Truck shipping

Santa Fe Campaigners Concerned About Plutonium Shipment Plan | Local News

Residents of Santa Fe would see shipments of plutonium trucked through the city’s south side if federal agencies followed through on plans announced nearly a year ago.

The prospect worries activists, local officials and some residents because plutonium is much more radioactive than the waste – gloves, equipment, clothing, soil and other contaminated materials – shipped from the Los Alamos National Laboratory to the Pilot Isolation Plant. waste disposal site, an underground disposal site near Carlsbad.

The US Department of Energy issued a notice of intent in December to begin the process of an environmental impact assessment as one of the first steps toward dilution and disposal of plutonium left over from the Cold War.

The advisory suggests that plutonium “downbling” would be necessary to reduce the radioactivity enough for the waste to be accepted at WIPP, which only takes low-level nuclear waste.

The main concern of opponents is the 26 metric tons of discarded plutonium bomb cores, or pits, which are kept at the Pantex plant in Amarillo, Texas.

This plutonium would be sent to the Los Alamos laboratory where it would be transformed into oxide powder, then the powder would be shipped to the Savannah River site in South Carolina, where it would be further diluted before returning to New Mexico for storage at WIPP.

That would mean that a more dangerous substance would be transported twice on NM 599 and US 84/285 – when the plutonium arrives from Pantex and when the lab ships the powder, which can be very toxic if released, said Cindy Weehler, who co-chairs the 285 ALL monitoring group.

“It will change the level of transportation risk we are exposed to,” Weehler told an audience gathered Tuesday for a town hall at the Nancy Rodriguez Community Center in Santa Fe.

The Energy Department is quietly putting these plans in place, Weehler said. She called secrecy unacceptable, saying people have a right to know if they are at risk.

Agency officials did not respond to emailed questions about the Biden administration’s intention to move forward with a Trump-era decision to dilute and phase out plutonium and , if so, what would be the timetable.

Although the agency says little about its plans, the National Academy of Sciences describes how Cold War plutonium would be transported, reconstituted and disposed of at WIPP in its April 2020 analysis.

The lab is the only place where plutonium can be turned into powder, and WIPP is the only site in the country that collects waste nuclear weapons, so the increased transport of these materials through New Mexico would be inevitable. said Don Hancock, director of nuclear waste safety for the nonprofit Southwest Research and Information Center.

“It is misleading to say that one part could go elsewhere when there is no other,” Hancock said.

The NM 599 was designed so that nuclear material trucked to and from the lab bypassed the heart of Santa Fe.

But Weehler argues that if a truck crash caused a breach in a container, it could still endanger some neighborhoods, especially if the plutonium powder were released.

The powder is poisonous to breathe – the fine grains can become embedded in the lungs, causing respiratory problems – and it can contaminate the soil so widely that it is impossible to purge it, she said.

Besides concerns about local communities, the plutonium will pass through a dozen states, totaling more than 3,000 miles, she said.

Santa Fe County Commissioner Anna Hansen, who helped organize the town hall, said if the plutonium was to be shipped to Savannah River, the federal government should build a repository on the east coast instead of returning it to the New Mexico.

The federal government is also expected to stop producing new plutonium pits, which will create even more waste that will need to be dealt with, Hansen said.

Eletha Trujillo, program manager for WIPP, said nuclear waste transported in fortified containers known as TRUPACT is extremely well protected.

The lids alone weigh 4,000 pounds each, making it virtually impossible for hijackers to access the trash barrels, she said.

Trucks should not exceed 65 mph to minimize the risk of a serious accident, Trujillo said, adding that the trucks were constantly tracked and monitored.

“I know where every truck in the US is if it leaves the WIPP site,” she said.

While the diluted plutonium shipped from Savannah River will be in those containers, Hancock said, the oxide powder leaving the Los Alamos lab will not.

The Department of Energy was originally looking to build a Savannah River facility that could turn Cold War plutonium into mixed oxide fuel for commercial nuclear power plants.

But after billions of dollars in cost overruns and years of delays, the Trump administration abandoned the project and decided to dilute and eliminate the waste. Meanwhile, plans are to turn the old Savannah River mixed oxide facility into a plutonium pit plant.

Hancock said there was no other way to get rid of the excess plutonium, so Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm will likely stick to the plan she inherited.

Hansen has said she would prefer Los Alamos not be involved. And the federal government should find a way to dilute and dispose of waste in an area rather than ship it thousands of miles, which increases the risk of an accident, she said. “The more we move it, the more danger we project on our citizens. “

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