JOHN A. KITZHABER, M.D.
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The Honorable Bill Richardson
Secretary of Energy
1000 Independence Avenue SW
Washington D.C. 20585
Dear Secretary Richardson:
The Department of Energy recently issued a draft Environmental Impact Statement that considers restart of Hanford’s Fast Flux Test Facility (FFTF) to meet expanded isotope production and nuclear energy research missions. I urge you to reject consideration of the FFTF for these missions and permanently shut down the reactor.
In December 1997, 1 wrote to Secretary Pena, urging him not to restart the FFTF to produce tritium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program. One of my concerns then, as it is now, is that restart of the reactor would complicate the formidable and essential task of cleaning up Hanford’s waste. I was pleased when you announced in December 1998 that FFTF would not be restarted to produce tritium.
When I expressed my opposition to use of the FFTF for tritium production, I also indicated I would be willing to consider restart of the reactor to produce medical isotopes if DOE could demonstrate a compelling need for FFTF’s use to ensure sufficient supplies of these isotopes. As a physician, I do not want a shortage of isotopes to jeopardize medical research, diagnosis or treatment. If I believed the FFTF were crucial to ensuring a sufficient supply of these isotopes, I would support its restart. However, I am not convinced that is the case.
A subcommittee of DOE’s Nuclear Energy Research Advisory Committee says the FFTF would not be an economically viable or dependable source of isotopes for research purposes and that existing reactors in Missouri and Tennessee are better suited for this mission. The draft EIS identifies the same reactor in Tennessee and another in Idaho as having additional capacity available to produce medical isotopes used in diagnosis and treatment. The draft EIS did not consider Canadian sources — one of America’s largest suppliers of isotopes — where two new reactors are scheduled to go on-line this year solely for the purpose of producing isotopes. It is clear there are sufficient sources available — without FFTF — to produce needed medical isotopes.
The DOE similarly limited its look at alternatives for producing plutonium 238 for space travel. The draft EIS disregards all international sources and eliminates some domestic alternatives because they would not be able to meet the combined needs of all the proposed missions. Removing these artificial constraints would favor many alternatives better suited than FFTF to meet even the most optimistic projected needs for plutonium 238.
The stated need for advanced nuclear energy research and development — beyond our existing programs — is questionable. New nuclear power plants are not competitive in today’s energy market and have little public support. Further, the draft EIS ignores the main obstacle to reinvigorating the U.S. nuclear industry: the lack of institutional capacity to deal with the waste stream.
It is disturbing to me that viable alternatives to the proposed uses for FFTF were disregarded in the draft EIS. The final EIS should be more of an honest assessment of legitimate nuclear-related needs and a comprehensive look at the best methods to meet those needs.
For the past eight years, the consideration of potential new missions for the FFTF has diverted a substantial amount of time and energy from Hanford cleanup and caused a significant drain on DOE’s budget. Efforts to justify a new mission for this reactor have all failed. I believe that the FFTF does not have — and will never have — a mission and should be permanently shut down.
John A. Kitzhaber, M.D.