- The Washington Times - Monday, July 22, 2002

Just weeks after a federal judge overruled South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges' orders to forcibly prevent the Department of Energy from trucking several tons of nuke plutonium to its Savannah River Site (SRS), where it is to be converted into mixed oxide reactor fuel (MOX), Congress overruled the objections of Nevada politicos, authorizing the department to truck tens of thousands of tons of partially "spent" nuclear fuel to Yucca Mountain for indefinite burial.
We're recycling weapons-grade plutonium as MOX, which makes sense. Why aren't we recycling the reactor-grade plutonium? Thereby hangs a tale.
In the fall of 1991, as the Soviet Union was disintegrating, officials from MinAtom the Soviet equivalent of our Department of Energy (DOE) came to see Sens. Sam Nunn, Richard Lugar et al. MinAtom was in the process of dismantling tens of thousands of Cold War-surplus nukes. MinAtom was determined to dispose of the recovered plutonium as MOX, but it didn't have the funds to build the necessary plants. Would the United States help?
"You bet." cried Messrs. Nunn and Lugar. Because of the difficulty of accounting for and protecting stocks of weapons-grade plutonium from theft, Messrs. Nunn and Lugar judged dismantled Soviet nukes to be more of a nuke-proliferation threat than nukes still in stockpile. So, Congress promptly authorized the to Bush-Quayle administration to help assist the Russians to peacefully dispose of those stocks of excess plutonium.
The Bush-Quayle administration also eager to prevent terrorists from acquiring nuke materials quickly developed a plan to assist MinAtom. But then surprise, surprise we had an election. Exit Bush-Quayle (Stage Right). Enter Clinton-Greenpeace (Stage Left).
Recall that back in the 1970s Carter-Greenpeace thought they had killed nuclear power. Jimmy Carter prohibited the recycling of slightly "spent" reactor fuel. It had to be buried at Yucca Mountain instead. The Europeans recycled, but we couldn't.
Now, in the 1990s, Clinton-Greenpeace was being asked to assist MinAtom in making MOX. Greenpeace realized that, once Russia had used up all its excess nuke plutonium, it would turn to making MOX from spent fuel. Nuclear power running on reprocessed spent fuel would have a new lease on life.
"MOX nix." cried Clinton-Greenpeace.
But, Messrs. Nunn and Lugar insisted that we help the Russians reduce the threat of nuke terrorism. What was Clinton-Greenpeace to do? Why, delay,delay,delay, of course. Run out the clock. Negotiate endlessly with the Russians, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the G-7 group of industrial nations, the lady from Philadelphia, whoever.
Then we had an election. Exit Clinton-Greenpeace (Stage Left). Enter Bush-Cheney (Stage Right).
Bush-Cheney discovered that Clinton-Greenpeace had saddled them with a real mess, the US-IAEA-Russia Trilateral Agreement.
At the end of the Cold War, Bush-Quayle had also begun dismantling thousands of our surplus nukes. Now, no one judged our recovered plutonium to be vulnerable to theft by terrorists. Nevertheless, in 1993, Clinton-Greenpeace offered to provide Messrs. Nunn and Lugar assistance to Russia if and only if we both transparently disposed of under the watchful eyes of the IAEA an equal amount of plutonium. The Greenpeace ploy? We got to tell the Russians what they could do with their plutonium. They promptly told us what we could do with ours.
The result is that 10 years after Messrs. Nunn and Lugar authorized it, and five years after the trilateral agreement was signed, practically nothing has been done to actually dispose of the Russian nuke plutonium. President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin have just now announced they would begin trilateral implementation, and that the G-8 would fund it.
How did Mr. Hodges get in the act? Well, Clinton-Greenpeace had offered to make a teeny-tiny amount of MOX if the Russians would mix some of their plutonium as we intended to do with all of ours with highly radioactive nuclear waste and bury it at a Russian equivalent of Yucca Mountain.
Eventually, the Russians agreed. South Carolina competed for and won the right to have our teeny-tiny MOX plant built at SRS.
But Bush-Cheney soon discovered that DOE had already concluded that the Russians had the right idea. Turn all our excess plutonium not just a teeny-tiny amount into MOX. Of course, that would mean modifying our end of the trilateral agreement.
Meanwhile, the scheduled shipments of plutonium to SRS began. Mr. Hodges ordered state troopers to stop them. Mr. Hodges had fought to get a teeny-tiny MOX plant, but was now fighting against getting a much larger plant? Why?
Democrat Hodges said that Bush-Cheney had violated the agreement he had made with Mr. Clinton. What do you suppose he and Mr. Clinton had agreed to do? Run out the clock on MOX?

Gordon Prather is a former national-security adviser with several federal agencies, including the Defense Department. He also worked as a nuclear-weapons specialist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.

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