TOM CLEMENTS of FRIENDS OF THE EARTH shot these photos of the plutonium fuel (MOX) convoy driving through Charleston, South Carolina, on April 11, 2005. The three SST (Safe Secure Transport) 18-wheelers are followed by a fleet of RVs escorting the U.S. Department of Energy's experimental plutonium MOX reactor fuel from France to Savannah River Site. Tom got these shots of the highly visible plutonium convoy as it was exiting the Naval Weapons Station on Charleston Harbor. A small band of activists convened for the great Plutonium Beach Watch of 2005 then tracked the convoy across South Carolina to the Savannah River Site.
The weapons-grade plutonium being tracked by Tom in the above photograph had been made into fuel for a nuclear reactor from 300 pounds of U.S. weapons-grade plutonium by AREVA in its French MOX factory. The 300-pound shipment of plutonium was tracked from the U.S. to and throughout France and then back again across the Atlantic by GREENPEACE. Shipped overseas to the U.S. by special barge, the weapons-grade plutonium was supposed to be off-loaded into the Charleston Naval Weapons Station, then trucked down I-26 to Duke Power's Catawba Unit 1 commercial nuclear reactor near Charlotte, NC.
That's where Georgians Against Nuclear Energy came in. GANE, as Nuclear Watch South used to call itself, along with Greenpeace and CHARLESTON PEACE organized SE activists and local College of Charleston students to watch Charleston Harbor 24/7 from a rented beach house on posh Sullivan's Island.
The plutonium beach watch coordinated with Union of Concerned Scientists physicist DR. EDWIN LYMAN and attorney DIANE CURRAN who held the boat outside the harbor in the Atlantic Ocean for several days while they argued with federal regulators about appropriate security requirements for weapons-grade plutonium reactor fuel at a commercial nuclear installation.
When the top-secret plutonium security issue was settled, the barge entered Charleston Harbor and the activists met the plutonium boat with the local TV news. Eight hours later (the minimum time it would take to transfer the plutonium onto the plutonioum transport trucks) we were on the job, watching the interstate highway for the plutonium trucks depicted here and on our beach house refrigerator. Five carloads of activists tracked the plutonium trucks, which veered off the highway to Catawba's reactors and went to Savannah River Site instead.
The plutonium fuel was finally shipped from SRS to Catawba where all four test MOX assemblies in the convoys failed. The U.S. MOX program is now 10 years behind schedule. Duke Power declined to renew its contract after the MOX fuel failure. Even if another utility is willing to risk its aging reactors on experimental plutonium fuel, there is no longer a factory in France to manufacture fuel for the legally required multi-year MOX test.
Meanwhile, MOX factory construction is proceeding at a cost to taxpayers of $500 million per year and is already reportedly 30 percent constructed, though the design remains only 75 percent complete. Still to be designed are vital and fundamental features such as plutonium security and radioactive MOX waste management. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued notices of violation to MOX contractor Shaw AREVA MOX Services for failures ranging from installation of substandard rebar and concrete to building without design documents.
PLUTONIUM IMMOBILIZATION is the process to solidify high-level liquid waste stocks into radioactive glass is the plutonium disposition path preferred by environmentalists.
Year plutonium was discovered by Glenn Seaborg and others
Minimum amount of plutonium required for bomb
1 kilogram (2.2 pounds)
Amount of plutonium used in Nagasaki bomb
Average amount of plutonium used in modern atom bomb
Estimated amount of U.S. weapons-grade plutonium
85,000 kilograms (93.5 tons)
Estimated amount of Russian weapons-grade plutonium
160,000 kilograms (176 tons)
Hazards associated with plutonium
Radiation, fire, inhalation, ingestion, criticality, reactivity, decay
Length of time that
plutonium 239 (weapons-grade) remains hazardous
(Ten 24,000-year half-lives)
Form of plutonium most hazardous to life
Plutonium oxide powder
What happens to plutonium metal when exposed to air
Gradually turns to
plutonium oxide powder
Lethal amount of plutonium oxide powder (inhaled)
Lethal amount of plutonium oxide powder (ingested)
Amount of sugar substitute in average 1 gram package
Excerpted from Stop Plutonium Fuel: Plutonium Index, compiled by Don Moniak. Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, www.bredl.org