Somewhat surprisingly, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham decided that the Fast Flux Test Facility (FFTF) will finally be shut down. This is great news, but it begs the question why did they finally decided to shut it?
According to the whistleblower.org website, the FFTF was built in the early 1970s to support a new breeder reactor program that was cancelled by President Carter in 1979. Since the FFTF was built with a specific mission in mind, it floated around for years trying to find a new purpose. FFTF was used to create isotopes used in chemotherapy, radioactive diagnosis, and also used in such tasks as food sterilization. FFTF could also be used to create Plutonium for powering outer space missions and for creating weaponry. However, in 1992 the plant was placed in hot standby and not used for anything since.
Because the FFTF used a liquid metal cooling solution, it was placed on hot standby in case a use for it came up. Taking it off standby meant that the cooling solution would cool into metal in the cooling pipes and make restart of FFTF impossible. It cost us around $42 million per year to keep FFTF on hot standby. That is approximately $420 million dollars that was spent while administrations came and went along with their studies on reopening FFTF and the lobbying of companies like Advanced Nuclear Medical Systems to keep FFTF going.
While the DOE has been saying Hanford needs to be cleaned up they were never shy about not permanently shutting down FFTF, whose restart would have added more plutonium wastes to Hanford as well as cost tax payers an additional $450 million to restart. Hanford is already one of the most contaminated sites in the world with over 53 million gallons of radiactive sludge rolling around but that didn't stop them. So why did they finally listen to common sense and decide to shut down FFTF?