Nuclear Watch South and the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League have filed a legal challenge that aims to halt construction of a plutonium fuel factory at the Department of Energy's Savannah River Site in South Carolina. The move comes after the groups uncovered information that the DOE plans major modifications to the proposed factory, where the agency wants to use surplus weapons-grade plutonium to manufacture mixed-oxide or "MOX" plutonium fuel for use in nuclear reactors.

On Oct. 5, the groups submitted a citizen's petition [PDF] to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board. The challenge's expert witness is Dr. Edwin Lyman with the Union of Concerned Scientists, who points out that the DOE can't make MOX from the highly impure plutonium waste it's shipping to South Carolina without making major modifications to the plant. The groups charge that those modifications will result in significant environmental impacts that require analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act.

"Once again DOE's ready-shoot-aim approach to plutonium disposition has shot its own program in the foot," says Nuclear Watch South Coordinator Glenn Carroll. "It's clear that the plutonium fuel factory has to be redesigned yet again; construction and licensing have to be halted. We should quit wasting time and tax money on the losing MOX proposition. Instead we can deal with both our nuclear waste and weapons problems by immobilizing plutonium."

Duke Energy wants to use the MOX fuel from the Savannah site in its McGuire and Catawba nuclear stations near Charlotte, N.C. Lyman says a safer alternative for disposing of surplus weapons-grade plutonium would be to immobilize the material in glass.