Fourth quarter of 2002

US plutonium stockpile: “…certain materials were counted twice”

WISE-Paris, 19 november 2002

[Posted 20/11/2002]

In its declaration to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), dated 24 June 2002, the Permanent Mission of the United States of America to the IAEA, declared 45 tons of civilian separated plutonium as of 31 December 2000. (1) Together with 7.5 tons of plutonium contained in spent fuel “held elsewhere”, this amount of 52.5 tons owned by the US Government constitutes the plutonium stock declared as excess for defense needs.

The 45 tons of separated plutonium corresponds for one part to 40.4 tons of plutonium contained in US nuclear weapons to be disassembled, of which 34 tons, covered by the September 2000 Russia-US agreement, revised on 23 January 2002, on nuclear disarmament, is destined to be converted to MOX fuel for irradiation in US reactors. The last 4.6 tons of separated plutonium is declared as in the form of MOX fuel. Difficulties encountered to fabricate MOX Lead Test Assemblies (LTA) on the basis of weapons grade plutonium, first step of the entire US plutonium disposition program, led the Department of Energy to seek European help to achieve the LTA fabrication. (2) So far, neither Belgium nor France have agreed to fabricate LTAs in their facilities. The Belgian MOX fabrication facility at Dessel is facing severe economic problems and potential closure as early as 2004 after the French plutonium company COGEMA pulled out of an agreement that reserved fabrication capacity until 2006. The French facility at Cadarache is scheduled to be closed down in the first half of 2003 because of a significant earth quake risks, too early to deal with the fabrication of LTAs for the US.

Concerning US plutonium contained in spent fuels held at reactor sites, the global stock continues its growth reaching 343 tons as of 31 December 2000, against 319 tons as of 31 December 1999. One should note also that corrections were brought to the unclear “plutonium [stock] contained in spent fuel held elsewhere” (of which 7.5 tons declared as excess for defense needs), which was stagnant at 15 tons and has been revised down to 12 tons because “certain materials were counted twice because of overlaps between two data sources”. A correction in the balance of 3,000 kg of plutonium, peanuts… as long as we’re talking about US plutonium.

Notes :

  1. For more details see “Annual data on civilian plutonium separated and contained in irradiated fuel per country
  2. See WISE-Paris News, “Shipping Parts of the US Military Plutonium Disposition Program to Europe?”, 23 June 2002

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