Nuclear news update

Sue's post regarding nuclear waste in the South suggests a clearer picture of the real purpose behind a proposed new interstate highway.

As we mentioned here last year, the controversial $50 billion, 450 mile I-3 would run from the Knoxville/Oak Ridge area to Savannah, making its way through wild, undeveloped Appalachian Mountains in North Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina, skirting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

In addition to environmental concerns, opponents of the project also suggested a hidden nuclear agenda.

The politicians proposing "Interstate 3" tout it as a connection between the port of Savannah, Georgia and the numerous interstates running through Knoxville, Tennessee with connections to the industrial Midwest.

However, a glance at the map of the proposed route shows that I-3 would go right by the massive Savannah River Site (SRS) nuclear complex in South Carolina across from Augusta, Georgia and would terminate, not in Knoxville itself, but at the recently completed I-140 spur running from Maryville-Alcoa to the nuclear facilities at Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

While rarely mentioned by I-3 proponents, it is likely that this nuclear connection is a key reason why this interstate project is being proposed. The nuclear weapons complex, composed of widely dispersed sites throughout the West and the Southeast, has for years depended on transporting dangerous radioactive materials, including plutonium and tritium, on our highways. The new nuclear weapons complex being planned will have production facilities concentrated at Oak Ridge, TN, Watts Bar, TN, Savannah River Site, SC, and the Pantex facility in Amarillo, Texas.


Some specific examples of the traffic in deadly materials which now take place on I-26 and I-40 and would likely be shifted to I-3 if it is built:

• Weapons grade plutonium moves from Amarillo, Texas to SRS on unmarked trucks. At SRS, the plutonium will be worked over and then re-shipped, if the current proposals move forward. Destinations include Duke Power nuclear plants in NC and SC (experimental MOX plutonium fuel) and the Oak Ridge Y-12 Nuclear Weapons Plant (plutonium "pits", the triggers for nuclear bombs).

• Rods used to produce tritium, which is used for hydrogen bombs, are being shipped from the Watts Bar reactor in Tennessee to the Savannah River Site where the rods will be processed to produce tritium gas. The gas will then be shipped back to Oak Ridge in trucks.

• High level radioactive waste from commercial reactors is likely to be shipped along Interstate 3 to the Savannah River Site.

• So-called low level radioactive waste is trafficked both to Oak Ridge and SRS.

In other nuclear news, TVA restarted Unit 1 at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant yesterday. The restart marks the first commercial nuclear power reactor startup in the U.S. since 1996.

As we mentioned here recently, the reactor was shutdown in 1985 when it was discovered that the plant's construction did not match the blueprints. Prior to that, an incident at Browns Ferry in 1975 almost resulted in a "Tennessee Valley Chernobyl" reactor meltdown.