Second quarter of 2002

U-Turn of the US Military Plutonium Disposition Program

WISE-Paris, 14 May 2002

[Posted 14/05/2002]

Final decision to abandon immobilization has been amended by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) on 19 April 2002. The modification aims to further reduce the costs of the disposition program leading to the cancellation of some alternatives bound to the ”dual track” approach. Originally, the US disposition strategy included the immobilization of weapons plutonium in glass form besides its disposition as MOX fuel in commercial reactors.

The DOE/NNSA, amended a Record of Decision (ROD) in order to cancel ”the immobilization portion of the disposition strategies(1) and therefore abandon the construction of facilities for non-pit plutonium previously destined for immobilization. The ”hybrid approach”, i.e. immobilization and MOX, that had been previously chosen ”to provide insurance against technical or institutional uncertainties that could arise from a single-technology approach for disposition”, seems no more of concern. In fact, the ”construction and operation of the plutonium immobilization facility was delayed indefinitely due to budgetary constraints”. This means that the 17 t of surplus plutonium previously destined to immobilization will either be stored or be purified and fabricated into MOX fuel.

Concerning the interim management and the long term storage of plutonium, DOE/NNSA focuses on the Savannah River Site (SRS) to accept the impure plutonium previously planned for immobilization for ”a long-term storage”, which has been selected among four sites (Hanford, Idaho National Engineering and Environmental (INEEL), Pantex and SRS) ”on its own merits” which were not detailed in the Record of Decision. The SRS 105-K building will therefore receive the plutonium that will be shipped from Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site (RFETS) and which was originally destined for immobilization. The storage period of this plutonium could also extend beyond the 10-year period estimated in 1998. In parallel, the plutonium stored in Zone 4 at Pantex and which was originally destined to be stored on the site in upgraded facilities in Zone 12 (while use of Zone 4 would have been discontinued), will remain in Zone 4 but could be sent in the future to SRS ”pending disposition at SRS”. In fact, DOE/NNSA found that a ”further analysis of mission needs determined that Zone 4 would likely be needed well into the future for weapons dismantlement activities”, and therefore that ”cost savings initially postulated from the closure of Zone 4 would not be achieved”.

This ROD marks the end of the previous ambitious program of disposition of military plutonium surplus and of the dual track approach. The now conservative strategy of ”MOX-only” favored by DOE for 34 t of military plutonium is a real blow to the attempts to develop alternative management strategies for excess plutonium including increasing stocks of civilian origin.


  1. (here and hereunder) DOE/NNSA, Surplus Plutonium Disposition Program – Amended Record of Decision, 19 April 2002, Vol. 67 n°76, pages 19432-19435

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