Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League


PO Box 88 ~ Glendale Springs, North Carolina 28629 ~ Phone (336) 982-2691 ~ Fax (336) 982-2954 ~ Email:


August 29, 2001
Don Moniak (803) 644-6953
Lou Zeller (336) 982-2691

A Report on the Plutonium (Pu) Situation
Promise To "Delay" Made In Bad Faith
by Don Moniak

The decision this week by the Department of Energy (DOE) to "delay" plutonium shipments to the Savannah River Site (SRS) involved several omissions of information and was another act of bad faith by an Agency with a long tradition of bending federal law and misleading the public.

1. DOE has no long-term storage or stabilization strategy for SRS. One condition for transferring Rocky Flats plutonium to SRS was a modern storage facility designed for "long-term" storage (up to 50 years) and also for stabilizing 1800 kilograms (kg) of plutonium already stored at SRS.
1 Long-term storage remains essential because the plutonium disposition schedule runs past 2020; there is at least up to 800 kg of non-surplus military plutonium scheduled to remain at SRS indefinitely2 ; and another round of nuclear arms reductions will add more surplus plutonium. DOE abandoned one storage facility after spending about $75 million on design and excavation work, is not funding a replacement, and the SRS K-Reactor was only retrofitted and analyzed as an interim stopgap of ten years while long-term storage capacity was developed.3

2. Plutonium is not ready for shipment and continued delays in the Rocky Flats to SRS schedule are inevitable. A second condition for the transfer requires Rocky Flats to first stabilize its plutonium (with a few exceptions) into a form meeting DOE's long-term (up to 50 years) plutonium storage standard.
4 Latest estimates on the Rocky Flats-SRS program involve:

  • stabilizing and packaging an estimated 3.2 metric tonnes (MT)5 of plutonium oxide powder and 3.8 MT of plutonium metal into an estimated 2060 long-term storage double-containers--an "outer can" around an "inner can" holding up to 4.5 kg of Pu metal and 5.0 kg of Pu oxide.6

  • packaging storage containers into "9975" shipping containers.7

  • loading each plutonium shipment truck with an average of about 23 shipping containers8 and trucking about four loads per federally armed convoys of 4-6 Pu loads to SRS.

BREDL estimates that making a single shipment under the current plan and budget requires Rocky Flats to have at least 90-100 containers of plutonium stabilized to meet the long-term storage standard. As of late July there were only 24 containers complete, operations were shutdown in subsequent weeks, and there is unlikely to be enough to ship by October 2001.9

3. DOE made some plutonium shipments to SRS last year. An exemption to the stabilization condition were 291 items of surplus plutonium in classified shapes that required declassification prior to stabilization: 200 plutonium hemishells, 6 metal pieces, and 85 plutonium/enriched uranium hemishells and parts.
10 All but the 85 plutonium/uranium parts were shipped to SRS last year.11


1 Conditions were defined in Storage and Disposition of Weapons-Usable Fissile Materials Final Environmental Impact Environmental Impact Statement, (S&D PEIS) (DOE/EIS-0229, December 1996) and the January 1997 Record of Decision (ROD) for the S&D PEIS which committed DOE to consolidate long-term storage of separated plutonium not in weapon component form (pits) at SRS. Shipments from Rocky Flats plant were targeted for a 2001 start date, (although later amended to January 2000), but would not begin "unless and until" three conditions were met: long-term storage capability at SRS, stabilization of Rocky Flats plutonium, and the decision to immobilize plutonium at SRS. DOE made its formal decision to immobilize at SRS in January 2000 but "suspended" the program this past March and appears poised to abandon it or replace it with the plutonium fuel program in violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

2 DOE reported 2.1 MT of plutonium at SRS in 1996, of which 1.3 was "surplus," leaving 0.8 MT as "national asset" plutonium for possible future military use. Source: Plutonium, the First Fifty Years.

3 Evaluation of Savannah River Plutonium Storage and Stabilization Options. May 2000 (Issued November 2000). Prepared for DOE under Contract DE-AC0O-96SR18500. See also:

4 DOE Standard-3013-00: Criteria Packaging Plutonium Metals and Oxides for Long Term Storage. September, 2000. http:/

5 1 Metric Tonne = 1,000 kilograms = 2,200 pounds = 1.1 U.S. ton.

6 The plutonium is within various metal and oxide forms at concentrations ranging from 30 to 95% plutonium by weight, so the total mass of the material being moved is greater, and involves other toxic substances such as enriched uranium, thorium, and beryllium. SRS estimate of 2060 containers from Rocky Flats included 161 containers of "Rocky Flats swap" material from LANL (96) and LLNL (65). Sources: See Endnote 3 and Supplemental Analysis for Storing Plutonium in the Actinide Packaging and Storage Facility and Building 105-K at the Savannah River Site. U.S. DOE July 1998. See also:

7 DOE has "more than a thousand" 9975 containers, but needs more than 2000. Source: LA-UR-01-3702. Transfer of Excess Nuclear Material from Los Alamos to Savannah River Site for Long-Term Disposition.

8 In February 1998, Kaiser Hill wrote that if SRS interim storage was ready in January 2000, they could transfer the plutonium in 32 months. This project, which included three additional tons of plutonium in residues now planned for direct disposal at WIPP in New Mexico, involved 129 shipments at a rate of 4 trucks per month about 24 items per truck and a total of 3100 containers. Source: February 1998 Kaiser Hill Letter to DOE-RFFO on Acceleration Strategy for Integrated Nuclear Material Disposition.

9 After years of delays and cost-overruns, Rocky Flats finally began operating its Plutonium Packaging and Stabilization System (PuSPS) on June 14, 2001. See also:

10 In enclosure 2 of a March 26, 1999 letter from DOE to DNFSB, Management of Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site Classified Metal Parts at the Savannah River Site, DOE stated that SRS declassification capabilities "may be inappropriate" for another 89 plutonium parts. Declassification and stabilization of these parts is planned at Los Alamos and Livermore, with subsequent transfer to SRS.

11 Announced February 28, 2001 at SRS Citizen Advisory Board "All Committees" Meeting, and confirmed in March 2, 2001 email from DOE-SR Office of External Affairs to Don Moniak of BREDL. The total mass of these items is classified. BREDL estimates a minimum 2.5 kg Pu per hemishell pair, or about ~ 250 kg Pu sent to SRS last year.

Southern Anti-Plutonium Campaign