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Energy Department Drops Plan to Truck Plutonium in Unsafe Containers

Victory: Environmentalists Claim a "Significant Victory"
May 17, 2002
Livermore, CA —

The Livermore-based Tri-Valley CAREs and attorneys for Earthjustice announced a significant victory today in their efforts to keep plutonium in uncertified DT-22 canisters off U.S. highways.

In a memo from Department of Energy (DOE) Headquarters, Jessie Roberson, the DOE Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management, informed Barbara Mazurowski, head of the DOE Rocky Flats Field Office, that the Department would no longer seek to ship plutonium from Rocky Flats, Colorado in the controversial DT-22 canisters. A copy of the DOE memo was sent to Tri-Valley CAREs and Earthjustice pursuant to the groups' lawsuit to stop the shipments.

The DT-22 is a 45-gallon container that cannot be certified for plutonium shipments because it fails the government's "crush test," and could rupture in a highway accident.

The DOE had given itself a "national security" exemption to allow it to ship surplus plutonium from Rocky Flats in uncertified DT-22s to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. The Roberson memo halts that process.

"The DOE's reversal is good news and represents an important win for public health and the environment," declared Marylia Kelley, Executive Director of Tri-Valley CAREs. "A major goal in filing the lawsuit was to prevent the Energy Department from hauling deadly plutonium across the country in unsafe, substandard containers. It looks like we have succeeded in that objective," Kelley continued.

DOE's Roberson released a statement yesterday to emphasize that her agency wants "to move forward, rather than engage in unnecessary and costly litigation from environmental groups..."

Tri-Valley CAREs uncovered the scheme to ship plutonium in the uncertified canisters in documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. On February 13, 2002, the organization, represented by attorneys from Earthjustice, filed a lawsuit under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in federal court in San Francisco.

Subsequent documents obtained by Tri-Valley CAREs revealed a DOE proposal to also ship plutonium in DT-22s to Savannah River. The group alerted attorneys for the state of South Carolina. On May 1, 2002, the governor of South Carolina filed a NEPA suit, which included the DT-22 issue.

"It appears that our lawsuit, coupled with that of South Carolina, led to the new DOE decision to forgo using the DT-22," said Trent Orr, an Earthjustice attorney handling the case. "Over the coming days, we will be in negotiations with DOE's attorneys to clarify and resolve the remaining issues in our case and to ensure that the Department's memo is legally binding," he added.

Some of DOE's own engineers had raised internal objections to the use of DT-22s, according to documents received under FOIA by Tri-Valley CAREs. If a truck carrying plutonium in the DT-22s "was hit by a train, the crush environment would occur," read one DOE document. Moreover, if the truck were to be "hit from behind by a large, heavy vehicle, the crush environment may occur," the analysis concluded.

Contacts

Marylia Kelley, Tri-Valley CAREs, (925) 443-7148

Brian Smith, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6714

Trent Orr, Earthjustice, (415) 206-0898

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.