THE SEPARATIONS PROCESS RESEARCH UNIT (SPRU)
A Weapons Factory Pilot Plant for Producing Plutonium-239
last update January 22, 2001
During the period from 1946-1951 the General Electric Company
under the direction of the DOE/NR ran a Plutonium Production Facility
in the middle of downtown Schenectady, NY. The facility was eventually transferred to the Niskayuna Site of the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory and thereafter referred to as the Separations Process Research Unit (SPRU). SPRU was a much larger pilot plant than operated at Peek Street. In addition, it included a tank storage farm, similar to Hanford, that held highly radioactive waste until it could be dumped into the Mohawk river. SPRU was shutdown in about 1954. But the processing unit was so radioactively hot that it was not cleaned up. The five processing cells were sealed up and left to deteriorate for the next 50 years. Although the sealed cells were kept under negative pressure, ground water eventually began leaking into the cells and then back out again. Naval Reactors performed several studies over the years as to the physical condition of SPRU but rarely followed up on any of the recommendations of these studies. In fact, Naval Reactors set a moving decommissioning date about every ten years. First cleanup was going to be in the 1970s, then the 1980's, and then the 1990's. It was all an obscene public relations game of procrastination.
Finally, the DOE initiated the cleanup of SPRU in September 2000. Estimates are that it will require 14 years and $200 million to remove and cleanup radioactive contamination from this nuclear weapons factory pilot plant that separated plutonium from depleted reactor fuel so as to make atomic bombs. By both duration and cost, this cleanup project qualifies as a major Federal action as defined by the National Environmental Policy Act. The cleanup project also demands the utmost attention to environmental matters because of the large quantity of radioactive contamination present, because of the very high levels of much of this contamination, and because the proximity of Naval Reactor employees and the public to this facility. Contrary to recent statements by Naval Reactor representatives to the media that the amount of radioactivity involved in the cleanup is extremely small and that there is no risk of exposure to employees or the public, a 95 page 1980ís study presents findings markedly different from these recent claims.
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