Thursday, August 26, 2004

US Plutonium to France... Maybe

Noting concerns that terrorists may attempt to influence the U.S. November elections through an attack, Democratic lawmakers this month have raised questions concerning the security of a planned shipment of more than 100 kilograms of plutonium to France.

The Energy Department is expected next month to ship 140 kilograms of plutonium to France to be converted into mixed-oxide fuel for use in testing at a U.S. nuclear power plant for possible future energy generation. The project is intended to help advance a U.S.-Russian nonproliferation program to eliminate a combined total of almost 70 tons of plutonium.

Antinuclear activists such as Greenpeace have long opposed the shipment, arguing that such transports could be vulnerable to terrorist attacks. To demonstrate, Greenpeace activists last year were able to stop and chain themselves to a truck carrying a plutonium shipment as it traveled from a site in northern France to a facility in the south. French activists have also posted online information on the time and location of three plutonium shipments that occurred over the last two weeks, Tom Clements of Greenpeace International said today.

In an Aug. 12 letter to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham released Wednesday, Rep. Jim Turner, D-Texas, requested information on the department's efforts to ensure that the security of the plutonium shipment would be equal to that given to shipments of nuclear material conducted within the United States. Turner also requested information on how much control the United States would relinquish over the plutonium once it leaves the country, who would assume liability in the event of an accident and whether the recent elevation of the U.S. terrorist threat level influenced security preparations for the shipment.

"The consequences of the theft of this plutonium - - enough for over 20 nuclear weapons - - would be catastrophic," wrote Turner, the top Democrat on the House Select Committee on Homeland Security.

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