Second quarter of 2000
decision to dispose of bomb-grade spent fuel hailed as a major non-proliferation
WISE-Paris, 30 May 2000
The DOE takes an important step in non-proliferation policy with the
decision to dispose of spent fuel containing highly-enriched uranium,
a bomb-grade material.
Nuclear Control Institute & Natural Resources Defense
Press release, 11 April 2000
Washington, D.C.-- The Nuclear Control Institute (NCI) and the Natural
Resources Defense Council (NRDC) today welcomed the Department of Energy's
decision to dispose of spent fuel containing highly-enriched uranium
(HEU) as waste--rather than recovering the bomb-grade material--as a
major non-proliferation accomplishment. The policy was established in
an Environmental Impact Statement being issued publicly by the Department
of Energy this week.
Department of Energy's (DOE) choice of a new technology which does not
reprocess the spent fuel avoids adding to the stockpile of nuclear weapons
material is a major victory for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament,
said the two organizations. "Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson deserves
congratulations for making sure that this important new policy was actively
pursued and approved," said NCI Executive Director Tom Clements. "Now
he must act decisively to make sure there is an adequate budget to implement
the policy and get the job done."
new policy was announced in the Final Environmental Impact Statement
on Spent Nuclear Fuel Management at DOE's Savannah River Site (SRS).
The document is currently arriving via mail to stakeholders and is expected
to be noticed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the Federal
Register on Friday. Under the new approach, foreign and domestic spent
fuel containing highly-enriched uranium will be treated at SRS with
a recently developed proliferation-resistant technology called "melt
and dilute." The process yields low-grade uranium that is unsuitable
for use in nuclear weapons but suitable for disposal as waste. In the
past, HEU had been extracted from spent fuel in reprocessing plants
at SRS. The process also has fewer environmental impacts than reprocessing,
which results in separated HEU and a large volume of liquid radioactive
other forms of spent fuel covered in the EIS will be reprocessed, both
NCI and NRDC view the decision on the HEU spent fuel as an essential
step in hastening the end of reprocessing in the United States and an
important example for other nations. "This decision sends a positive
non-proliferation signal internationally and is a critical step toward
the closing of reprocessing facilities at SRS," said NRDC Staff Attorney
David Adelman. "These plants were built as an integral part of fissile
material production for weapons during the Cold War, and they are no
longer needed. Long-term funding for melt-and-dilute must still be assured
to keep the shutdown of these plants on track.
an environmental perspective, the people of South Carolina and Georgia
should welcome this decision by DOE, but they deserve to be presented
a timetable for closure of the dirty and dangerous reprocessing facilities,
" said NCI's Clements. Of the 68 tonnes of fuel covered in the EIS,
approximately 48 tonnes will be subjected to the melt and dilute treatment.
Thus, 60% in mass (and 97% in volume) of the material covered in the
EIS will be treated with the new melt & dilute technology and the remainder
involves the melting in an oven of the aluminum-clad HEU research-reactor
spent fuel assemblies, with conversion of the melted material into low-enriched
(LEU) ingots, a form unsuitable for direct use in nuclear weapons. In
order to demonstrate the new technology, HEU spent fuel is scheduled
to be melted in an oven soon to be installed in the old L-Reactor building
at SRS. The full-scale treatment facility is expected to be operational
in the L-Reactor building in FY 2008. L-Reactor was permanently closed
in the late 1980's after decades of plutonium and tritium production
Savannah River Site, located near Aiken, South Carolina, currently stores
a large quantity of foreign and domestic aluminum-clad HEU research-reactor
fuel in pools and is scheduled to continue receiving such material from
numerous research reactors around the world until 2009. The United States
originally supplied the bomb-grade uranium fuel to reactors in over
30 countries and numerous U.S. universities, but after realizing the
proliferation risks of such supply began a program to convert these
reactors to LEU fuel incapable of being used for weapons.
concerted effort to convert research reactors to LEU, known as the Reduced
Enrichment in Research and Test Reactors (RERTR), has proved to be one
of the U.S. government's most successful non-proliferation initiatives.
Under the RERTR program DOE agreed to accept spent HEU fuel for disposition
in the U.S. in order to reduce risks of its diversion overseas for weapons.
and NRDC also praised Secretary Richardson for fulfilling a commitment
made in the 1996 by one of his predecessors, Hazel O'Leary, to develop
non-reprocessing technologies for management of the returning spent
fuel for environmental and non-proliferation reasons. "We congratulate
Secretary Richardson for honoring DOE's earlier commitment to the American
people to pursue non-reprocessing disposal options for this bomb-grade
spent fuel.' said Clements.
two non-proliferation groups also lauded DOE's decision as it exemplifies
a long-standing U.S. non-proliferation strategy of leading by example.
"As the U.S. moves to treat weapons-grade nuclear material as waste
rather than as a valuable commodity to be introduced into commerce,
foreign states will be encouraged to do the same," said NCI's Clements.
The U.S. terminated commercial reprocessing of spent fuel in 1972 but
has yet to present a firm timetable for closing the two remaining DOE
reprocessing facilities, F- and H-Canyons, located at SRS.
Tom Clements, NCI, 202-822-8444
Adelman, NRDC, 202-289-2371
For more information on efforts to end commerce in highly-enriched
uranium (HEU), go to the NCI web site at: http://www.nci.org/heu.htm