Nuclear Weapons

The half-life of plutonium recycling information.

02.21.06 | 3 min read | Text by Ivan Oelrich

Thinking the President might mention it in his State of the Union Address, I had put up on the FAS website a page on the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, which includes a plan to restart plutonium reprocessing in the United States after a thirty year hiatus. The President did not, in fact, mention the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership specifically but it figured prominently in the Department of Energy’s (DOE) FY2007 budget rollout.

After the DOE budget came out, I needed to update my Global Nuclear Energy Partnership page (which is the number two hit in Google, right after DOE’s page, and the update will be done in a day or so). The one attempt the US ever made at commercial plutonium reprocessing was in West Valley, New York. So I googled “West Valley New York plutonium” to get some information on it. It turns out the DOE wrote a history of plutonium reprocessing at West Valley and it was, as you might expect, the very first Google hit: Plutonium Recovery from Spent Fuel Reprocessing by Nuclear Fuel Services at West Valley, New York from 1966 to 1972, U.S. Department of Energy, February 1996.

A couple of entries ago, I wrote how the ethos of blogs is to be absolutely up-to-the-minute. Well here you go. When I started writing this entry, I included the Google-produced link above taking you to the DOE’s Office of Science and Technology Information (OSTI) and made the point that it takes you to a “404 page not found” message. Now, an hour later, even that broken link is gone. The half life of plutonium is 24 thousand years but apparently the half life of government information about plutonium is about an hour. Thank goodness for Google caches. We have an older version of the page and it is now on the FAS website here. On Google, even the cache is now gone. A search using the OSTI search engine results in 200 hits for “West Valley.” They are annual reports and some highly technical documents. But the Plutonium Recovery document is not there. Apparently, the DOE is working on its websites as I write. We don’t have the manpower to do it all but if others are interested in discovering soon-to-be “disappeared” DOE documents, we will consider hosting them on the FAS website.

While I was at it, I looked for other information on plutonium. A DOE official history, Plutonium: The first 50 years, also yielded a “404 Page Not Found” message when I first did a search of “plutonium first years” on the OSTI page. Now the search engine just produces zero hits. I confess, this one I do not understand because this report, in fact, is on the DOE site here, it just doesn’t show up on their search engine. (The link was discovered by our ever-resourceful Research Assistant, Lucas Royland.) Perhaps DOE doesn’t realize it is on their site. I bet that, before tomorrow morning, it will be gone too. Just in case the DOE decides they don’t want us to know the history of plutonium, we have also put the file on the FAS website here.