Nuclear Waste: A $1 Billion Energy Department Project Overshoots Its Budget by 600 Percent via truthout


Savannah River Site, South Carolina – Scattered among the pine forests of this 310-square mile federal reservation are five mothballed nuclear reactors where tens of thousands of workers were once engaged in a grim race to create as much plutonium as they could.

By the time production ended here in 1988, the site was a horrendous mess. Today, about 36 million gallons of radioactive liquid wastes sit in underground tanks, and most federal spending here is devoted to nuclear-related cleanup, not production.

So when U.S. and Russian dignitaries in 2005 helped turn the first shovels of dirt here for a new plant to produce reactor fuel from weapons plutonium, it seemed like an entirely new industry, with a vital international purpose, was coming to Savannah River.

Eight years later, though, that optimism has given way to exasperation.

The fuel plant now under construction was the product of a U.S. agreement with Russia for each country to dispose of 34 tons of its own plutonium, an explosive material withdrawn from retired nuclear weapons. The plant was supposed to transform the plutonium into fuel rods to produce electrical power, ensuring it could not be put back in weapons or stolen by terrorists.

So when a reporter asked one of the shovelers at the ceremony, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., if Congress would pay for the expensive facility, he said all other threats “pale in comparison of what could be done if plutonium fell into the wrong hands.”

Since then, the cost of the U.S. plant has ballooned while its goals have contracted.

Read more at Nuclear Waste: A $1 Billion Energy Department Project Overshoots Its Budget by 600 Percent

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