Site (SRS) Plutonium Processing Program
to the Draft EIS for the Savannah River Site, DOE wants to reprocess
a little over 19 tonnes of irradiated fuel and less than a ton of
other material, including 16 bundles of targets that were originally
intended for the production of plutonium-242 used in nuclear weapons
testing and development This is about 28% of the total mass of material
discussed in the Draft EIS. Nearly all this nuclear material is already
at SRS. The reprocessing is scheduled to have been completed by the
end of 2001.
second technique DOE proposes to use is called "melt and dilute" (m&d).
The irradiated fuel or other types of nuclear material will be heated,
diluted with depleted uranium (if the fuel contains HEU), and sealed
in stainless steel containers. DOE hopes that this process will produce
a stable waste form.
and dilute is DOE's preferred alternative for about 28 tonnes of irradiated
fuel (about 41% of the total mass). Very little of this irradiated
fuel is at SRS now. Most of it is at research or test reactors, where
some is still being used. When, or even whether, it will arrive at
SRS is uncertain.
fuel will arrive at SRS up to 2035, while shipments of US-origin irradiated
fuel from outside the United States should be complete by 2010. The
m&d program was quietly suspended in June 1999 due to budgetary constraints,
then reinstated shortly afterwards. The m&d plant would cost about
$1.9 billion to build and operate during its 30-year life span.
work planned for SRS is plutonium immobilization. Plutonium that is
to be disposed of is to be baked into ceramic pucks at a yet-to-be-constructed
plutonium immobilization plant. The pucks are then to be inserted
into metal cages and the cages placed inside canisters of vitrified
high-level waste. The vitrification of the high-level waste will take
place at the Defense Waste Processing Facility (DWPF), which has been
vitrifying SRS's waste since 1996, a formidable task, since SRS stores
about 34 million gallons of such waste in forty-nine carbon-steel
treatment, plutonium would be stored at several SRS facilities. Much
plutonium would be placed in one of the site's five inactive nuclear
reactors - with "K" reactor prominent. Non-pit military plutonium
would be stored at a proposed Actinide Packaging and Storage Facility,
if this facility comes into being. Construction began on the installation
in 1998, but, citing rising costs, DOE unofficially abandoned the
project in 1999.
twenty-two tonnes of stainless steel and zirconium-clad fuel rods
are also stored at SRS. Because they cannot be melted, those rods
will be shipped to Idaho for long-term storage, DOE says. SRS already
poses a huge cleanup challenge, with tritium contamination emerging
as an increasingly large problem.
SRS employees were contaminated with plutonium on their clothing and
skin during an incident on 1 September 1999. Four of the seven inhaled
the plutonium while involved in repackaging plutonium stored in the
container when the incident occurred. Following a regional meeting
of groups opposed to the SRS MOX project in October 1999, Bob Schaeffer,
public education director of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability
commented: "A planned MOX fabrication facility at SRS is little more
than a 'perpetual pork machine'". SRS is operated by an integrated
team led by Westinghouse Savannah River Company. The team also includes
Bechtel Savannah River Inc., Babcock & Wilcox Savannah River Company,
and British Nuclear Fuels, Limited Savannah River Corporation. The
last is responsible for the solid waste program.
to Sites Highlights
Pantex and Pits
near Amarillo Texas, is the DOE's interim storage site for plutonium
weapons cores ("pits") from dismantled weapons. The plant presently
stores more than 12,000 pits in old, unsealed containers (one per
pit) and in 1960s era above ground bunkers. The Record of Decision
for the Final Pantex Site Wide Environmental Impact Statement allowed
for storing up to 20,000 pits on an interim basis. The final PEIS
on Storage and Disposition designated Pantex as the long-term storage
conditions at the plant are, nevertheless, far from satisfactory.
The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) said in Technical
Report #18: The Safety of Storing Pits at Pantex: "For most of the
pits now in storage at Pantex, the outer metallic cladding is the
only reliable containment". In the summer of 1998 Pantex was forced
to move thirty pits from one bunker to another due to temperature
concerns during a record heat wave.
Recommendation 99-1, issued in August 1999, calls for four steps to
improve the short-term safety of pits at Pantex. (The DNFSB recommendations
can be found at http://dr.tis.doe.gov/archive)
response by Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, published in the Federal
Register of 29 October stated: "Actions include a systems analysis
study to generate programmatic requirements for a pit shipping container,
a review of pit surveillance data to characterize pit integrity in
current environments, and increasing the pit repackaging rate to 200
pits per month".
to 4,000 "national asset" plutonium pits will remain indefinitely
at Pantex scheduled to be stored in a single, upgraded structure,
Building 12-116. The balance will be shipped to Savannah River-if
an investment of $50 million and five years of development, less than
50 of the 10,000 pits at Pantex are in AT-400A containers, which were
originally put forward as the answer to corrosion safety problems
and suitable for both storage and shipping. The slow pace of the project
led DOE to abandon it in favor of a cheaper container that is unsuitable
for shipping. DOE thus created a potential choke point in plans to
trans-ship the packaged pits for disassembly. As the DNFSB said in
August 1999, "DOE's program plan for materials disposition is in peril
regarding recycling excess pits into mixed oxide fuel, because there
is no container suitable for shipping the pits from the Pantex Plant
to the Savannah River Site, and no plans exist for development of
such a container".
transports loom large in the United States. In the past two years
or so, approximately 1,200 nuclear weapon triggers (plutonium pits)
were trucked to Pantex from the Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado. Another
sixty pits were trucked to Pantex from the Savannah River Site in
South Carolina. A DNFSB weekly report of December 1998 states that
approximately 18,500 containers of plutonium bearing materials in
a wide assortment of forms will be moved from California, Idaho, Washington,
Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado to SRS in the next 10-15 years. According
to DOE's Draft Integrated Pit Storage Program Plan, AT-400 containers
are to be replaced with the AL-R8 container requiring a "sealed insert"
for all pits. DOE plans to repackage pits over a five- to six-year
period (as DOE stated could be done with AT-400A) at a cost of $7-9
million, with a production rate of 200 per month on two proposed lines.
However, DOE has yet to come up with the necessary overpack for the
May 1999, Don Moniak of the public interest organization Serious Texans
Against Nuclear Dumping (STAND) accused Pantex management of bad faith.
STAND released to the media internal documents from Pantex that revealed
that while Pantex was publicly describing the nuclear non-proliferation
benefits of processing plutonium for disposition, Pantex officials
were secretly pursuing large-scale plutonium pit production operations.
"The Plutonium Pit Disassembly and Conversion facility is the first
step in disposition and ALSO the first step in pit production", Moniak
points out. Pit production in the United States had centered on Rocky
Flats Plant in Colorado, which halted production in 1989.
In April 1999 Philadelphia based
company Day and Zimmerman, Inc. announced a merger agreement with
the Mason and Hanger Corporation. The latter has been the primary
contractor at Pantex since 1956, responsible for assembly, disassembly
and storage of nuclear weapons components.
(see also: http://www.ch.doe.gov/insidech/org_offices/pmo/frames/specialprogram.htm#pit)
to Sites Highlights
Hanford nuclear reservation covering some 560 square miles in Washington
State was a key production center for military plutonium from its
start-up in 1943. Many of its operations - including nine production
reactors at peak - are now shutdown, and the clean up of over fifty
years of plutonium production and processing is now the main task
for the over 10,000-person workforce engaged at the site, judged to
be the most radioactively contaminated in the United States. Hanford
intends to glassify 54 million gallons of radioactive waste buried
in 177 underground tanks, an endeavor that could take 30 years and
cost $40 billion to $50 billion. In July 1998 the UK company BNFL
led a consortium that won a $6.9 billion DOE contract to treat and
immobilize 20 to 25% of the waste over the next 20 years.
an earlier 1989 Tri-Party Agreement signed by the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency, DOE and Washington State, DOE agreed to pump the
radioactive liquid waste from 149 aging, single-shell tanks into newer,
double-shell tanks as an "interim stabilization" measure, a project
has been plagued with repeated changes and time extensions.
Hanford contractors have promoted new plutonium production and processing
projects, particularly over the past year or so. One project being
pushed is the re-opening of the Fast Flux Test Reactor (FFTF), which
originally operated for 10 years to 1992. FFTF has since been maintained
on standby, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. In fiscal
year 2000 the cost will be $28 million. DOE calculates that it will
cost about $200 million to dismantle the FFTF or $230 million to revive
it by 2004.
Amongst the possible uses now
promoted for FFTF are plutonium-238 production for NASA space batteries;
the accelerator transmutation of waste; isotope experimentation and
tritium production (for details visit: http://www.ne.doe.gov).
But the Government Accountability Project (GAP) charges that the civilian
missions proposed for FFTF mask the true rationale which, according
to a recently released internal memorandum, is production of "special
isotopes in significant quantities for national security".
Another 'argument' to restart FFTF is the availability of 'cheap'
Kalkar plutonium fuel. The German fast breeder reactor SNR-300 at
Kalkar has never been put into operation - the site has been transformed
into an adventure park - and the German government has not yet decided
what to do with the core it has in store. The U.S. idea to use it
at Hanford would solve many problems in Germany...
such as the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA) - comprising
over thirty local, regional, and national organizations representing
the concerns of communities living in the shadows of the US nuclear
weapons complex sites - charge that investment in FFTF development
will divert resources away from the major cleanup programs such as
that for the old K-Basins, pools holding 2,300 tonnes of irradiated
nuclear fuel. Cleanup of the K-Basins is expected to cost $1.6 billion
and to be completed by 2005.
The DOE has recently held public
consultation on its PEIS for FFTF and other Hanford projects. Pacific
Northwest National Lab (PNNL) and its contractor, Battelle were commissioned
in the summer of 1999 to produce a preliminary scoping plan for FFTF
which concluded there was a "compelling need and support for
the restart of FFTF".
proliferation concerns have been raised by ANA, the Nuclear Control
Institute, and others over FFTF restart. DOE's Office of Nonproliferation
and National Security looking at the use of plutonium fuel in the
FFTF, in the context of international nuclear nonproliferation treaties.
formerly ran on a plutonium-based MOX fuel. DOE currently plans to
use an on-site supply of leftover MOX fuel for six years, then to
import the Kalkar fuel from Germany, and later to convert to HEU fuel.
A final decision on whether to restart the FFTF is scheduled for December
other main Hanford plant under examination is the never-used Fuels
and Materials Examination Facility (FMEF), which is being considered
for the role of specialist chemical reprocessor of plutonium-238.
The New York Times reported in October 1999 that the Plutonium Finishing
Plant at Hanford was shut down for long periods in 1996 and 1997 after
17 violations of rules meant to avoid criticalities. The violations
took place as technicians tried "intermittently to stabilize liquid
plutonium left over from weapons production". Transuranic plutonium-contaminated
sludge wastes are destined for final disposal at the WIPP facility
in New Mexico.
(See also Hanford Watch: http://www.hanfordwatch.org
and Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA): http://www.ananuclear.org)
to Sites Highlights
Flats plutonium warhead production plant near Denver, Colorado, which
halted further fabrication of warhead pits in November 1989, presently
holds up to 25% of the surplus weapons plutonium destined for management
at Pantex or Savannah River. Operated by Kaiser-Hill for the DOE,
the plant has a long history of plutonium mismanagement problems,
including more than one ton of plutonium that, according to the Rocky
Mountain Peace and Justice Center, cannot be accounted for. Details
of three major plutonium accidents at the plant, a fire in 1957, leaks
from waste stored outdoors between 1954 and 1966, and another fire
in 1969 became known only decades later as part of a dose reconstruction
study for Rocky Flats begun in 1989 and completed in 1999. An analysis
of the longer term implications of these accidents was published in
the summer of 1999 by the Washington, DC-based Institute for Science
and International Security (ISIS).
(For details visit: http://www.isis-online.org)
Flats Environmental Technology Site, as it has been renamed, is now
focused on the cleanup of radioactive and toxic contamination. According
to DOE plans, cleanup operations are contingent on removal of the
large quantity of plutonium remaining at Rocky Flats. A decision by
the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board in August 1999 means transuranic
(TRU) plutonium contaminated wastes previously destined to be shipped
to Savannah River will now go to WIPP. The decision states: "An estimated
30% of the cans (containing >10% Pu or >200 grams Pu, much of it in
the form of plutonium oxide powder) will require material repackaging
in a glovebox to get below WIPP limits prior to packaging in the pipe
component. Kaiser-Hill is preparing a report to justify the reclassification
of this material from high risk (due to presence of pyrophoric Pu
and reactive metals) to low risk so it can be sent to WIPP without
the middle of June 1999, after several delays, the first shipment
of an estimated 2,000 55-gallon barrels of TRU wastes left under the
gaze of protestors. The shipping of some 315 kgs of plutonium fluoride
residues (containing approximately 140 kgs of plutonium), from Rocky
Flats has been at issue for some years, but especially since DOE plans
were published for comment in November 1997. The shipment plans were
announced in November 1998.
(For details visit: http://www.em.doe.gov/pluteis/)
The DOE says that for "plutonium metal or oxide that would result
from processing technologies involving plutonium separation, disposition
would be by immobilization in glass or ceramic material for disposal
in a monitored geologic repository pursuant to the Nuclear Waste Policy
Act (consistent with decisions to be made under the department's Surplus
Plutonium Disposition EIS)". DOE plans to complete removal of
surplus plutonium from Rocky Flats by 2003.
all transportation permissions are received, the DOE hopes to complete
clean- up of the site by 2006, as detailed in an agreement between
DOE, EPA and the state of Colorado.
(see also: Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center: http://www.rmpjc.org)
to Sites Highlights
National Laboratory (LLNL)
LLNL is operated by the University
of California for DOE and is located about fifty miles east of San
Francisco. Lawrence Livermore Laboratory was set up to carry out R&D
on all facets of nuclear weapons. It has long played a key role in
the inertial confinement fusion program, and was in the news in 1999
for problems with the National Ignition Facility, now under construction
at the site. The Laboratory is the lead site for work on plutonium
immobilization. It will perform an increasing amount of other work
with plutonium, according to briefing papers from the Federal Office
of Management and Budget obtained by the non-profit Tri-Valley CAREs
in mid-1999. The documents indicate that DOE will "move promptly",
to the Laboratory, work on the W80 nuclear warhead developed at Los
Alamos, a move that will increase the plutonium pit work at Livermore.
Lawrence Livermore already has about 880 pounds of plutonium and is
slated to receive more from Rocky Flats.
(see also: http://www.llnl.gov/
and, for another point of view, http://www.trivalleycares.org/)
to Sites Highlights
Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory has been pressing
for involvement in the national plutonium program since 1994, when
DOE mothballed its partially completed Integral Fast Reactor (IFR)
- a new design that DOE had planned to test at the no-longer-operating
EBR-II reactor. The Plutonium Focus Area - a partnership that includes
the DOE Idaho Operations Office, Lockheed Martin Idaho Technologies
Company, and Argonne National Laboratory - continues to analyze plutonium
stabilization needs. Capsules comprising sealed containers of MOX
fuel made from weapons-grade plutonium have been irradiated at INEEL
in the Advanced Test Reactor (ATR). The fuel was designed at Oak Ridge
National Laboratory and fabricated at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The Idaho research site, developed over an area of 890 square miles,
is home to the world's largest concentration of experimental nuclear
reactors, 52 units have operated at the complex since it opened in
1949. About a dozen INEEL reactors are still operable.
currently stores approximately 60 percent of DOE's inventory of transuranic
waste. DOE sent much of this waste to Idaho from Rocky Flats where
it was a byproduct of nuclear weapons production. DOE must ship 100,000
cubic feet - 15,000 drums of plutonium-contaminated waste - to WIPP
by the end of 2002. If INEEL fails to meet that plan, a 1995 court
order could prevent it from receiving irradiated fuel from foreign
reactors for storage. The first shipment of INEEL plutonium-contaminated
waste reached the WIPP repository in April 1999. Record keeping anomalies
discovered by a DOE audit in June 1999 temporarily interrupted the
shipments of plutonium contaminated waste to WIPP. In total all 315,000
barrels of waste must be removed by from INEEL by 2019.
one-third of the 2.3 million cubic feet of stored plutonium-contaminated
waste at INEEL is not radioactive enough to qualify for disposal at
WIPP. As a result, the DOE signed a $1 billion contract with BNFL
Inc. in 1998 to build a mixed-waste treatment plant at the Idaho site,
to handle up to 185,000 cubic meters of plutonium-contaminated waste.
The facility centers in an incinerator which is hotly contested and
in early February 2000 was still going through the permitting process.
April 1999 the DOE named INEEL, in cooperation with Argonne National
Laboratory, as the US location of the US and Russian International
Centers for Environmental Safety. The Centers will plan and manage
cooperative environmental technology development and demonstration
projects associated with managing irradiated nuclear fuel and the
cleanup of nuclear sites.
has been storing irradiated fuel and core debris from Three Mile Island-2
since July 1986. In March 1999 INEEL moved the first shipment of irradiated
fuel and core debris into dry storage, thus meeting the 1995 "Idaho
INEEL high-level waste from irradiated nuclear fuel processing is
stored as a dry granular powder in bins, while sodium bearing liquid
waste is stored as liquid in underground storage tanks.
(see also: http://www.inel.gov)
to Sites Highlights
Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico produced the first
US plutonium bombs, which were tested at Alamogordo in July, 1945,
and dropped on Nagasaki the next month. Since then the labs have played
a key role in US plutonium policy, both in warhead design and development
and more recently in experimental mixed oxide fuel (MOX) manufacture.
In the past two years, DOE has allocated $3.425 million for MOX fuel
fabrication R&D work at LANL and another $10.075 million for a LANL/Oak
Ridge program to irradiate test pellets made at LANL in the ATR at
Idaho. However, a March 1999 LANL report called into question the
ability of the lab to successfully fabricate MOX test fuel using weapons-grade
plutonium, because the morphology of weapons-grade plutonium differs
significantly from that of reactor-grade plutonium.
LANL has taken the lead for
many years in pushing for development of accelerator-driven transmutation
technology (ATW) for the long-term treatment of plutonium-bearing
irradiated fuel. A DOE report to Congress in early November 1999 on
the ATW of nuclear waste found that a program to treat 87,000 tonnes
of commercial irradiated fuel would cost about $280 billion over its
lifetime and would take 117 years.
In September 1999 LANL announced that it had perfected
a new in vitro technique to monitor radiological workers who may have
been exposed to plutonium. The technique, which uses thermal ionization
mass spectrometry, or TIMS, makes possible the detection of a lifetime
dose of plutonium that is as low as 0.1 rem. The technique is thus
forty times more sensitive than the measurement levels associated
with existing alpha spectroscopy methods, LANL reports.
1999 the reputation and integrity of LANL, which is operated by the
University of California under contract with DOE, were severely impaired
by allegations of espionage and lax security.
(see also: http://www.lanl.gov)
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