Embargoed until 12 noon EDT, Monday, August 7, 2000

For further information: 

Tom Clements, Nuclear Control Institute, 202-822-8444

Gary Richardson, Snake River Alliance, 208-344-9161


Organizations Condemn DOE Failure to Follow

Congressional Mandate to Close Idaho Breeder Reactor;

Support Inspector General’s Call for Prompt Shutdown


In reaction to a highly critical report by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Inspector General (IG), 37 public interest organizations from across the country today condemned the DOE’s failure to honor explicit Congressional direction to close the Experimental Breeder Reactor II (EBR II) in Idaho.  In 1994, Congress directed EBR II closed “as soon as possible,” but that directive has not been carried out six years later. 


The IG found that only $55 million of the $444 million that Congress has allocated for termination activities actually went toward shutting down the reactor.  The Congressional direction, supported by the Administration, was to terminate the Advanced Liquid Metal Reactor (ALMR) program and close EBR II.  Integral to the ALMR program, EBR II is a sodium-cooled reactor that “breeds” more plutonium than it consumes.


In an August 7 letter to Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson, the public interest organizations echoed the sharp criticism of the DOE’s own Inspector General.   Included in the groups signing the letter were the Snake River Alliance, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the Nuclear Control Institute, Natural Resources Defense Council, Federation of American Scientists, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability.


The DOE IG’s Audit Report, dated June 27, found a program with only minimal fiscal accountability, poor management oversight, and no objective performance evaluation.  Specifically, the IG found:

        Only $55 million of the $444 million allocated actually went to shutting down EBR II.  That means only one-eighth of taxpayer money allocated actually went towards closing the obsolete EBR II.  Even that is an estimate, since “Argonne West [responsible for the shutdown] could not project the budgeted costs, nor identify the actual costs of the EBR II termination activities.” (DOE IG’s Audit Report, p. 6)

        There was little oversight of the project.  The Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology (NE) did not monitor the project nor was any reporting required. The money spent on the project was not tracked as to what activity it supported and no updates on the progress of the closure were required.  Therefore, “Nuclear Energy has little assurance that the work performed, and the costs incurred to date by Argonne West will achieve the timely and efficient closure of EBR II.” (Audit, p. 7)

        The small amount of shut-down activities that have occurred have been mismanaged and increased costs by at least $1.5 million.  But subjective performance reviews “did not appear to adversely affect the Argonne National Laboratory overall ratings or fee, even though performance in one particular area was clearly unacceptable.” (Audit, p. 8)


The organizations support the Inspector General’s recommendations that the DOE “take actions necessary to ensure that the EBR II is closed ‘as soon as possible’” and undertake specific management and accounting reforms.


Frank von Hippel, Professor of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, signed the organizations’ letter and explained that “Congress and the Administration ordered EBR II shutdown because the reactor undercut U.S. non-proliferation policy by depending upon a fuel cycle that requires the reprocessing of spent fuel and recycle of plutonium.  It is U.S. policy not to undertake or encourage reprocessing because it increases the danger of diversion of plutonium to weapons use.”


In discussing the groups’ letter, Anna Aurilio of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group noted that the DOE has already moved EBR II’s closure date three times.  “These delays are unacceptable, as is the DOE’s misuse of termination money to fund harmful reprocessing activities.” 


Tom Clements, executive director of the Nuclear Control Institute, said, “The U.S. wisely rejected plutonium breeder reactors and associated reprocessing of spent fuel, but the DOE has failed to ensure that both Congressional directive and U.S. non-proliferation policy are followed and that EBR II be shut down.”


The groups asserted in their letter to Secretary Richardson that the agency “has been dragging its feet in efforts to shut down EBR II.”  Beatrice Brailsford, program director of the Snake River Alliance, the grassroots watchdog of nuclear activities in Idaho, said, “We are keenly aware that many DOE officials did not support the decision to terminate the ALMR program and close EBR II.  But Congress and the Administration did in fact make that decision.  The DOE is obliged, and has been for years, to take EBR II off life support.”


Dr. von Hippel and the public interest organizations asked for a meeting with Secretary Richardson to hear how the DOE intends to implement the Inspector General’s recommendations and shut down EBR II as Congress directed six years ago.


NOTE TO EDITORS:  The DOE Inspector General’s Audit Report on Experimental Breeder Reactor II Termination Activities is available on the IG web site at:  Sign-on letter available on request.


Group Letter to Secretary Richardson


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