Savannah River Site Becoming World’s Nuclear Dumping Ground, despite Safety Risks
- Written By: GLORIA TATUM Atlanta Progressive News
(APN) ATLANTA -- The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is close to finalizing plans to accept highly radioactive commercial spent nuclear fuel from Germany to be deposited at the Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina, according to news reports that were buried deeper than the plutonium itself.
However, it is not only Germany that is sending, or has sent, nuclear waste to SRS, but also Italy, Sweden, Belgium, Canada, and perhaps other countries not yet known, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.
Atlanta Progressive News can report that South Carolina’s Savannah River Site is quietly becoming the world’s nuclear dumping ground, and de facto nuclear waste storage site, despite the facts that frequent rain and an overlapping earthquake zone make the site extremely dangerous, especially to our water supply.
There is no long-term storage plan for the waste in the U.S., with the Yucca Mountain proposal on the rocks, as it were, and with a temporary nuclear waste storage site in New Mexico having been closed to new shipments indefinitely.
SRS is already quietly storing plutonium brought in from other countries, and is now also planning to import 23,000 liters of liquid high-level waste from the Chalk River Laboratories in Canada, which would end up in the already stressed high-level waste tank system, according to an SRS Watch news release.
Shipments of foreign plutonium appear to have been secretly brought in via Charleston, South Carolina, in February and March 2014 of this year, according to an article by the Ottawa Citizen, dated March 29, 2014.
The article has a photo of PNTL transport ship Pacific Egret, noting that the ship carried guns and cannons, and that the ship--which originated in Italy with sensitive nuclear material-- disappeared from an online marine tracking system after entering Canadian waters:
Italy and Belgium have announced the transfer of plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU) to the Department of Energy's Savannah River Site. The Italy and Belgium imports are admitted to in two respective statements posted to the White House’s website, just days before the Ottawa Citizen report:
Meanwhile, according to Reuters and other reports, Japan will transfer HEU and plutonium to the U.S., but that the destination is not known. However, based on the closure of the New Mexico facility, it is highly reasonable to suspect that the Japanese shipment will also be dumped at SRS.
At the National Security Summit at the Hague on March 24 and 25, 2014, a priority item on the agenda was to reduce the amount of dangerous nuclear material in the world. They issued a statement that countries should repatriate highly enriched uranium (HEU) to its country of origin, thereby reducing the number of locations that terrorist groups could target to obtain it.
With the U.S. being the country of origin for much of the world’s nuclear material, this means all our nuclear chickens are coming home to roost.
After the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, the U.S. and Sweden announced the successful removal of plutonium (PU) from Sweden to the U.S.
According to the White House fact sheets, this is the first shipment of plutonium to the U.S. under the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), and can be a model for other countries seeking to permanently dispose of nuclear material. This was probably the model at the 2014 NSS that Italy and Belgium used to ship their nuclear waste to SRS.
A powerful agency inside the DOE, called the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is responsible for getting nuclear material out of the other nations’ inventories and transporting it to the U.S.
However, SRS is not acknowledging that other countries’ nuclear waste is coming to them for public relations reasons, Clements said.
"They are claiming it’s for nonproliferation but the Germans don't know what to do with this unusual kind of spent fuel. On the German side, it is nuclear dumping and on the U.S. side the primary motivation is to make money for the SRS to continue operating the so-called H Canyon reprocessing plant,” Tom Clements, Director of SRS Watch, told APN.
"The SRS already has more nuclear waste than it knows how to deal with… We should not be putting more nuclear waste into the waste system at SRS,” Clements said.
The German nuclear waste will come in canisters containing graphite pebble fuel elements from a closed facility that operated from 1967 to 1988. The U.S. provided the HEU to Germany between 1965 and 1988.
Construction on SRS began in 1951 and H Canyon began operations in 1955. The 310 acre site is over sixty years old and holds millions of gallons of high level nuclear waste already from reactors that produced plutonium for nuclear weapons from 1953 to 1989.
Clements’s group claims that while it is unclear if such unusual high-level nuclear waste can even be processed at SRS, there is no disposition plan for the waste. Though DOE claimed that the material would be disposed of safely, there is no disposal plan for such high-level nuclear waste, so it is essentially being sent to SRS for long-term storage or dumping.
"My fear is we are turning South Carolina and Georgia into a long term nuclear waste dump for other people's problems… What do you do when it leaks off site? Historically, every one of these sites have leaked. You can't call Germany up and say, 'Come and get your waste, it’s now half way down the Savannah River.' Once we take this stuff, it’s ours forever and some of these isotopes stay in the environment for more than a thousand years… and plutonium hangs around for 240,000 thousand years," Arnold Gundersen, Chief Nuclear Engineer of Fairewinds Energy Education, told APN.
"It does not belong in Georgia or South Carolina because it rains here and the best place for plutonium is in a place where it does not rain much like the New Mexican desert," Gundersen said.
SRS sits on an earthquake fault and the largest aquifers in the South. They have had problems with old storage tanks leaking and contamination at the facility. The soil is sandy with rainy, swampy conditions that are vulnerable to waste seepage.
Until this year, the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico was the nation's only permanent repository for the U.S. government's stockpile of nuclear waste.
But then on Valentine's Day this year, one of the canisters blew up and contaminated the entire underground cave system. It is uncertain, at this time, when or if it will reopen to receive thousands of drums of waste from around the country waiting to come to WIPP.
The explosion is blamed on the wrong kind of cat litter being used to absorb radioactive material. They switched from clay to organic cat litter, which caused the explosion.
"We are wasting money and increasing the risk of a terrorist accident if we build that MOX plant at SRS. Plutonium fuel cost more than uranium fuel and there's plenty of uranium on the planet. So we are taking other people's plutonium to keep a MOX plant running and no one wants to buy the output from it," Gundersen told APN.
Plutonium is a man made element derived from the transformation of uranium through fission. Plutonium, Pu-239, has a half life of 24,100 hundred years; that's the time it will take for half of the plutonium to radioactively decay. Radioactive contaminants are dangerous for ten to twenty times the length of their half-lives, meaning that if plutonium gets into the environment, it will be dangerous essentially forever. If ingested into the body, it causes DNA damage in tissue, and cancer.
The use of MOX fuel does not get rid of plutonium; instead it becomes part of the lethal soup of ingredients termed "high level nuclear waste." There are no safe long-term storage for nuclear waste, only interim storage solutions for waste that will remain hazardous for thousands of years.
"When I hear plutonium in the environment, it becomes a problem not only for the next generation - we were not even a [human] species a quarter of a million years ago - we might be a new species before this stuff completely disintegrates from the environment,” Gundersen said.
Citizens living downstream from the site have complained for years of high levels of cancer and death in their community, which they attribute to the SRS and Plant Vogtle's nuclear reactors across the river on the Georgia side.
“The DOE is more interested in jobs this year and totally forgetting about the environmental costs for the next 300 or a thousand years. It’s unfair to the people of Georgia and South Carolina to make some money now and pollute the Savannah River for a thousand years,” Gundersen said.
"Why we have to take it [nuclear waste] from Germany, Belgium, or Italy makes no sense. They can put it underground just as easily as we can, but their populations are more environmentally sensitive than we are. We are becoming the dumping ground for nuclear waste," Gundersen said.
According to SRS Watch, the import may be a violation of the International Convention on Nuclear Safety, as well as the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management.
A public meeting on the the issue, “Environmental Assessment for the Acceptance and Disposition of Used Nuclear Fuel Containing U.S.-Origin Highly Enriched Uranium From the
Federal Republic of Germany,” is scheduled for Tuesday, June 24, 2014, from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the North Augusta Community Center, 495 Brookside Drive, North Augusta, South Carolina 29841.
To submit written comments: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2014-06-04/pdf/2014-12933.pdf
The public is encouraged to attend the June 24 meeting and make comments on both the proposed import of the German waste and also the trend of SRS to accept foreign nuclear waste and plutonium.
For more information on this subject visit www.srswatch.org (END/2014)