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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

24 January 2002

Text: Abraham Announces Plan to Dispose of Surplus Plutonium

(Plan will meet goals agreed to by United States and Russia) (820)
The U.S. Department of Energy will dispose of 34 metric tons of
surplus weapons grade plutonium by turning it into fuel for nuclear
reactors.
Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said in a January 23 press release
that the decision to turn the plutonium into mixed oxide fuel (MOX)
for nuclear reactors follows an "exhaustive review" of alternative
technologies to dispose of surplus plutonium, and meets the
non-proliferation goals agreed to by the United States and Russia.
In September 2000, the two countries signed the Plutonium Management
and Disposition Agreement committing each country to dispose of 34
metric tons of surplus plutonium.
Under the Clinton administration, the U.S. government endorsed a
dual-track approach to disposal of the plutonium, including turning
some of the material into MOX reactor fuel and immobilizing the
remaining plutonium in radioactive glass logs for long-term storage.
The Energy Department announced today that eliminating the
immobilization option would save the United States almost $2,000
million, decrease plutonium storage costs, and hasten the closure of
the agency's former nuclear weapons complex sites.
The agency noted that European countries have used MOX fuel in their
reactors for over 20 years, and that U.S. nuclear experts will work
with their counterparts in Russia to achieve the disposition of
Russian surplus plutonium through the MOX process.
The Nuclear Control Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based
nonproliferation group, released a study in 1999 that said using MOX
fuel in a nuclear power plant raises the cancer risks associated with
containment failure or core meltdown accidents at such plants.
Activists also warn that the longer the plutonium remains in its
current form, the more likely it is that terrorists could steal the
material to make a nuclear bomb.
Following is the text of the press release:
(begin text)
U.S. Department of Energy
January 23, 2002
Secretary Abraham Announces Administration Plan to Proceed with
Plutonium Disposition & Reduce Proliferation Concerns
Says Plan Will "Enhance National Security & Advance Nonproliferation
Goals"
WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham announced
today that the Department of Energy and the Bush Administration will
dispose of 34 metric tons of surplus weapons grade plutonium by
turning the material into mixed oxide fuel (MOX) for use in nuclear
reactors. The decision follows an exhaustive Administration review of
non-proliferation programs, including alternative technologies to
dispose of surplus plutonium to meet the non-proliferation goals
agreed to by the United States and Russia.
"Today's announcement is central to enhancing our national security
and advancing our nonproliferation goals," Secretary Abraham said.
"This path forward is a workable, technologically possible, and
affordable solution, that meets our commitments to environmental
improvement, energy and national security, and the nuclear
nonproliferation policies agreed to by the United States and Russia."
In September 2000, the United States and Russia signed the Plutonium
Management and Disposition Agreement committing each country to
dispose of 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium.
The decision on plutonium disposition comes after a thorough
reexamination of more than 40 disposition alternatives that considered
costs, workable technologies, national defense requirements, and
compliance with nuclear non-proliferation agreements directed by the
Department in cooperation with the National Security Council and the
Department of State. The program has been under review since early
last year.
Previously, the government endorsed a dual-track approach to dispose
of the plutonium including turning some of the material into MOX
reactor fuel and immobilizing the remaining plutonium in
self-protecting radioactive glass logs for long-term storage.
Eliminating immobilization from the disposition pathway saves nearly
$2 billion in funding, decreases plutonium storage costs, and
facilitates the closure of the Department's former Nuclear Weapons
Complex sites.
"There is an increased urgency to move forward with the elimination of
surplus weapons grade material like plutonium," Abraham said.
"Focusing on proven technologies to eliminate this material, reducing
costs in the process, and keeping our commitment to national security
and the clean-up of former weapons sites is the right path to follow,"
Abraham said, noting that European countries have used MOX fuel in
their reactors for over 20 years.
The MOX conversion process is expected to cost $3.8 billion over 20
years, including the construction of two new conversion facilities at
the Department of Energy's Savannah River Site in South Carolina,
including disassembly and fuel fabrication facilities. Construction of
the facilities, set to begin in Fiscal Year 2004, will create on
average 500 new jobs and operation of the facilities will result in
approximately 800 new jobs.
The Department of State and the Department of Energy's National
Nuclear Security Administration will work with their counterparts in
Russia to achieve the disposition of Russian surplus plutonium through
the MOX process. Bilateral cooperation and inspections will ensure
progress.
(end text)
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
      



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