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Features

DOE drops plutonium transport plan

Livermore, CA - Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment (CAREs) announced a significant victory May 17 in its efforts to keep plutonium in uncertified DT-22 canisters off US highways.

The DT-22 is a 45-gallon container that cannot be certified for plutonium shipments because it fails the government's "crush test," and could rupture in a highway accident.

In a memo from Department of Energy (DOE) headquarters, Jessie Roberson, the DOE Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management, informed Barbara Mazurowski, head of the DOE Rocky Flats field office, that the Department would no longer seek to ship plutonium from Rocky Flats, Colorado in the controversial canisters.

The DOE had given itself a "national security" exemption to allow it to ship surplus plutonium from Rocky Flats in uncertified DT-22s to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. The Roberson memo halts that process.

"The DOE's reversal is good news and represents an important win for public health and the environment," declared Marylia Kelley, Executive Director of Tri-Valley CAREs. "A major goal in filing the lawsuit was to prevent the Energy Department from hauling deadly plutonium across the country in unsafe, substandard containers. It looks like we have succeeded in that objective," Kelley continued.

Roberson said that her agency wants "to move forward, rather than engage in unnecessary and costly litigation from environmental groups."

Tri-Valley CAREs uncovered the plan in documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. On February 13, 2002, the organization filed a lawsuit under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in federal court in San Francisco.

Subsequent documents obtained by Tri-Valley CAREs revealed a DOE proposal to also ship plutonium in DT-22s to the Savannah River plant. The group alerted attorneys for the state of South Carolina. On May 1, 2002, the governor of South Carolina filed a NEPA suit, which included the DT-22 issue.

"It appears that our lawsuit, coupled with that of South Carolina, led to the new DOE decision to forgo using the DT-22," said Trent Orr, an Earthjustice attorney handling the case. "Over the coming days, we will be in negotiations with DOE's attorneys to clarify and resolve the remaining issues in our case and to ensure that the Department's memo is legally binding," he added.

Some of DOE's own engineers had raised internal - if oddly-phrased - objections to the use of DT-22s, according to documents received under FOIA by Tri-Valley CAREs. If a truck carrying plutonium in the DT-22s "was hit by a train, the crush environment would occur," read one DOE document. Moreover, if the truck were to be "hit from behind by a large, heavy vehicle, the crush environment may occur," the analysis added.

Copies of the Tri-Valley CAREs' complaint and relevant background documents can be found at www.trivalleycares.org and www.earthjustice.org.

   

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