Nuclear -   32
Nuclear -   32
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$5 Million Spent to Woo SenatorsPublic Citizen – Press Release – May 18, 2002
WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senators and senatorial candidates have taken more than $5 million from the nuclear power industry in political action committee contributions since 1997, a new report from Public Citizen shows.
PACs of corporations belonging to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the industry's powerful Washington lobby, have contributed $1.3 million to Senate campaigns from Jan. 1, 2001, through Feb. 28, 2002, alone. The cash has been distributed in advance of a vote that will be critical to the future of the industry - whether to establish a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
"Politicians bristle at the suggestion that their votes can be purchased by campaign contributions, but the money has an effect or the industry wouldn't be handing out so much," said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. "The nuclear power industry, on the other hand, candidly boasts that campaign cash influences public policy, and the industry funnels money to candidates because 'the system operates this way.' "
Public Citizen's report, Hot Waste, Cold Cash: Nuclear Industry PAC Contributions and the Senators Who Love Them, is based primarily on PAC filings with the Federal Election Commission compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Transporting nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain would entail tens of thousands of shipments on roads, rails and waterways in 44 states and the District of Columbia. The transportation casks that will be used have never been tested, and even the U.S. Department of Energy acknowledges that there will be traffic accidents involving nuclear waste. An accident involving just one of these shipments could be catastrophic. Local emergency response and public health infrastructures do not have the capacity to respond to a nuclear disaster.
Further, the Yucca Mountain site itself is unsuitable. It sits atop an aquifer and in an earthquake zone, and the site selection process has been rife with conflicts of interest and industry influence.
Public Citizen found that U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Ala.), ranking minority member of the Senate Energy Committee, is the indisputable "Nuclear PAC Man." The $143,582 Murkowski took from the nuclear PACs since 1997 is more than any other senator.
Among the report's other findings:
To view the full report visit http://www.citizen.org/documents/hotwastecoldcash.PDF
Attached is a chart listing the top Senate recipients of NEI PAC money from 1997 to 2002.
Senator Money from NEI member PACs
1 Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska $143,582
Source: Public Citizen analysis of data compiled by Center for Responsive Politics and, for 2002, monthly and quarterly PAC filings with Federal Elections Commission.
Controversy After Nuclear ShutdownNew York Times – by Matthew L. Wald – May 16, 2002
(5/14/02) - Power company executives, environmentalists and state government officials fought for most of the 80's and 90's about whether the Maine Yankee nuclear power plant was safe and economical. But once the owners agreed that the plant should close, the debate turned really complicated.
Suddenly, said Ray Shadis, who had fought for years to shut down Maine's only reactor, ''there were a lot more things to argue about.''
How much radioactive building material could safely be left at the site? Should nonradioactive concrete and concrete structures below the ground be removed? What should happen to the highly radioactive spent fuel, which the federal government is supposed to take, but, for the next few years at least, has no place to put?
Now, more than five years after Maine Yankee split its last atom, the cumbersome process of decontamination and demolition gives a hint of what lies ahead for the 103 power reactors still operating around the country -- whether economic problems close them, as happened here, or fear of terrorism shuts them, a threat faced by Indian Point in New York, or whether they run for years to come and retire at a ripe old age.
First comes the argument over how much radioactive material can be left. Some experts have described as excruciatingly tough the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's standard, which says the annual extra dose of radiation of the person most heavily exposed should be no more than 25 millirem. People who do not work with radiation are exposed to about 350 millirem a year, counting cosmic rays, radon gas and radiation from medical procedures and naturally radioactive rocks and minerals.
In the regulatory commission's calculation, the individual is assumed to live 24 hours a day at the site. That is unlikely at many reactor sites that will remain industrial -- as will probably be the case here -- where workers typically spend eight hours a day. Maine Yankee, one of the first big reactors to be shut, has rail service, town water and sewerage, access to the electric grid, and a river full of water for barge traffic or cooling, all of which contribute to its industrial appeal.
The commission's calculation also assumes the individual is a subsistence farmer who drills a well in the most contaminated spot and uses its water for drinking and irrigation. Coastal Maine has no such farmers, and the water under the site is brackish, company officials say, making it unsuitable for drinking or irrigation.
But after protracted debate, the state decided that the commission's standard was too loose; it imposed a standard of 10 millirem a year. That standard is so low that technicians have difficulty determining whether dirt or concrete has enough radioactivity above natural background that it will contribute to extra exposure. So hundreds of tons of material are being shipped out to other states on the presumption of being slightly radioactive, because shipping is cheaper than testing.
Not all environmentalists are convinced that this is sound.
''Parts of this can be depicted by others, outside the state of Maine, to be pretty selfish,'' said W. Donald Hudson, who is the president of the Chewonski Foundation, an environmental educational institution a mile from the plant.
Moving the material does not make it any less radioactive, although it may end up somewhere with a lower population density and less rainfall, reducing the likelihood that contaminants will be washed into drinking water.
Mr. Hudson said plants decommissioned in the future might not be able to ship out so much material, because states designated to receive the waste might ''put their foot down.''
Nationally, only three low-level waste dumps are operating, and one, at Hanford, Wash., accepts material only from the Pacific Northwest. The other dumps are in Barnwell, S.C., and at a desert site about 80 miles west of Salt Lake City, which is expected to receive most of Maine Yankee's contaminated concrete. Thus one certainty of decommissioning is a long trip.
About 65,000 tons of radioactive waste from the plant will require shipment off site. More highly radioactive materials will go to Barnwell. About 50,000 tons of material that is not radioactive will go to an ordinary industrial landfill in Niagara County, N.Y. About 75 trainloads of radiaoactive and nonradioactive waste have already been shipped.
If all goes as scheduled, it will take eight years to demolish the plant, which took four years to build. The construction was easier, because at that point all the material was clean, said Wayne A. Norton, president of the company.
Demolishing the plant and shipping the waste will cost $500 million, more than twice the $231 million the plant cost to build (although that was in 1972, when a dollar bought more concrete than it does today.) The job is 61 percent done and on budget, managers say.
Maine Yankee is a single-unit plant, about two-thirds the size of Indian Point 2 or 3 in New York, which suggests the cost of decommissioning a plant the size of Indian Point could well exceed $1 billion, Another factor in deciding how thoroughly to clean up the site is radiation exposure to workers performing the decommissioning. The more exhaustive the operation, the more that level will rise. Maine Yankee has a ''budget'' of no more than 1,150 rem of exposure to all of its workers collectively during the entire cleanup, although the actual exposure will probably be somewhat lower. In contrast, 200 rem to 400 rem was typical for a year in which the plant was operating.
But neither Maine Yankee nor any other power reactor can really be fully decommissioned now because there is no place to put spent fuel. So a major policy issue that remains is how to store the fuel, which is now kept mostly in spent fuel pools around the country.
At Maine Yankee, workers are preparing to put the fuel into 60 giant stainless steel canisters, which will be dried out and filled with an inert gas to prevent rust. Each will be loaded into its own giant concrete cylinder, with holes to allow air circulation. Those will go on concrete pads, surrounded by razor wire, motion detectors and armed guards. The casks are licensed for 20 years by the regulatory commission and guaranteed by the builder for 50 years, but their stay at the site could be a lot longer. An application by the manufacture to license the casks for shipping is pending.
The fuel must be loaded into the canisters under water, because in open air, the radiation it gives off would be lethal. But the plan is that after loading, workers will dismantle the pool, so the site will lose the ability to repackage the wastes if something goes wrong with a canister in a few years.
State officials say the casks may be vulnerable to terrorist attack.
Plutonium Shipments DelayedThe State – by Joey Holleman – May 16, 2002
(5/10/02) - The Department of Energy agreed Thursday to delay shipments of plutonium to the Savannah River Site until June 15 so a lawsuit filed by Gov. Jim Hodges can hit the fast track.
The shipment delay was part of a consent order defining the schedule for Hodges' lawsuit against the Energy Department in U.S. District Court in Aiken. The shipments from the Rocky Flats nuclear facility in Colorado were to begin as early as Wednesday.
The agreement, signed by District Judge Cameron McGowan Currie, sets schedules for motions and counter motions in the lawsuit. A hearing is scheduled for June 13, when the judge will consider Hodges' request for a preliminary injunction. If granted, the injunction would halt shipments until the lawsuit is heard.
"We're encouraged that the DOE is willing to work with Gov. Hodges" on the plutonium shipment issue, said Cortney Owings, the governor's spokeswoman.
Energy Department spokesman Joe Davis said, "Given that the governor has elected to throw this matter into litigation, DOE believes that the best way to avoid undue delay in shipments is an expedited briefing schedule."
The Democratic governor filed the suit last week, claiming the agency didn't follow environmental protection procedures in compiling its plan to store the plutonium at SRS.
The Energy Department plans to ship 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium to SRS for processing into mixed oxide fuel that can be burned in commercial nuclear power plants. The program is part of a plan for the U.S. and Russia to reduce their weapons-grade plutonium.
The issue bubbled up on other fronts Thursday. U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., filed legislation that could cost South Carolina thousands of jobs.
And Republicans on the House Rules Committee blocked an effort by U.S. Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., to restore $10 million for the similar Russian program.
Allard wants the Energy Department to re-open bidding for the MOX plant. The Pantex site near Amarillo, Texas, was the other finalist for the project, awarded to SRS in 1999. Construction has not started.
Other states might want the $4 billion project, Allard said. At least 1,500 people could be employed in the construction and operation of the MOX facility.
The bill also calls for a study of the costs and implications to national security of closing the Savannah River Site. Nearly 13,500 people work at the facility in Aiken and Barnwell counties.
Hodges "has convinced me through his words and actions that his state is no longer interested in having the MOX facility at Savannah River," Allard said.
Hodges has pledged to block plutonium shipments legally or physically unless the Department of Energy agrees to a strict schedule for processing the plutonium into fuel or shipping it back out of the state.
The Democratic governor also has said legislation proposed last week by Rep. Lindsey Graham and Sen. Strom Thurmond doesn't go far enough to protect the state. The bill sets fines of up to $100 million per year if the Energy Department doesn't begin to process plutonium by 2011. The proposal also would require the department to ship the plutonium out of the state in 2017 program if it hasn't started processing by then.
Hodges' office called Allard's latest attempt nothing more than hollow posturing.
"The governor's position isn't 'Don't bring the plutonium here,'‘" said spokesman Jay Reiff. "He just wants to make sure there are enforceable rules."
Thurmond regretted that Allard felt the need to file the legislation. "I was concerned that the recent filing of a federal lawsuit by the governor could jeopardize current and future jobs at the Savannah River Site," Thurmond said. "It is now apparent that my concerns were well-founded."
The facility where the weapons-grade plutonium would be turned into fuel is scheduled to be operational in 2007.
Spratt fought for the $10 million for the Russian program because the agreement between the countries requires that the work be done in tandem. If the Russian plant doesn't process plutonium into MOX, the South Carolina plant might not either.
The cut of $10 million from the original $98 million funding for the Russian program "is precisely the sort of uncertainty surrounding this program that has prompted Gov. Hodges to demand enforceable assurances against program failure," Spratt said.
Nuclear Power Plant Terrorist Warnings10News, San Diego – May 14, 2002
U.S. officials last week received information that terrorists plan to strike a nuclear power plant in the Northeast on the July 4 holiday, The Associated Press reported, citing a government source.
The information about the possible Independence Day attack reportedly comes from captured high-ranking al-Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah. No specific target was identified.
Coast Guard officials in Miami say more than two-dozen Islamic extremists entered the United States in the past two months as stowaways on cargo ships, some through the Port of Miami, WPLG-TV in Miami reported.
The officials say that the Coast Guard has notified federal, state and local officials that 25 extremists entered through ports in three cities: Miami, Savannah, Ga., and Long Beach, Calif. However, the FBI's Miami office and the U.S. attorney's office both say they had heard nothing about any suspected extremists entering through the Port of Miami.
While officials at one northeastern power plant, Three Mile Island in Middletown, Pa., are taking the report of the threat seriously, they do not believe it is a credible threat.
"We don't know if it's a real threat at this point," said Earl Freilino, Pennsylvania's director of Homeland Security.
According to a report from the Washington Times, Zubaydah, a key lieutenant of Osama Bin Laden, said Islamic terrorists plan to attack with a radioactive bomb July 4.
"This information has not been validated, or deemed credible. We have no reason to change things at (Three Mile Island) right now," said Ralph DeSantis, TMI spokesman.
U.S. Rep. George Gekas, R-Pa., spoke with U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on Monday morning to determine how concerned Pennsylvanians should be.
"Secretary Rumsfeld says there is no information about a specific threat aimed at TMI," Gekas said. As federal authorities investigate, security at the plant remains high.
"We've increased security patrols, hired additional security officers and installed physical barriers at the site," DeSantis said.
In October, the airspace surrounding TMI was closed for what turned out to be a noncredible threat.
"It's very unsettling. It's scary," neighbor Cathy Consla said.
The reactions of those who live in the shadow of the power plant's towers are mixed, but many who live nearby think the current threat won't turn out to be much either.
"I'm not concerned in the least," neighbor J.R. Hanan said.
"I'm not going to get too excited about it. It goes in one ear out the other. Until they get proof. What are you going to do? You can't run," Larry Richmond said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Congress Urged to Reject Flawed DumpPublic Citizen – Press Release – May 8, 2002
WASHINGTON, D.C. - National environmental, public interest, taxpayer and consumer groups joined members of Congress at a press conference today to discuss the importance of the upcoming vote on the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository and urge lawmakers to reject the dangerous plan. The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote Wednesday on the repository (H.J. Res. 87).
"Stopping Yucca is a huge priority for the major national environmental, consumer and safe energy organizations because of the grave threat to public health and the environment that this project poses," said Debbie Sease, legislative director of the Sierra Club.
Added Jill Lancelot, legislative director at Taxpayers for Common Sense, "The Yucca Mountain proposal is a bad solution to a very real problem. Support of Yucca is a roadblock to finding a cost-effective solution to the nation's nuclear waste problem."
Speakers raised concerns about the safety of transporting nuclear waste through 44 states and the District of Columbia to the Nevada facility.
"A crash involving just one of these deadly shipments could be catastrophic," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "This is an unnecessary risk that should not be imposed on communities along the nation's roads and rails."
Added Robert K. Musil, Ph.D., P.H., executive director and CEO of Physicians for Social Responsibility, "Even without an accident, transporting nuclear waste poses health threats. Each transport is like a portable X-ray machine that cannot be turned off. We are asking Congress to put the safety and health of the American people ahead of the interests of the nuclear industry."
The groups also questioned the suitability of the Yucca Mountain site.
Environmental and public interest groups, as well as the state of Nevada, have charged that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) illegally manipulated standards for protecting groundwater around the site from radioactive contamination. They want the EPA to rewrite the groundwater standards it established specifically for Yucca Mountain.
"Everyone knows Yucca Mountain leaks like a sieve," said Alys Campaigne, legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "EPA has committed outright scientific fraud in constructing its drinking water compliance boundary around the Yucca Mountain site. The agency's proposal will permit a radioactive septic field in a region that relies solely on groundwater for drinking water and irrigation."
Added Deb Callahan, League of Conservation Voters president, "Storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain is an issue that raises more questions than answers, but two things are certain: It's neither smart policy nor smart politics. Candidates in 350 congressional districts this fall will have to tell voters whether they are willing to risk their communities by allowing thousands of tons of dangerous nuclear waste on their highways and rail lines."
U.S. Reps. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.), and Jim McDermott (D-Nev.) spoke at the press conference.
League of Conservation Voters, Public Citizen and U.S. PIRG track lawmakers' voting records on environmental/public interest scorecards.
Buffett Sees Nuclear Terrorism as InevitableCBS MarketWatch.com - – May 7, 2002
(5/6/02) - OMAHA, Neb. (CBS.MW) -- Warren Buffett, celebrated as the "oracle of Omaha," has offered this grim prediction about terrorist attacks on U.S. soil: More lie ahead.
Speaking to investors and the media over the weekend at his annual conclave, Buffett conceded that he didn't know when an attack would come, but he said that he was sure there would be one and that it would be "a major nuclear event in this country."
"Whether it'll happen in 10 years or 10 minutes, or 50 years...it's virtually a certainty," he told reporters. "We are the No. 1 target."
His comments resonated on Wall Street Monday but didn't hurt his holding company's stock. In recent action, Berkshire Hathaway's class A shares were trading at $75,000 each, up $700, or just less than 1 percent gain. Class B shares were trading at $2,489.50, up $19.50.
Buffett told the more than 10,000 people gathered at what has been dubbed "Woodstock for capitalists" in his hometown that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks "jolted" him and his companies. His insurance units lost billions of dollars -- a significant blow to the taciturn 71-year-old, whose holdings range from insurers and reinsurers to manufacturers of building supplies and shoes. Dairy Queen and See's Candies are also among Berkshire's holdings.
The investment guru blamed himself for the estimated $2.4 billion that General Reinsurance had to pay out to cover what he referred to as "man-made catastrophic events," according to news reports. If he had been more alert, he said, Berkshire would have put greater protections in place -- and a higher price tag on the costs of war-risk insurance.
"We were giving [such insurance] away before, and that was my mistake," he said.
And it cost him plenty. Between losses at General Re and Geico Insurance caused largely by the terrorist attacks, Berkshire's losses lopped $3.8 billion off its value and knocked Buffett's personal fortune down to $35 billion, according to Forbes magazine.
Buffett used the platform at the packed marathon annual meeting in his hometown to renew his calls for a federal terror insurance program and nuclear exclusions in insurance policies. Without those, he said, the insurance industry would be wiped out.
"We take on a lot of terrorism insurance, but we can't be unlimited," he said. "We can't insure ... Manhattan from a nuclear event."
Though "discipline is back" at Berkshire's General Re -- which helped generate $20 million in first-quarter operating profit and almost $2 billion in cash -- Buffett was reluctant to endorse the industry.
He's not covering nuclear, chemical or biological attacks, he said, asserting that no insurance company can take on the kind of capacity that a nuclear attack, for example, would require.
He insisted that General Re would "become our No. 1 asset" but acknowledged it would take time for the Stamford, Conn.-based company to fully recover.
Hodges rejects plutonium legislationTheState.com – by Joey Holleman – May 6, 2002
(5/4/02) - The legislation filed in Congress placing limits on plutonium storage at Savannah River Site doesn't go far enough to protect South Carolina, Gov. Jim Hodges said Friday.
The legislation was introduced Thursday by Republicans Rep. Lindsey Graham and Sen. Strom Thurmond.
It sets fines of up to $100 million per year if the Department of Energy doesn't begin to process plutonium by 2011, and it requires the department to ship the plutonium back out of the state in 2017 if it hasn't started processing by then.
In a letter to Graham, the Democratic governor said the legislation is unacceptable in three respects:
• The Energy Department will be able to ship more plutonium than previously agreed to, regardless of whether processing facilities are built;
• There's no requirement to remove the mixed oxide fuel processed at SRS;
• The penalties aren't severe enough and wouldn't act as a deterrent.
Hodges said the Energy Department "has a history of breaking promises. Already, DOE is backtracking from provisions that it agreed to as recently as April 11."
Hodges asked Graham to revise his legislation. He also asked Democratic Rep. James Clyburn to introduce a different version of the legislation in the Appropriations Committee.
The Graham legislation would allow the production of MOX indefinitely at SRS. Hodges wants production to end and all fuel to be shipped out by no later than 2025. He's concerned more fuel will be processed than can be burned in nuclear power plants, thus leaving stockpiles at SRS.
Graham, in a statement released by his office, didn't respond to Hodges' specific complaints. Instead, he took issue with the governor's contention this isn't a national security issue.
"It's hard to bring Governor Hodges on board for a legislative solution when he can't understand weapons-grade plutoniumactual bomb material -- is a national security concern," Graham said.
Nuclear Industry Rolls Out Red Carpet for CongressPublic Citizen – Press Release – May 4, 2002
LAS VEGAS - Luxurious Las Vegas accommodations and wining and dining at an exclusive members-only nightspot await key staffers for several members of the U.S. House of Representatives this weekend, courtesy of the nuclear power industry, Public Citizen has learned.
The Nuclear Energy Institute is bankrolling the junket for 22 congressional staffers as the House prepares to vote next week on whether to override Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn's veto of the Bush administration's Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump designation. That designation was made despite several unresolved scientific and technical questions, growing concerns about the safety of transporting deadly nuclear waste across the country, and mounting evidence that Yucca Mountain, which sits on an aquifer and in an earthquake zone, is a dangerous place to store radioactive waste.
This weekend's Las Vegas excursion is one of several that NEI, the industry's powerful and well-heeled Washington lobby, has provided to members of Congress and their staffs over the past several months. Each trip reportedly includes a short visit to Yucca Mountain.
But the obligatory tour of Yucca Mountain appears more as a footnote in the program of this weekend's fling that was circulated under the heading "Countdown to Vegas." Staffers will enjoy world-class service and luxury at the Four Seasons Hotel. At $225 or more a night, the rooms are about double the typical cost of accommodations at major Las Vegas Strip hotels. Staffers also will attend a dinner at the House of Blues Foundation Room on the top floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort Sunday night. The club is accessible only to members and their guests, and membership fees range from $2,000 to $5,000 a year.
The NEI has been providing the Las Vegas junkets to staffers and members of Congress on nearly an ongoing basis for several months, during which staffers have reportedly enjoyed free drinks, free shows, golf and gambling.
"Unfortunately in our political system, money buys votes," said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. "The industry is clearly hoping that lavishing luxurious quarters and delectable meals on congressional staffers will buy influence with lawmakers and ultimately buy their votes on the Yucca Mountain project."
When concerned citizens asked the DOE to allow them to accompany the congressional staffers on their tour of Yucca Mountain to help answer any questions and to monitor the information presented by the DOE, the agency was unhelpful.
"I was told that DOE would have to ask NEI for permission and they never got back to me," said Peggy Maze Johnson, executive director of Citizen Alert. "It seems that the DOE is content to let NEI spoon feed to staffers the industry side of this issue only, and this decision is being influenced the 'old fashioned way' - with lots of money."
Added Lisa Gue, policy analyst for Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program, "It is an embarrassment to democracy that on the eve of this important vote, members of Congress are sending their policy advisors to be pampered by nuclear industry largesse while the concerns of their constituents about deadly shipments of nuclear waste through their communities go unaddressed."
For the nuclear industry, money apparently is no object. A recent Public Citizen report found that in just a single year, 2000, leading nuclear interests spent a staggering $25 million lobbying federal officials.
Scheduled participants in this weekend's junket include staff from the offices of Reps. Thomas Barrett (D-Wis.); Charles Bass (R-N.H.); Robert Brady (D-Pa.); John Conyers (D-Mich.); Jennifer Dunn (R-Wash.); Philip English (R-Pa.); George Gekas (R-Pa.); Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.); Felix Grucci (R-N.Y.); Mark Kennedy (R-Minn.); Ron Kind (D-Wis.); Peter King (R-N.Y.); Betty McCollum (D-Minn.); Scott McInnis (R-Colo.); William Pascrell (D-N.J.); Colin Peterson (D-Minn.); Thomas Petri (R-Wis.); Mike Rogers (R-Mich.); Paul Ryan (R-Wis.); Nick Smith (R-Mich.); Thomas Tancredo (R-Colo).
"Voters in the communities that these staffers purportedly serve have legitimate concerns about the dangers of this project," Gue said. "But they don't have a bottomless pit of money to lavish on influential congressional staff. In some instances, this trip appears to be a thank you gift for staffers who have already pressed their bosses to tow the industry line in the upcoming vote."
The Yucca Mountain vote presents members of Congress with an opportunity to put public health and safety ahead of special interests by voting to uphold Nevada's veto.
Hodges Sues DOE to Stop Plutonium ShipmentsThe Greenville News - by Tim Smith – May 3, 2002
(5/1/02) - COLUMBIA -- Gov. Jim Hodges sued the federal government Wednesday to stop plutonium shipments to South Carolina and asked a federal judge to require a new environmental review.
The U.S. Department of Energy intended to begin sending the highly radioactive metal to the Savannah River Site near Aiken in two weeks. A decision favorable to Hodges could delay the shipments for more than a year, the governor said.
"We cannot allow the U.S. Department of Energy to push us around," Hodges said. "I will continue to work to find a legislative solution, but the time has come to do everything possible to ensure plutonium is not shipped to SRS before that legislation becomes law."
U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham has proposed legislation that would give the state $1 million a day if the Energy Department does not comply with an agreement to reprocess the material and ship it out of the state. Graham said Wednesday the lawsuit will fail and will make it more difficult to reach a compromise.
"To believe that today's lawsuit doesn't chill negotiations with DOE is unrealistic," Graham said.
Joe Davis, a spokesman for the agency, said he was "disappointed" in Hodges' actions.
"This action is totally inconsistent with a desire to work things out," he said. "We will continue working to solve the problem rather than engaging in political grandstanding for the cameras."
The 24-page lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Aiken, alleges the Energy Department violated the National Environmental Policy Act by switching plans for handling plutonium at Savannah River earlier this year without filing an environmental impact statement. It asks the court to enjoin the agency from shipping the metal "until it complies with applicable law."
The Energy Department wants to send 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium to the Aiken facility to begin a program of converting the former bomb material into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors. Officials hoped to build the mixed-oxide, or MOX, fuel plant at Savannah River by 2007. The first fuel would be produced in 2008.
The $3 billion program is to operate in tandem with MOX processing in Russia to reduce each nation's nuclear arsenal.
Hodges has sought a binding agreement by the Energy Department to remove the plutonium by a certain date because he said he fears problems with funding the MOX program could result in the agency using the state to dump surplus plutonium.
Graham's bill would give the state $1 million a day if the MOX plant does not produce at least one ton of fuel a year by certain dates. The penalty is an option in 2011 and becomes mandatory in 2017, when the government would have to remove all the plutonium it sent if the plant still does not produce at least one ton a year.
Hodges asked Graham Tuesday to toughen the bill by indexing fines to inflation, setting a date when all plutonium would be removed and halting shipments until legislation is passed.
According to the lawsuit, agency officials have changed the plans for handling plutonium several times and this year announced that plutonium may have to be stored at the site for more than 10 years. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is reviewing the MOX plans, wants new environmental analysis because of the changes, according to the lawsuit.
Use of the MOX fuel also is shaky, according to the lawsuit. Duke Energy officials have stated the company's use of the fuel "is not a certainty," according to the lawsuit. The company has proposed using MOX in two South Carolina reactors, the only current commercial suitor for the fuel. The lawsuit says an environmental review is critical.
"There are numerous problems with using SRS for long-term storage, including its location close to surface and ground water, deficient buildings and the absence of important support facilities for long-term storage," the lawsuit states.
Hodges also asked that a judge revoke the national security exemption granted the Energy Department to transport containers that don't meet federal safety standards. The decision to use the exemption was "arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion and is therefore illegal," according to the lawsuit.
The governor said he does not believe the agency needs to ship the plutonium soon but has picked the May 15 date to satisfy concerns by the contractor cleaning up the Colorado site and a U.S. senator from Colorado, who is running for re-election. The lawsuit states that the contract contains financial incentives for cleaning the site on time and that a former official of the firm is now undersecretary of the Energy Department.
"This isn't about national security," Hodges said. "This is about politics. I think we need to cut to the chase and address what's going on here."
Hodges said he believes the lawsuit will "throw a significant roadblock" in the push to ship plutonium, giving the state time to negotiate a binding guarantee. He said while he remains open to a legislative solution, he prefers a court decree.
He said he has hired two private lawyers, William Want and Lionel S. Lofton, both of Charleston, to represent the state in the matter because he was unsure how state Attorney General Charlie Condon felt about the issue.
Condon, a Republican running for governor, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Hodges faxed information about the lawsuit to members of the state's congressional delegation Wednesday afternoon.
U.S. Rep. John Spratt, a Democrat who also voiced objections to parts of Graham's bill this week, said the lawsuit "should not end the discussions that have been underway for the past several days."
U.S. Rep. Jim DeMint, a Greenville Republican, said he feels the best solution remains legislation in Congress.
"I urge the governor to continue to work in a bipartisan way with the congressional delegation and the Energy Department to finalize this agreement for the safety and benefit of South Carolina," he said.
Plutonium Blockade Exercises OrderedGreenville News – by James T. Hammond – April 21, 2002
(4/19/02) - COLUMBIA - Gov. Jim Hodges scheduled a blockade drill Monday outside the Savannah River Site to press his opposition to the Bush Administration's plans to begin shipping plutonium to South Carolina from Rocky Flats, Colo., as early as May 15.
Meanwhile, the Energy Department on Friday officially canceled immobilization, one of the two plutonium disposition options it had promised South Carolina in 1998.
Immobilization would have stabilized some of the plutonium for permanent storage in another site.
In a formal Record of Decision, published in the official Federal Register, the Energy Department also said the second plutonium disposition option promised to South Carolina, conversion to mixed-oxide fuel (MOX) for commercial nuclear reactors, remains under review.
"No final decisions regarding the MOX portion of the surplus plutonium disposition program will be made until DOE/NNSA has completed this analysis," the Record of Decision said of a review under way by the National Nuclear Security Administration.
DOE spokesman Joe Davis said the decision published Friday means the plutonium will still have a pathway out of South Carolina. "We've made no final decisions because there are additional environmental issues that must be studied, research the governor's office has asked us to do," Davis said. "There should be no misunderstanding, we are still committed to the MOX program. While there has been no final decision, the additional environmental work requested by the governor is reflected in this decision," Davis said. "We are committed to a pathway out of South Carolina for this plutonium," Davis said.
The Record of Decision noted the Energy Department earlier had decided to cancel a purpose-built, secure storage facility for the surplus plutonium, choosing instead to store the highly radioactive material in an mothballed reactor building at SRS. The plutonium could be safely stored in the 1950s-era reactor building for 50 years, the Energy Department has said in earlier documents.
The only part of the 1998 pledge by the Energy Department to South Carolina that would be kept, according to Friday's official notice, is that the plutonium would be shipped to South Carolina anyway.
The Energy Department said the 1998 plan "conditioned shipment of plutonium from (Rocky Flats) to SRS for storage on selection of SRS as the site for the immobilization facility. Cancellation of the immobilization facility and selection of the consolidated long-term storage alternative in this amended ROD removes the basis of that contingency."
"DOE will notify the Congress and consult with the governor of South Carolina before shipping plutonium from (Rocky Flats) to SRS," the decision states. Notice of the shipments was received by Gov. Jim Hodges on Monday.
"This is the realization of the governor's fears that plutonium will be shipped to South Carolina and stored in South Carolina indefinitely," said Cortney Owings, the governor's spokeswoman.
Owings said the exercises are "a first step in evaluating all options open to the governor. A roadblock would be a last resort."
She said the governor "hopes DOE officials will come to their senses and realize South Carolina's welfare should be a deciding factor in this issue, and not merely a consideration," Owings said.
Davis declined to comment on Hodges' plans for roadblock exercises.
Scheduled for Monday about 10 a.m. at the intersection of U.S. 278 and State 19, the exercise will be just outside the 300-square-mile federal facility near Aiken that produced much of the plutonium for the Cold War nuclear weapons program.
The state Department of Public Safety, in announcing the exercises with the Highway Patrol and state Transport Police, said the officers "will participate in an enforcement exercise designed to prepare for the possibility of weapons-grade plutonium arriving at the state's border."
It's the latest escalation of the Democratic governor's war of words with the U.S. Department of Energy over plans to ship about 34 tons of surplus plutonium from the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile to SRS to be converted into fuel for commercial nuclear power plants. It is also part of U.S. obligations under a treaty with Russia for both nations to render the weapons-grade material useless for future nuclear weapons.
Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham said Monday that he was giving official 30-day notice that the material would be shipped beginning as early as May 15. He has told the governor that prompt shipments are vital to meet the nation's treaty obligations to Russia and the 2006 target date to fully clean up the former weapons plant at Rocky Flats.
But Hodges has resisted the shipments, saying that the Bush administration's downgrading of plans for a plutonium facility at SRS cause him to worry that the deadly radioactive material might be stranded in South Carolina permanently.
Hodges and Abraham largely agreed last week on terms for the shipments and disposal of the plutonium. But Abraham stopped short of the federal court consent decree Hodges said was necessary to ensure South Carolina would not be left holding the plutonium forever.
Some Republicans, including Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler and House Speaker David Wilkins, are political allies of the Bush administration and have labeled Hodges' actions as irresponsible.
"That's political grandstanding at its worst. He ought to be rolling up his sleeves working on a solution rather than working on roadblocks," Wilkins said. "The Bush administration at the highest level has given assurances that there is a clear exit strategy, that plutonium will not be permanently stored in South Carolina. The governor is just refusing to take yes for an answer because it is an election year."
But other Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham of Seneca and Secretary of State Jim Miles, have urged Hodges to stick to his guns and insist upon iron-clad guarantees that the plutonium will eventually leave South Carolina.
Miles sent the governor a letter this week reaffirming his support.
"You have my full support in blocking the plutonium shipments until a legal, binding agreement is reached," Miles wrote to Hodges.
Abraham, instead, offered to support a Congressional guarantee, and asked Hodges to work toward passage of such a guarantee within the 30-day period.
NRC, Duke Have Doubts About MOXThe State – by Sammy Fretwell – April 20, 2002
(4/18/02) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees the nation's commercial nuclear reactors, says there's no guarantee the Savannah River Site's mixed oxide fuel program will ever get off the ground. Duke Energy Corp., the company that wants to use the fuel in its nuclear power plants, also expressed concerns about the program.
The doubts come as Gov. Jim Hodges wrangles with the federal Department of Energy over sending plutonium to SRS. The DOE promises to convert the deadly toxic material into mixed oxide fuel, or MOX, for use in commercial power plants.
Hodges wants a deal filed in court specifying what happens to the plutonium if the MOX program is shelved.
Duke Energy's concerns were filed as part of the company's proposal to relicense its nuclear power plants in the Rock Hill and Charlotte areas, company spokesman Tom Shiel said. The plants would use MOX rather than the traditional type of nuclear fuel.
MOX would be made by blending weapons grade plutonium at the Savannah River Site with uranium. In a memorandum and order filed last week, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission agreed with Duke's concerns about the MOX program.
"We see no reason to doubt Duke's statement that its submittal of a MOX license amendment application is uncertain," the NRC said last week.
The NRC, which oversees commercial nuclear facilities, says plants to make MOX won't be built for the next six years.
DOE spokesman Joe Davis said Wednesday the government remains committed to the MOX program because it has pledged to construct the fuel fabrication facilities. The government says it will spend nearly $4 billion over 20 years on the program.
"This is the policy of the United States," Davis said.
The DOE said Monday it will ship plutonium from the Rocky Flats, Colo., nuclear site to South Carolina as early as next month.
Hodges' office said Duke and the NRC's statements validate the governor's hard line against allowing plutonium into South Carolina without federal guarantees it will be removed. Hodges has threatened to use state troopers to block the shipments or file a lawsuit to stop them.
"This is a process and a plan with a lot of questions that need to be answered," Hodges' spokesman Jay Reiff said.
A key concern about MOX is whether a Russian program to neutralize plutonium ever takes off, Shiel said. That program is part of a delicately balanced international arms agreement with the U.S., in which each country has pledged to make weapons grade plutonium unusable for nuclear bombs.
If one side doesn't do its part, the other may balk at making the plutonium unusable, Shiel said. Questions have surrounded the future of the Russian program for months.
"If this doesn't occur in Russia, then it very well could not occur here," Shiel said. "In that case, the program goes away, or the Department of Energy goes in another direction."
Workers Bring Contamination to Duke!Associated Press – by Malia Rulon – April 19, 2002
Workers from the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in Ohio carried radioactive particles on their clothing to a home, hotel room and nuclear plants in other states, including South Carolina, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The particles, which are too small to see, posed no health risks to the four workers or public, NRC spokesman Victor Dricks said.
However, "you don't typically see something get out of a site and be picked up like that," said NRC investigator Kenneth Riemer.
Last month, three workers left the northwest Ohio plant and traveled to Duke Energy Corp.'s Oconee Nuclear Station in Seneca, S.C., where radioactive particles were discovered on their clothing during a routine inspection, Riemer said.
Particles also were found on clothing left at an S.C. hotel and a worker's home in Virginia, he said.
A particle was found on a fourth worker who left Davis-Besse and traveled to TXU Corp.'s Comanche Peak power plant near Fort Worth, Texas.
Federal investigators had planned to review safety procedures at the FirstEnergy Corp. plant Wednesday, Dricks said.
"The licensee is supposed to maintain control over radioactive material, and there are indications that they may have been remiss, and that's what we are looking into," he said.
FirstEnergy spokesman Richard Wilkins said plant inspectors have tried to determine whether the microscopic particles passed by its monitors.
"We're not sure it did," Wilkins said. "We don't have any indication that it is necessarily from our plant." Wilkins said the plant's procedures for monitoring radioactive material are standard for the industry.