Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League

BREDL Southern Anti-Plutonium Campaign

The United States Department of Energy plans to reprocess nuclear warhead plutonium into commercial nuclear power reactor fuel. The site for fabrication of the fuel, also called MOX, is Savannah River in South Carolina. Weapons-grade plutonium now stored at military sites across the nation would be transported to the southeast, made into fuel, and shipped back out to Duke Power reactors near Charlotte, North Carolina and Rock Hill, South Carolina.

Plutonium Fuel Factory at SRS Killed by U.S. DOE

On May 10, 2018 U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry used a waiver that effectively kills the unfinished Plutonium Fuel Factory at Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina. The Department of Energy (DOE) submitted a document to Congressional committees stating that the Plutonium Fuel Factory would cost about $48 billion more than the $7.6 billion already spent on it. It was originally estimated to cost $4.8 billion. DOE cited a more cost effective alternative referred to as dilute-and-dispose. According to DOE, Dilute-and-dispose is a process in which plutonium is mixed with inert material for on-site storage.

For over two decades, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League has opposed the Plutonium Fuel Factory because it presents unsupportable risks to public safety and the environment. We also expressed concerns regarding the cost of the facility. At least 34 metric tons of Weapons-grade plutonium now stored at military sites across the nation would have been transported to SRS, made into fuel, then shipped to nuclear power plants to burn as fuel. However, no nuclear power plant ever signed up for this experiment.

South Carolina's Governor Henry McMaster has vowed to fight legally to continue the Plutonium Fuel Factory. On May 22, 2018 S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson notified relevant parties of his intent to sue regarding the facility.

On Oct. 9, 2018, an appeals court overruled a lower court, thus allowing the shutdown. The next day, the U.S. DOE sent a letter to the project contractor CB&I AREVA MOX Services stating that the ruling allows the federal government to stop construction of the fuel factory; therefore, the project’s contract is terminated “effective immediately”. Despite the official end of the fuel factory, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, Gov. Henry McMaster and Sen. Lindsey Graham have all vowed to fight to not abandon the facility.

NRC letter officially terminating the construction authorization for the Plutonium Fuel Fabrication Facility at Savannah River Site

posted Feb. 28, 2019: In 1997, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League launched the Southern Anti-plutonium Campaign, the goal of which was to stop the plutonium fuel factory at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina and prevent the expansion of the worldwide plutonium energy economy. Over the decades, we challenged Dominion’s and Duke Energy’s plans to use the fuel at nuclear power plants. Our campaign allied with non-governmental organizations in Russia, Great Britain, France, Japan as well as the US. BREDL spoke at many public forums including Augusta, Charlotte, Washington, Moscow, Saratov and Krasnoyarsk and at the G-8 in Okinawa. We placed the issue before the United Nations at Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty meetings in New York. The February 8, 2019 termination of the construction authorization by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is the final domino to fall in this dangerous and expensive project. Five billion taxpayer dollars were spent. Final construction cost estimates ballooned to $17 billion, over 400% of the original estimate. But the project was defeated, thanks to the many who acted on the belief that “one person speaking alone may not be heard, but many people speaking with one voice cannot be ignored.”

NRC Feb. 8 Letter

Group Calls for Investigation of Plutonium Fuel Contractor

Oct. 10, 2012: Today environmental groups in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee called for a government investigation of the principal federal contractor for the Department of Energy’s plutonium fuel program. In comments sent to the US Department of Energy, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League detailed the risks to public health and national security posed by the plutonium fuel program and the actions of Areva, the French government conglomerate which is part of Shaw Areva Mox Services. The group cited a legal dispute between Areva and the Tennessee Valley Authority over a $76 million charge for fuel services. The costs were later reduced to $26 million but without explanation.

Read BREDL Press Release | Oct. 10 Letter to DOE | Oct. 10 Comments to DOE

BREDL comments on the Surplus Plutonium Disposition SEIS

Sept. 4, 2012: For over a decade, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League has opposed the reprocessing of plutonium as civilian nuclear power fuel because it presents unsupportable risks to public safety and the environment.

Read BREDL's comments from BREDL's Charles Utley

BREDL comments on the Surplus Plutonium Disposition SEIS

March 12, 2012: BREDL opposes the US Dept. of Energy’s proposed expansion of plutonium reprocessing facilities either at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina or at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the proposed use of plutonium fuel at commercial electric power plants operated by TVA and other utilities.

Read BREDL's Comments

BREDL Continues its Decade-long Campaign to Halt Plutonium Fuel

Aug. 5, 2010: Tennessee Valley Authority’s Browns Ferry and Sequoyah nuclear power plants are identified in the July 19th Department of Energy Notice of Intent as the reactors designated for plutonium fuel use. The handling of special strategic nuclear materials requires the highest safety and security procedures. But the identified problems with fire protection, over-worked plant employees and site security lapses at these TVA power plants should eliminate them from further consideration by the DOE for plutonium disposition.

Read BREDL Comments to U.S. Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration

Statement to the Review Conference of the Parties to the
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
Delivered May 11, 2005 at the United Nations in New York.

May 9, 2005: Prevent the Reprocessing of Military Plutonium Wastes into Fuel. Statement to the Review Conference of the Parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Delivered May 11, 2005 at the United Nations in New York. Excerpt:

We hereby stand opposed the reprocessing of plutonium for fuel because it presents unsupportable risks to public safety and the environment, and undermines the goal of nuclear non-proliferation.  The circulation of plutonium fuel in the commercial sector would increase the risk of diversion. There is no way to ensure that plutonium reprocessing facilities for electric power will not be turned to military use.  We submit that a global movement for a world without nuclear weapons must also halt the drive for plutonium power.

Anti-Plutonium Campaign Wins Concessions

On April 18, 2005 the U.S Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued the public version of its final decision on the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League’s legal challenge to Duke Power’s request to test plutonium fuel at the Catawba nuclear power station. In its application to amend its operating license, Duke requested exemptions from post-9/11 federal requirements designed to protect nuclear materials from theft or sabotage. The judges granted the exemption but  imposed four conditions that Duke is required to meet before it can receive the fuel at Catawba. They are:

1. Duke shall modify its security procedures regarding plutonium fuel.

2. Duke must demonstrate its ability to counter an attempt at theft of plutonium fuel by undertaking tabletop and force-on-force exercises.

3. Duke must upgrade its security monitoring procedures during acceptance of plutonium fuel.

4. Duke must establish and have in place all procedures identified during the intervention hearings for accepting the plutonium fuel. These measures include coordinating transfer of plutonium fuel from DOE, coordinating with local law enforcement agencies and ensuring that armed responders are dedicated to the protection of the plutonium fuel.

The plutonium fuel tests necessitate the insertion of four lead test assemblies (LTA) into the Catawba reactor for at least two fuel cycles. Duke sought to exempt Catawba Nuclear Power Station from the regulations for Category I facilities which have special strategic nuclear materials such as 2 kilograms or more of plutonium. Duke’s Catawba nuclear station would contain 80 kilograms of plutonium during the proposed plutonium fuel tests.

Commercial nuclear fuel typically contains the oxide form of uranium. The nuclear industry’s term for this novel fuel is “MOX” because it is a mixed oxide containing both uranium and plutonium. But the primary fissile isotope of the fuel is plutonium, so we use the more accurate term “plutonium fuel.”

Our case required access to sensitive documents, Safe Guards Information, making many of the legal proceedings closed to the public. Relevant information was provided only to our technical consultant, Dr. Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, and to our attorney Diane Curran, of Harmon Curran Spielberg and Eisenberg, who complied with all security requirements. The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board’s ruling, originally issued on March 10th, required additional review and approval before it could be released to the public in censored format on April 18th. The redacted version is freely available and is posted on our website.

More info:
Read ASLBP decision (Public Redacted Version)
BREDL Report:
"Anti-Plutonium Campaign Wins Concessions"