

OUR PLAN IS: THE MONEY IS IN THE URANIUM, IT'S NOT IN THE PLUTONIUM. THE CONVERSION OF RUSSIAN URANIUM TO REACTOR FUEL SHOULD BE ACCELERATED SO THE FLOW OF MONEY TO RUSSIA CAN BE ACCELERATED. THE WEAPONS PLUTONIUM AND ALL SURPLUS PLUTONIUM SHOULD BE VITRIFIED, BUT IT SHOULD NOT BE DECLARED A WASTE.

// END ACT//

INSTEAD, HE SAYS IT SHOULD BE AGREED THAT IF PLUTONIUM BECOMES AN ECONOMICAL FUEL, THEN IT CAN BE EXTRACTED FROM THE STORED LOGS.

AS FOR THE U-S TWO-TRACK STRATEGY, MR. MAKHIJANI SAYS THE MIXED OXIDE PLAN SHOULD BE WITHDRAWN AT LEAST UNTIL FURTHER STUDIES OF ECONOMIC, FUEL SAFETY AND OTHER FACTORS ARE COMPLETED.

BUT NUCLEAR POWER INDUSTRY REPRESENTATIVE STEVE UNGLESBEE CALLS THIS NONSENSE, SAYING IT IS DRIVEN BY AN ANTI-NUCLEAR PHILOSOPHY.

// UNGLESBEE ACT//

A CALL TO TAKE MOX FUEL OFF THE TABLE RIGHT NOW IS PREMATURE. IT'S REALLY LETTING THE RHETORIC GET AHEAD OF THE SCIENCE ON THE ISSUE. WE HAVE A TWO-YEAR PROGRAM AHEAD OF US IN THE GOVERNMENT TO RESOLVE ANY REMAINING QUESTIONS AND SEE THAT IT CAN BE USED SAFELY AND ECONOMICALLY AND STORED SAFELY AFTER IT IS USED.

// END ACT //

INDUSTRY SPOKESMAN UNGLESBEE AGREES WITH MR. MAKHIJANI THAT NUCLEAR SAFETY IN RUSSIA LAGS WELL BEHIND WESTERN STANDARDS. BUT MR. UNGLESBEE SAYS A U-S DECISION TO PUT MIXED OXIDES ON HOLD WOULD ONLY IRRITATE THE RUSSIANS AND MAKE IT EVEN MORE UNLIKELY THAT WEAPONS PLUTONIUM WILL BE DISPOSED OF IN RUSSIA IN A SAFE MANNER.

MR. MAKHIJANI'S INSTITUTE PLANS TO DISTRIBUTE THOUSANDS OF NEWSLETTERS URGING A HALT TO MOX FUEL DEVELOPMENT, BUT A U-S ENERGY DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL

SAYS THE GOVERNMENT HAS NO INTENTION OF ABANDONING THE IDEA. HE SAYS THE DEPARTMENT WILL GO AHEAD WITH VARIOUS TESTS FOR THE TWO-TRACK PLAN THROUGH 1998 AND EVALUATE THE PROGRESS OF BOTH TRACKS AT THAT POINT. (SIGNED)

NEB/DOH/KL

28-Jan-97 3:42 PM EST (2042 UTC)
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Source: Voice of America