COLUMBIA - The
agency that oversees the nation's commercial nuclear reactors
says there is no guarantee Savannah River Site's program to
make fuel out of weapons-grade plutonium will ever start.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission expressed its concerns in
a memo filed last week.
The agency agreed with Duke Energy Corp., which said it
worries whether a Russian program to convert the plutonium
into mixed-oxide fuel, or MOX, will fail before it begins.
Energy's concerns were filed as part of the utility's plans to
relicense several nuclear power plants that will use the new
fuel, company spokesman Tom Shiel said.
|The U.S. Department of
Energy says the first trucks might roll into Savannah
River Site by May 15.
South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges has threatened to do
anything within his power to stop plutonium shipments into the
state. The U.S. Department of Energy says the first trucks
might roll into SRS by May 15.
The plants to convert plutonium into nuclear plant fuel at
SRS won't be complete for six years, the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission said. Mr. Hodges worries that the program will
never be fully funded and that the untreated weapons-grade
plutonium will sit in the state indefinitely.
The MOX program is part of an international arms agreement
between the United States and Russia in which each country has
pledged to convert some of their plutonium, once used to arm
nuclear missiles, into fuel.
If one side backs out of the agreement, the other side
might not continue with it, Mr. Shiel said. Questions have
surrounded the Russian program for months.
"If this doesn't occur in Russia, then it very well could
not occur here," Mr. Shiel said. "In that case the problem
goes away, or the Department of Energy goes in another
But Department of Energy spokesman Joe Davis said the
government is so committed to the MOX program that it has
pledged to spend $4 billion during the next 20 years.
"This is the policy of the United States," he said.
Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate
Charlie Condon has called for Mr. Hodges to sign an agreement
with federal officials.
Fellow GOP candidate Secretary of State Jim Miles, on the
other hand, wants Democrats and Republicans to unite behind
"We will not be the dumping ground for the rest of the
country," Mr. Miles said.