FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 14, 1997
NEWS MEDIA CONTACT:
Jeff Sherwood, 202/586-5806
DOE ANNOUNCES DECISION ON THE STORAGE AND DISPOSITION OF SURPLUS NUCLEAR WEAPONS MATERIALS
Secretary of Energy Hazel R. O'Leary today signed a Record of Decision finalizing a dual-track strategy to irreversibly dispose of the Nation's surplus plutonium and to reduce from seven to three the number of sites where surplus nuclear weapons materials are stored. The strategy, first announced on December 9, 1996, allows for immobilizing plutonium in glass or ceramic forms and burning plutonium as mixed oxide fuel in existing reactors.
Today's decision formally completes this phase of the program's environmental review and is consistent with the preferred alternative identified in the department's final Environmental Impact Statement on Storage and Disposition of Nuclear Weapons Materials.
Secretary O'Leary said, "The Clinton administration believes that the dual-track approach for eliminating excess U.S. weapons plutonium stockpiles best serves our arms reduction and nonproliferation goals. Maintaining both the reactor and immobilization options will provide important insurance against possible difficulties with the implementation of either one and help ensure an early start to this important task. Furthermore, this approach will provide us the needed flexibility and leverage to work with Russia on the critical task of reducing Russian excess weapons plutonium stockpiles."
The Department of Energy (DOE) will consolidate the storage of plutonium by upgrading and expanding existing and planned facilities at the Pantex Plant in Texas and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, and continue the storage of weapons-usable highly enriched uranium at DOE's Y-12 Plant in Tennessee, in upgraded and consolidated facilities. After certain conditions are met, most plutonium now stored at the Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site in Colorado will be moved to Pantex and the Savannah River Site. Plutonium currently stored at the Hanford Site, the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory will remain at those sites until disposition.
DOE will pursue a disposition approach that allows immobilization of surplus plutonium in glass or ceramic material for disposal in a geologic repository and burning of some of the surplus plutonium as mixed oxide (MOX) fuel in existing domestic, commercial reactors, with subsequent disposal of the spent fuel in a geologic repository. However, the department has decided that at least 8 metric tons of surplus plutonium materials will be immobilized because they are not suitable for use in MOX fuel without extensive purification. The full extent to which either or both options are implemented will be determined by the results of technology demonstrations, additional environmental reviews and detailed cost proposals. The results of these efforts, as well as nonproliferation considerations and negotiations with Russia and other nations, will ultimately determine the timing and extent to which each technology is deployed.
Burning excess plutonium as MOX fuel in existing reactors would be consistent with U.S. nonproliferation policy because there would be no reprocessing and extraction of residual plutonium from the spent fuel. In addition, MOX fuel would be fabricated in a domestic, government-owned facility at a secure DOE site. The facility would be licensed and used only for the weapons plutonium disposition mission and would be shut down when this mission was complete.
The department has also decided to retain the option of using MOX fuel in Canadian Deuterium Uranium (CANDU) reactors in Canada in the event a multilateral agreement to use CANDU reactors is negotiated among Russia, Canada and the United States.
Through these efforts, the President will be provided the basis and flexibility to begin disposition, either unilaterally as an example to Russia, or multilaterally or bilaterally with other nations. Proceeding in this way will serve as a strong statement of the United States' commitment to nonproliferation and disarmament and encourage similar actions by Russia and other nations, and foster multilateral or bilateral disposition efforts and agreements.
Copies of the Record of Decision can be requested by mail, fax, phone or accessing the Office of Fissile Materials website. The mail address is United States Department of Energy, Office of Fissile Materials Disposition, P.O. Box 23786, Washington, DC, 20026-3786. The fax and telephone request number is 1-800-820-5156. The website address is http://web.fie.com/htdoc/fed/doe/fsl/pub/menu/any/index.htm.