171 environmental, peace, and medical organizations today condemned outgoing-Department of Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary's decision to pursue an option that would use plutonium-based fuel (or mixed-oxide, MOX) in commercial nuclear reactors as a means of attempting to make plutonium from nuclear weapons into a non-weapons-ready form.
The 171 groups, from every corner of the globe, said that the MOX fuel approach would increase international commerce in plutonium, would create even hotter high-level radioactive waste, and would provide a disincentive for anti-proliferation efforts across the world.
The letter to President Clinton was signed by organizations from Russia, Japan, Turkey, Canada, the Netherlands, Ukraine, Slovokia, Lithuania and several other countries. 100 of the signers were from U.S. organizations, which also cited increased security, transportation, nuclear safety and other risks involved with plutonium-based fuel.
"Hazel O'Leary has made a great contribution by publicizing past radiation experiments on the American people," said Michael Mariotte, executive director of Nuclear Information and Resource Service, which coordinated the international letter to Clinton," but by supporting the use of plutonium fuel in civilian nuclear reactors, her legacy could be her greatest mistake. Use of MOX fuel would be the largest, and potentially most tragic, radiation experiment ever unleashed on the American people."
Said Harvey Wasserman of Greenpeace, USA, "The international nature of this letter's signers' indicates the global opposition to MOX fuel. Across the world, people are saying no to plutonium, and no to creation of a military-industrial-utility complex."
The DOE has said it must pursue MOX because Russia views its plutonium as an asset rather than a waste, and thus also wants to use the controversial process. But without western economic aid, Russia is unlikely to attain the resources to use the MOX approach. Moreover, Russian groups signing the letter indicated that the Russian people oppose use of MOX fuel as well. Vladimiar Sliviak of Russia's Socio-Ecological Union said that Russian environmental organizations are working to cut Russian funding and government support for MOX programs.
Secretary O'Leary has suggested that if U.S. opposition to MOX is too strong, then the U.S. government would consider using Canadian reactors to "burn" the plutonium fuel. But, said, Irene Kock of Canada's Nuclear Awareness Project, "Canadians refuse to be the world's dumping ground for high level nuclear waste. If plutonium fuel is sent to Canada, we're supposed to keep the waste. Canadians will not tolerate this deal–it's a very dangerous precedent. The U.S. and Russia must secure their plutonum stocks safely within their own boundaries."
"Ontario Hydro is simply using the plutonium fuel scheme to justify rebuilding the aging Bruce reactors, which will otherwise be shut down early, and to obtain operating subsidies," Kock continued. "Is the U.S. DOE prepared to subsidize Ontario's public utility?"
Said Michael Mariotte of NIRS, "This is just the first step in our anti-MOX campaign. We are now preparing to take our legitimate concerns to the American people to make it impossible for any U.S. utility or government entity to bring plutonium into our states and communities. We agree that weapons-ready plutonium must be made inaccessible, but MOX fuel in commercial reactors simply compounds the problem. We're seeking solutions, not short-cuts."
A copy of the letter to President Clinton, with a list of all signers, is available upon request from NIRS.
Signers of the letter included 100 grassroots organizations and individuals from the United States, 36 organizations from Turkey and the Eastern Mediterranean; 9 Russian environmental organizations; five groups from Canada, three from Japan and the Netherlands, two from Ukraine, Scotland, and Germany, and one each from Austria, Czech Republic, England, India, Lithuania, New Zealand, Slovokia, South Africa, and Sweden.