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August 29, 2005 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 83, Issue 35

GAO questions DOE plutonium disposal strategy

The Department of Energy must improve its plan to consolidate and store 50 metric tons of plutonium that is no longer needed for nuclear weapons production at its Savannah River site, congressional researchers say. DOE currently stores the excess material at several sites across the country. It has been developing plans since the early 1990s to create enough capacity to temporarily store the entire stockpile at the Savannah River complex, near Aiken, S.C., before ultimately disposing of the plutonium at the planned Yucca Mountain, Nev., repository. DOE has said that consolidating the plutonium at Savannah River would reduce costs and enhance security. The Government Accountability Office, however, says DOE lacks a "comprehensive strategy" and has not yet devised a plan for processing the material into a form for permanent disposal. The report (GAO-05-665) also points out a number of technical obstacles to plutonium consolidation at Savannah River. For example, it says the South Carolina facility is not equipped to accept material now stored at DOE's Hanford Nuclear Reservation in 12-foot-long nuclear fuel rods. "Despite these inconsistencies, DOE approved both Hanford's accelerated cleanup plan and SRS's plutonium storage plans," GAO says. The report is available at www.gao.gov/new.items/d05665.pdf.


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