early February 2000, in a surprise move, the Russian government reportedly
has reversed its former policy of insisting on using plutonium recovered
from military stocks as reactor fuel (see Plutonium Investigation No.12-13,
March-April 1999). According to a White House briefing, an initiative
was concluded as part of the President's FY 2001 Expanded Threat Reduction
Initiative. The DOE says it launched a $100 million collaborative program
with Russia to reduce the proliferation challenges posed by Russian
nuclear facilities and weapons-usable nuclear material, especially separated
plutonium from the civilian nuclear power sector.
new initiative is a key element in a broad U.S. effort in Russia to
end the production of fissile materials and reduce existing stockpiles,
an effort that includes the Plutonium Disposition Program, the HEU Purchase
Agreement, the Plutonium Production Reactor Agreement, and the Core
Conversion Agreement. The Administration justifies the development saying
"all of these activities, as well as the hundreds of millions of dollars
we are spending to improve fissile material security in Russia and other
countries of the former Soviet Union, reflect our deep concerns over
the risks of theft and diversion of nuclear materials in the unique
circumstances of the post-Cold War environment". A few days after the
DOE announcement, the Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov, according
to the Washington Post, told visiting U.S. academics that "no negotiations"
on such an agreement were being conducted, and that only preliminary
talks had been held. Matthew Bunn, one of the key scientists involved
in the plutonium disposition projects at Harvard University, said it
appeared that the U.S. Department of Energy had been "too eager to claim
an agreement before it existed".
For DOE Fact Sheet on the US-Russian deal see:
NGOs on Plutonium Disposition *
are told that the MOX program is a non-proliferation measure. But under
pressure from nuclear establishments in both countries (US and Russia),
the goal of stabilization and immobilization of plutonium has been undermined
by a program which threatens to push both of our countries into a plutonium
economy. Money makes policy. The larger the investment into plutonium
facilities under the auspices of a disposition program, the more likely
it is that these facilities will continue to be used for other purposes
once the disposition program is completed. Furthermore, it is apparent
that international plutonium companies such as Cogema (France) and British
Nuclear Fuels (UK), Ltd. are seeking to serve their own financial interests
by pushing MOX."
extract from a declaration of a coalition of over 200 NGOs , released
15 June 1999, at the opening of DOE-organized hearings on the supplement
to the Surplus Plutonium Disposition EIS
New Federal Agency NNSA - 'S' for 'Security' or for 'Secrecy'?
of 1 March 2000 a new federal agency, the National Nuclear Security
Administration, will assume management of DOE facilities still directly
engaged in research and development on nuclear weapons. The agency will
come into being as a result of accusations that lax DOE security allowed
defense secrets to be stolen from Los Alamos National Laboratory (see
section on nuclear sites later). Congress, in the National Defense Authorization
Act for Fiscal Year 2000 required DOE to create the agency to separate
weapons R&D from its non-defense research programs.
new agency will be semi-autonomous, with the Energy Secretary having
at least titular oversight. According to DOE's implementation plan,
cleanup and environmental mangement at existing waste sites will continue
to be carried out by DOE's Office of Management and Budget (OEM). However,
"management of newly generated wastes at NNSA laboratories and facilities
is the responsibility of the NNSA, but is not necessarily an NNSA function".
NNSA may, the plan says, give management of the wastes to OEM, but the
plan does not specify the arrangements for such an approach.
it created the NNSA, Congress also created the position of under secretary
to oversee DOE's energy, science, and environmental management programs.
DOE says that this under secretary will have the authority to close
a site if a health or safety issue necessitates closure.
the reorganization of the DOE is open to serious criticism. Attorneys
general from more than forty states signed a letter to Congress in September
1999, warning that the agency could override state control of environmental
issues at the laboratories. Public-interest organizations fear that
they will be cut off from their existing sources of information about
laboratory activities. A danger of a different type is that DOE's civilian
research programs will no longer be able to benefit from research on
nuclear weapons. As of early February 2000, the under secretary for
national security, who will lead the new agency, had not yet been named.
Energy Secretary Bill Richardson is interim leader. Dr. David Michaels,
DOE assistant secretary, will become under secretary for the energy,
science, and environmental management programs.
to an LANL document, up to 80% of the pits do not need to go through
the new technologies. The ARIES (Advanced Recovery & Integrated Extraction
System) line appears to be necessary only for those "bonded pits" where
the plutonium has to be chemically separated from the other pit parts.
In this case, the labs are testing a pyro-processing technology rather
than relying upon the liquid acid chemical separation technology. The
MOX industry does not like this dry process. If MOX is to happen, ARIES
appears totally incapable of producing MOX-able fuel. Liquid Acid Processing
will happen. It is unclear how this applies to the ceramification option
which is actually just an adaptation of MOX technology but substitutes
titanate ceramics for most of the uranium oxide that is mixed with plutonium
in the case of MOX."
Moniak of Serious Texans against Nuclear Dumping (STAND)
of the technical challenges being addressed as part of the ARIES is
the reduction of gallium in the plutonium oxide form produced from some
of the pits. In the event that the ARIES should encounter developmental
difficulties in reducing gallium to acceptable levels, an alternative
process for the removal of the gallium would be to dissolve and purify
the plutonium oxide using a glove-box-sized aqueous process. The process
has been used successfully in the past: however, this process would
produce larger quantities of radioactive liquid wastes."
from DOE letter to Congressman Spratt regarding future plans at the
SRS, dated 6 January 1998
Plutonium Inventories by Nuclear Processing Plant
are open to question as different DOE sources indicate different quantities
of Plutonium in the Disposition Program
on an analysis of a DOE chart issued in July, 1999, Ed Lyman, scientific
director of the Nuclear Control Institute has tried to explain the
breakdown of the ‘excess' military plutonium. He judges that the 33
tonnes cited by DOE for excess weapons-grade plutonium suitable for
MOX is a "nominal" figure and includes material that may be declared
excess in the future, but does not correspond to the current excess
stockpile. Also 7.5 tonnes of plutonium in irradiated fuel has been
on the excess plutonium list since the list was first released, despite
the fact that it does not really belong there. But it is not considered
part of the 17 tonnes slated for immobilization. The blend-down and
shipment to WIPP of the 3.1 MT of pyrochemical salts from Rocky Flats
Environmental Technology Site was evaluated in the Rocky Flats Management
of Plutonium Residues and Scrub Alloy EIS, and finalized in the Second
ROD, dated 11 February 1999. Lyman points out that the burial of the
salts requires a "safeguards termination limit variance" to allow
residues with up to 10% plutonium concentration to be directly disposed
of in WIPP, which is not a high-security facility.
interpretation of the plutonium surplus breakdown is offered by Arjun
Makhijani, director of the Institute for Energy and Environmental
Research (IEER) in Washington, in response to a question by Pat Ortmeyer,
Field Director of Nuclear Waste Issues for Women's Action for New
Directions (WAND), using the DOE chart figures:
into MOX = 25 tonnes
Impure metal, oxide, fresh fuel, etc.
= 9.5 tonnes for immobilization.
This total of 34.5 tonnes are in the
plutonium, not part of the agreement is:
Impure metal, oxide, fresh fuel, etc.
= 7.4 tonnes for immobilization.
Plutonium in irradiated fuel = 6.9 tonnes
(to HLW repository, no immobilization, just packaging)
Scraps, residues = 0. 6 tonnes to HLW
Scraps and residues = 3.1 tonnes dilute
and send to WIPP.
total surplus plutonium is stated to be 52.5 tonnes. Of this 52.5
tonnes, 38.2 is weapons grade and 14.3 is non-weapons grade, ie fuel
or reactor grade. A DOE 21 March 2000 letter explains that "...the
disposition program includes plutonium oxides but does not include
the spent fuel and waste (scraps, residues)." Nevertheless, the August
1999 chart excludes oxides and includes spent fuel. In this letter,
DOE only restates that there is a difference in these charts, but
does not explain why they are different.