Some of the weapons-grade plutonium currently stored at the Savannah River Site could soon leave South Carolina. The move comes as the U.S. Energy Department is determining what to do with excess radioactive waste at the site.
According to an Environmental Impact Statement filed last week, federal officials could transport about 500 kilograms of plutonium waste cross-country to a permanent disposal site in New Mexico.
The material is considered too contaminated to be reprocessed into Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel at the Savannah River Site. MOX fuel is a new experimental program that involves converting nuclear waste into reactor fuel. A facility to create the fuel is currently under construction on-site.
“This portion of it is a small quantity that we can’t do anything with,” Energy Department spokesman Jim Giusti said, “We do not have any capabilities that could make it pure enough to be used for Mixed-Oxide fuel.”
Before being shipped, Giusti said the plutonium will be mixed with a classified material known as “stardust.” The resulting product, known as “transuranic waste,” is safer and proliferation-proof. The proposal calls for the waste to be transported by 120 truck shipments over a three-year period.
The New Mexico site, known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), is specially designed to hold the plutonium mixture. WIPP has been storing transuranic waste in its deep salt beds 2,000 feet below the surface for more than 10 years, according to the Energy Department.