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Thursday, September 06, 2007  
Livermore lab to ship 'non pit' plutonium

By: Jonathan Curiel
Published In: San Francisco Chronicle

In a move it says will lead to cost savings and improved security, the Department of Energy announced plans on Wednesday to take hundreds of containers of "non-pit" plutonium from Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and two other nuclear facilities, and transport them for storage to South Carolina.

An anti-nuclear group in Livermore said the plan belies the fact that more dangerous plutonium will be sent to Lawrence Livermore Lab in the coming years - shipments that will make the Bay Area facility even more vulnerable to accidents and security breaches.

Using convoys of trucks guarded by gun-toting personnel, the Department of Energy will move the plutonium containers on highways as early as Oct. 5.

Non-pit plutonium is plutonium that's created from sources other than nuclear-weapons triggers. The non-pit plutonium to be moved from Lawrence Livermore is "oxidized plutonium" or "plutonium rust" that has been ready to be taken from the facility for 12 years, said Lawrence Livermore Lab spokesman David Schwoegler.

The delay in moving the containers "has been in finding a receptor site," he said.

The Department of Defense will move about 3,000 containers of non-pit plutonium from Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, and the Hanford Site in Washington to the government's Savannah River Site near Augusta, S.C. About 2,300 containers will come from Hanford, with the rest from Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos, the Department of Energy said. The plutonium is "surplus," and will be shipped to South Carolina over a three-year period.

By putting the plutonium in one location, the Energy Department said it will "reduce the number of sites with special nuclear material, enhancing the security of these materials and reducing the costs associated with plutonium storage, surveillance and monitoring, and security at multiple sites."

But Tri-Valley Cares, a longtime Livermore organization that monitors Lawrence Livermore Lab, says the Department of Energy is moving ahead with plans to increase its overall plutonium operations at Lawrence Livermore.

"They're not just interested in consolidation - they're shuffling their plutonium to rebuild the nuclear weapons process," said Jedidjah de Vries, outreach director at Tri-Valley Cares. "Shuffling around plutonium is not true consolidation."

De Vries said his organization has garnered more than 10,000 signatures opposing the Energy Department's plan to boost the amount of plutonium production at Lawrence Livermore.

Environment groups in South Carolina have previously protested the government's planned storage of nuclear materials in their state, and Wednesday's announcement by the Energy Department included a pledge to eventually move the non-pit plutonium out of South Carolina.

E-mail Jonathan Curiel at

This article appeared on page A - 14 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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