Storing uranium for national security
August 14, 2002
What a comforting thought.
The U.S. Department of Energy is unable to safely store radioactive material — including weapons-grade uranium — at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
So it’s going to ship the stuff to Nevada.
Our first reaction was the knee-jerk one, conditioned by years of opposition to the DOE’s plan to send nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain. We don’t want the nation’s waste, the plan to store it isn’t safe and so far there is no plan — safe or otherwise — to ship it from nuclear power plants around the country to Yucca Mountain.
But this nuclear stockpile is a different matter, and the place it is proposed to be shipped is the Nevada Test Site. It makes all the difference in the world.
According to the Project on Government Oversight, a government watchdog which keeps a close eye on nuclear-storage issues, the federal government is storing weapons-quantity nuclear materials at 10 sites around the country.
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“Now, a number of sites have virtually no national security mission, however, they continue to store and try to protect tons of nuclear materials at great cost. DOE cannot currently adequately protect this material, and security at each site unnecessarily increases redundancies at costs,” POGO reports.
Several months ago, it recommended shutting down or combining several of the sites and consolidating the nuclear materials.
The Nevada Test Site is one of the best possible locations in the country for storing the plutonium and uranium capable of producing weapons. It is secure and remote, and a new complex called the Device Assembly Facility is ready to handle the job. (Ironically, the other highly secure site for storing the material is Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico.)
Never let it be said that Nevada is not ready and willing to do its part for national security, even when it comes to radioactive weaponry. That’s what the test site’s history is all about.
There may well be concerns about shipping, security and the DOE’s ability to handle either competently. But the site, this time, is right.