A new watchdog group formed on Wednesday with plans to place tough scrutiny on a “problem-plagued” effort to turn bomb plutonium into electricity.
Activists said a key focus for their new organization would be lobbying for alternative methods of eliminating 34 tons of plutonium under an agreement with Russia. Their announcement came in the thick of a fight over an Obama administration bid to suspend work on the project, which is intended to convert the weapon material into mixed-oxide power plant fuel at South Carolina’s Savannah River Site.
“Our job will be to highlight to SRS programs that warrant public attention and involvement,” said Tom Clements, the new director of Savannah River Site Watch. He said the group would focus on gleaning “possible lessons to be learned” from the troubled mixed-oxide project, as well as backing proposals for other “plutonium disposition methods that reduce environmental risks to South Carolina and reduce costs to taxpayers.”
“It is the Department of Energy’s nature to operate outside public scrutiny,” he added in the group’s first news release.
An undisclosed Energy study reportedly concluded that the so-called “MOX” Fuel Fabrication Facility likely would cost between $25 billion and $30 billion to complete. Planning and construction efforts have cost $4 billion to date.
Frances Close, president of Savannah River Site Watch, said the new organization would consider a variety of additional “environmental problems and proliferation threats” associated with the South Carolina complex.
“We will follow and participate in all decision-making processes related to SRS cleanup programs as well as [the] National Nuclear Security Administration’s [other] projects” at the 310-square-mile facility, she said in Wednesday’s statement.
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Following their meeting, President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump, briefly addressed the media, with Peña Nieto subtly rebuking Trump's rhetoric. While he spoke respectfully about Trump, Peña Nieto did not back down, saying that free trade has proved effective and that illegal immigration into America from the south has decreased over the last ten years while the flow of people and drugs into Mexico has increased. Additionally, he stressed that Mexicans in America are "honest" and "deserve respect." Trump responded, calling some Mexicans "tremendous people" while saying others are "beyond reproach." Trump laid out five important issues, including the end of illegal immigration and the ability for either country to build a wall or border. However, Trump said he did not discuss who would pay for the wall.
A divided Supreme Court "refused Wednesday to reinstate North Carolina’s voter identification requirement and keep just 10 days of early in-person voting. The court rejected a request by Gov. Pat McCrory and other state officials to delay a lower court ruling that found the state law was tainted by racial discrimination."
"Police say a woman walked into U.S. Rep. Danny Davis' office on Chicago's West Side, drank out of a bottle of hand sanitizer, poured the sanitizer over herself and set herself on fire with a lighter." The Democrat wasn't in the office at the time.
"The Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday awarded 44 states, four tribes and the District of Columbia a combined $53 million in grants to expand access to treatment for opioid use disorders and ultimately aimed at reducing the number of opioid-related deaths." But HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell and drug czar Michael Botticelli both called on Congress to approve the $1.1 billion Obama has requested to fight the opioid crisis.