Where is radioactive plutonium going?
By Mark Bellune
2,205 pounds of plutonium is gone from our backyard.
Federal authorities have yet to reveal where they took it.
The US Department of Energy said it has removed not less than one metric ton - 2,205 pounds - of radioactive plutonium from the Savannah River Site 45 miles from Lexington.
Many Lexington County residents commute there for work weekly.
So far, nobody has answered key questions about the loss of jobs at the site or how much more plutonium is still being stored there.
The SRS mixed oxide plant (MOX) was to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium by mixing it with uranium oxide for use in nuclear reactors.
Years of delays and billions in overruns doomed the project and perhaps more than 1,000 jobs.
Plans are in the works but not yet approved by Congress to turn the plant into a plutonium "pit" production facility.
The Department of Defense wants to ramp up production of nuclear weapons' key component.
Only Los Alamos National Laboratory produces these "pits." The DOD wants more.
Converting the MOX plant could create up to 1,800 jobs, a figure disputed by anti-nuclear advocates.
The government may be secretive about the plutonium removal due to terrorist fears. But they were not secretive about it being at SRS. Terrorists had to know where to find it.
DOE complied with an injunction from Federal District Judge Michelle Childs.
Congress passed a law requiring that the plutonium be removed from the Savannah River Site by Jan. 1, 2016 if the MOX Fuel Facility’s production objective was not met by Jan. 1, 2014.
That objective was not met and SC Attorney General Alan Wilson sued the Department of Energy in 2016.
The District Court sided with the state and ordered that 1 metric ton of plutonium be removed by January 1, 2020. The Department of Energy appealed to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the District Court’s order.
Wilson said last week, “Today’s news that 1 ton of weapons-grade plutonium has been removed from the state is a victory for South Carolinians and the rule of law.
"The Department of Energy disregarded many of its obligations to the State, and this outcome confirms the State will not sit idly by while the Department does so. We will continue to enforce the law and hold the federal government to its commitments.”
How much is left in the nuclear stockpile at SRS has not been disclosed.
Closing down the MOX project was expected to cost up to 1,000 SRS jobs and cost nearly one quarter billion dollars.
How many from Lexington County would be affected has not been disclosed.
The Chronicle asked Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, Congressman Joe Wilson of Springdale and AG Wilson of Lexington by email on Aug. 13 to let us know where the plutonium went and how much is left at the SRS site and any plans to move it.
Only Graham had responded by Sunday evening, Aug. 18, saying, "While I disagreed with the National Nuclear Security Administration's decision to cancel the MOX program, I feel that SRS can continue to play a critical role in our nuclear weapons complex.
"As your United States Senator, my primary job is to understand and represent the interests of all South Carolinians. We will not see eye-to-eye on every issue; however, I promise to always give your concerns the consideration they deserve.
"I encourage you to visit my website — http://lgraham.senate.gov — as it will have information on the most recent activities before the U.S. Senate. You can also sign up for our e-mail newsletter, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube pages which will provide the latest information and updates on the major issues facing our state and our nation."