The cleanup at Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeast Washington has most citizens bidding a fond farewell to the nuclear era. But the planned closure of the Fast Flux Test Facility, a liquid-metal cooled nuclear reactor, has met unanticipated opposition from some locals.
U.S. Department of Energy has kept the reactor on standby since
1992, at a cost of $40 million a year, an expense that led both the
Clinton and Bush administrations to order the facility to shut
But Claude Oliver of the Citizens for
Medical Isotopes says the shutdown, which began in February, is a
mistake. Instead, his group wants the facility to be privatized and
used to produce medical isotopes, which can be used to treat cancer
and other diseases. Oliver says a reopened facility would save
taxpayers a billion dollars in decommissioning costs and make the
reactor "the world's medical isotope center."
Watchdogs say the citizens' group is a
collection of old Hanford employees not ready to relinquish the
past. "It's just a scam to regenerate support for the reactor,"
says Greg deBruler of Columbia Riverkeeper, a nonprofit
environmental group. A newer facility in Los Alamos, N.M., he says,
can produce "as many medical isotopes as we
The Energy Department has begun draining
the Fast Flux reactor's sodium coolant, a process which by next
June will eliminate the possibility of restart. Oliver's group is
asking the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help put
the reactor in private hands before then, and is suing the Energy
Department to stop draining.