Interim Report to the President's Advisor on Science and Technology
December 12, 1994
Member Departments and Agencies
Office of Science and Technology Policy (co-chair)
National Security Council (co-chair)
Arms Control and Disarmament Agency
Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board
Department of Energy
Department of State
Environmental Protection Agency
Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Office of Management and Budget
Office of the Secretary of Defense
Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Table of Contents
ORGANIZING FOR PLUTONIUM DISPOSITION
--The Working Group
--The Department of Energy's Office of Fissile Material Disposition
ASSESSING THE CURRENT CONDITION OF U.S. PLUTONIUM AND THE DISPOSITION OPTIONS
--The Plutonium Vulnerability Study
--Environmental Impact Statement Process and Schedule
--Research and Development Program on Plutonium Disposition Alternatives
NONPROLIFERATION AND INTERNATIONAL CONSIDERATIONS
--Safeguards and Irreversibility
--Russia's Approach to Plutonium Disposition
MAP: Plutonium Inventory
TABLE 1: Initial Criteria Proposed by DOE for Screening Disposition Alternatives
APPENDIX: Speech to the Public Forum on Plutonium Disposition by the Honorable John Gibbons, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology
On September 27, 1993, President Clinton announced "a comprehensive approach to the growing accumulation of fissile materials" in his speech before the United Nations General Assembly. The President's policy seeks "to eliminate where possible the accumulation of stockpiles of highly- enriched uranium or plutonium, and to ensure that where these materials already exist they are subject to the highest standards of safety, security, and international accountability."(1)
As part of the President's nonproliferation policy decision, he initiated "a comprehensive review of long-term options for plutonium disposition, taking into account technical, nonproliferation, environmental, budgetary and economic considerations."(2) This review is being performed by a Working Group (WG) on Plutonium Disposition under the joint direction of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Security Council.
The President directed that "Russia and other nations with relevant interests and experience be invited to participate in this study."(3) Subsequently, at the January 14, 1994 Summit between President Clinton and President Yeltsin, the two Presidents "tasked their experts to study jointly options for the long-term disposition of fissile materials, particularly of plutonium."(4) A Joint Summit Working Group on Fissile Material Disposition and Accumulation has been established.
This report describes:
1) The organization of the U.S. effort to assess plutonium-disposition options; 2) Activities underway to assess the current environmental and safety conditions of the U.S. inventory of separated plutonium as well as the disposition options; 3) Nonproliferation and international considerations.
In carrying out its assessment of plutonium-disposition options, the Administration is committed to moving forward as fast as it responsibly can. The basis for a decision should be available by early 1996 and implementation would commence soon thereafter. The intention is to dispose of all excess plutonium in a manner that would make it impracticable for subnational groups to recover and difficult to ever reuse it for weapons.
In arriving at a choice of a plutonium-disposition option, the Administration is committed to open decision-making. All views will be heard and considered at each major stage of the process. The national Forums jointly hosted by the WG and the Department of Energy, and the recent public scoping workshops hosted by the Department of Energy, represent the Administration's efforts to continue this public consultation process.
The Administration is committed to protecting the environment, and ensuring safety and health throughout the plutonium-disposition process.
The final choice of a plutonium-disposition option will be made only after all reasonable options have been considered and evaluated against the criteria described in this report.
With the end of the Cold War and the associated cuts in the superpower nuclear arsenals, the U.S. and Russia must together dispose of tens of tons of excess weapons plutonium and hundreds of tons of excess weapons uranium. Disposing of these materials in a manner that is secure, transparent, and makes their reuse in weapons difficult would increase international confidence in U.S. and Russian nuclear arms reductions. Protection of fissile materials against diversion by subnational or terrorist groups is also essential. A recent National Academy of Sciences' report termed the security problem presented by excess fissile materials from weapons "a clear and present danger to national and international security."(5)
In parallel to the problem of excess weapons materials, the world is also currently faced with a growing accumulation of plutonium being separated in civilian nuclear power programs. Slightly more than 100 metric tonnnes (tons) of plutonium are in civilian stockpiles today, increasing at a rate of 15 tons per year. The annual separation rate is about 23 tons, compared to a consumption rate of about 8 tons per year. Projections show that the rate of use of this plutonium will catch up to the rate of separation at the earliest in the year 2000, at a peak accumulation of about 150 tons. Most of the separated plutonium is, and will be, in the United Kingdom, France, and Russia, with increasing amounts being owned by Japan and Germany.
The most immediate task is to assure that weapons-usable fissile materials are in safe and secure interim storage. Demilitarizing these materials requires additional processing, and will not be undertaken until the disposition alternative is selected.
Highly enriched uranium can be demilitarized, or "blended down" by dilution with uranium containing low concentrations of U235,(6) to below 20 percent U235, the internationally-agreed level below which enriched uranium is considered not directly usable for weapons purposes. This is still more concentrated than the enrichment level used in commercial power reactor fuel, which is typically 3-5 percent.
There is an economic incentive to demilitarize weapons uranium since the cost of blending it down to power reactor fuel is only a fraction of the value of the resulting fuel. Russia and the United States are already cooperating to demilitarize 500 tons of Russian weapons uranium in this manner.
Demilitarization of plutonium is more difficult, because all its isotopes can sustain a chain reaction.(7) Also, unlike the situation with weapons uranium, even if the plutonium is available "free," the cost of fabricating it into fuel for reactors is greater than the cost of low-enriched uranium fuel with comparable energy content.(8) Processing plutonium is much more difficult than processing uranium because of plutonium's toxicity.
President Clinton's nonproliferation policy reaffirmed the long-standing position that "the United States does not encourage the civil use of plutonium, and accordingly does not itself engage in plutonium reprocessing for either nuclear power or nuclear explosive purposes." It also stated, however, that the United States "will maintain its existing commitments regarding the use of plutonium in civilian programs in Western Europe and Japan."(9) The nuclear industries in France, Britain and Russia have all constructed large commercial reprocessing plants for the recovery of plutonium from spent power-reactor fuel. Recycling of this separated plutonium has begun on a significant scale in Western Europe and preparations for large-scale plutonium reprocessing and recycling are under way in Japan. Russia has thus far stockpiled approximately 25 tons of plutonium recovered from power-reactor fuel.
Construction of foreign commercial plutonium recovery facilities was launched at a time when nuclear power generation was expected to grow so rapidly that the Earth's low cost uranium would be depleted soon after the year 2000, making plutonium an economic fuel. The drastic slowing in the growth of nuclear power and the demand for electricity worldwide since the early 1970s has delayed this future indefinitely, but the nuclear establishments of France, Japan and Russia are all reluctant to abandon their investments in spent fuel reprocessing and plutonium-breeder reactor technology.
The present context for U.S. and Russian decisions about the disposition of their excess weapons plutonium is therefore that:
Of course, regardless of decisions concerning final disposition, separated plutonium will need to be protected for many years, if not decades, until it can be put in less accessible forms or locations.
It is important to note also that, while some nations are recovering plutonium from spent fuel, over two-thirds of the plutonium being discharged in power-reactor spent fuel today is not being reprocessed. This plutonium, although not of weapon grade, could be separated and used to make nuclear explosives. However, it is a lesser security concern than separated plutonium because plutonium in spent fuel is difficult to extract due to lethal levels of gamma radiation. After about 5 years, the intensity of this radiation declines with the thirty-year half-life of the fission product cesium-137. The combination of this intense radiation field, the size and weight of the spent fuel and the chemical dilution of the plutonium make the plutonium difficult to extract. This fact led the National Academy of Sciences to recommend that excess separated plutonium be made as inaccessible as the plutonium in spent fuel. This is often referred to as the "spent-fuel standard."(11)
One obvious way to achieve the spent-fuel standard is to use plutonium in reactor fuel. Some of it would fission during irradiation in the reactor, creating the fission products required to make the spent fuel and the remaining unfissioned plutonium inaccessible.
There are other ways to achieve the spent-fuel standard, however. One would be to mix the plutonium with fission products accumulated from reprocessing in a glass matrix for disposal. Other methods would make it inaccessible without the use of fission products by a combination of physical and/or chemical barriers, for example by emplacement in boreholes several kilometers deep. Each option requires separate analysis to assess the degree to which it is resistant to retrieval, extraction, and reuse, and thus makes subnational access impracticable and weapons use difficult.
ORGANIZING FOR PLUTONIUM DISPOSITION
The Working Group
The Working Group (WG) on Plutonium Disposition provides interagency coordination for the U.S. Government's evaluation of options for the disposition of excess plutonium. It includes representatives of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (co-chair), National Security Council (co-chair), Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, Department of Energy, Department of State, Environmental Protection Agency, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Office of Management and Budget, Office of the Secretary of Defense, and Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The WG held a public national forum on May 4, 1994, to discuss plutonium disposition policy and solicit public input. The President's Science Advisor opened this forum with a speech describing U.S. initiatives to reduce the worldwide security threat posed by excess stocks of fissile materials (see Appendix). The WG will co-host with the Department of Energy a second two-day national forum on reactor and non-reactor plutonium-disposition options in the Washington D.C. area on December 13 and 14, 1994.
The Department of Energy (DOE) has responsibility for all U.S. stocks of excess fissile materials and is the lead agency for evaluating options for disposition of excess plutonium. DOE's Office of Fissile Material Disposition has lead responsibility for conducting research on various options, drafting a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, and narrowing the range of options to those that appear most viable. Other interested government agencies provide guidance to the DOE throughout this process to assure that foreign policy, safety and environmental considerations are taken adequately into account.
The WG has monitored the progress of this work, including two one-day workshops on:
These workshops were scheduled one day after scoping meetings on the DOE's Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement on storage and disposition of weapons-usable fissile materials, in order to enable non-DOE members of the WG to participate in the public scoping workshops.
On May 23 and 25. 1994, U.S. representatives met with a counterpart Russian group to discuss the possibility of joint investigations of plutonium disposition options. This led to an agreement to initiate a joint study on plutonium stabilization and disposition options. The subjects of the first joint experts workshop will be:
The hope is that a joint program of research will result that could lead to agreement on mutually acceptable disposition strategies. The current U.S. expectation is that the first U.S.-Russian experts workshop on plutonium disposition will be held in the U.S. in January l995.
The U.S. government will stress in all its discussions of plutonium disposition with foreign governments the critical importance of maintaining the highest standards of security and accounting for nuclear materials throughout the disposition process, regardless of which plutonium-disposition option(s) is (are) chosen.
The Department of Energy's Office of Fissile Material Disposition
In parallel with the creation of the interagency group, Secretary of Energy Hazel O'Leary, on January 24, 1994, created a project team within DOE to focus efforts on the control and disposition of excess fissile materials. Subsequently, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 1995 created an Office of Fissile Materials Disposition reporting to DOE's Undersecretary. This Office is responsible for "all activities of the Department related to the management, storage and disposition of fissile materials from weapons and weapons systems that are excess to the national security needs of the United States."(12)
The Congress also made $50 million available in FY 1995 for fissile materials disposition and requested the preparation of a program plan. A program plan for FY 1995 was prepared by the Office of Fissile Materials Disposition and provided to the Congress in October, 1994. The major activities planned include:
(1) Analyzing long-term storage and disposition options for plutonium, highly-enriched uranium and other specified fissile materials; (2) Preparing a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); (3) Integrating and documenting the results of the analyses to enable a Record of Decision (ROD) for Department actions regarding the materials; and (4) Conducting outreach and public participation activities regarding excess fissile materials disposition.
ASSESSING THE CURRENT CONDITION OF U.S. PLUTONIUM AND THE DISPOSITION OPTIONS
The Plutonium Vulnerability Study
The DOE has plutonium at many sites (See Map). Some is in unstable forms such as solutions, metal plutonium shavings, plutonium in contact with organic materials, etc. This material must be stabilized to reduce the risk it poses to environment, safety and health. A Plutonium Vulnerability Study was therefore initiated by Energy Secretary O'Leary to identify and assess the environmental, safety, and health status of plutonium stored at DOE's facilities. The results of the Vulnerability Study and the Defense Nuclear Safety Board (DNFSB) May 26, 1994 recommendations for improvements in DOE's storage and management of plutonium materials(13) will serve as a basis for the development of national standards for extended storage of plutonium metals and oxides and site-specific corrective action plans.
Environmental Impact Statement Process and Schedule
Decisions on the long-term storage and disposition of U.S. weapon-usable fissile materials declared excess to national security needs by the President constitute major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment within the meaning of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Department of Energy is preparing a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) to develop information to support decision-making concerning long-term storage and disposition of these materials. Some of the alternatives to accomplish disposition of plutonium may require substantial Federal actions that could entail further NEPA analysis prior to any decision concerning implementation.
The PEIS is projected to be completed by the Spring of 1996. Shortly thereafter, the Secretary can issue a formal Record of Decision (ROD). The results of the environmental analysis in the PEIS combined with information from technical and economic studies and national policy objectives will form the basis for the ROD.
From August through October 1994, twelve public scoping meetings were held around the United States to obtain public comment on the scope of the NEPA analysis options, and to solicit relevant input from affected or interested individuals. The meetings were structured as workshops that encouraged dialogue on draft screening criteria for fissile-material disposition options (see Table I). Based on the comments received during the scoping and interagency process, technical evaluations and screening criteria, the DOE will determine the range of appropriate options to be evaluated through an environmental analysis. After interagency review, the DOE will issue an implementation plan describing the range of options that will be considered in the PEIS.
Research and Development Program on Plutonium Disposition Alternatives
The plutonium-disposition R&D activities being conducted by the DOE must consider all stages of disposition. starting with initial stabilization of the plutonium (when required) through processing, to long-term storage or disposition.
Plutonium extraction, stabilization, and conversion. U.S. plutonium is currently in many forms including: "pits" extracted from dismantled nuclear warheads, solutions stored in shut-down reprocessing plants, and scrap from pit production. In many cases, plutonium storage or disposition will require the extraction and/or stabilization of the plutonium. For example, the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories are developing hydride-dehydride methods for extracting the plutonium metal from pits and converting it to metal-ingot or plutonium-oxide forms while producing a minimal quantity of plutonium-contaminated waste.
Disposition. Plutonium disposition options may be divided into three groups, those involving reactors and accelerators, immobilization, and all others.
Reactor and Accelerator Options. Prior to the organization of the DOE's Office of Fissile Material Disposition, Congress mandated a study of options for disposition of plutonium and production of tritium using either advanced light water reactors or modular high-temperature gas-cooled reactors. This would require the construction of new reactors.(14) A follow-on study on the possible use of existing light-water and CANDU (Canadian deuterium- uranium) reactors and additional work on new (advanced light-water and helium gas-cooled reactors) is in the final stages of completion.
Immobilization Options. The initial focus of R&D on the non-reactor immobilization options has been to decrease the large number of candidate materials in which plutonium could be embedded. Materials have been reviewed with respect to performance criteria and environmental impacts during their manufacture as well as disposition phases.
Other Options. Various other options for making plutonium inaccessible have been examined in the past. The only one of these in which the DOE is investing R&D resources is an option highlighted by the National Academy study: disposition in multi-kilometer deep boreholes.(15)
The statutory and regulatory requirements for placement of spent fuel and immobilization forms in a national geological high-level waste repository are also being reviewed. Thus far, no regulatory or technical reasons have been identified that would suggest that the high-level waste repository would be unable to accept either of the two leading plutonium-disposition forms recommended in the National Academy of Sciences' report: plutonium embedded in borosilicate glass or in spent mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel (natural or depleted uranium containing an admixture of a few percent plutonium).
Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA is involved in the process of narrowing disposition options by providing input to the DOE in the development of screening criteria to be used to eliminate options that need not receive further evaluation. EPA will also be involved in the evaluation of the remaining options through its review and comment on the PEIS. After a disposition option(s) is (are) chosen, there could be requirements for EPA approvals under several environmental laws. For example, EPA would play a critical role in licensing spent fuel or immobilization forms for geologic disposal. Most certainly, under the Clean Air Act, the DOE must obtain EPA approval to construct or modify a facility which could cause increased air emissions of radionuclides. The EPA would also regulate the levels of any radionuclide air emissions from such a facility.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission. If plutonium-disposition facilities were built and owned by the Department of Energy, they would be subject to independent review by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, unless special legislation mandated an NRC review. Any facility that was privately owned would have to be licensed by the NRC. The NRC would review its design and operation for safety, material control and accounting, and physical protection. The following discussion is premised upon the assumption that the NRC would license all stages of the plutonium-disposition process after the plutonium had been converted to an unclassified form.
MOX-Fuel Fabrication Facility. If the MOX-fuel option in existing U.S. light-water reactors were chosen, NRC would have to concern itself with licensing the: MOX-fuel-fabrication facility, the use of MOX fuel in reactors, and fresh MOX-fuel transport. Spent fuel from a MOX reactor would meet the spent fuel standard and could be disposed of in a manner similar to existing spent fuel.
Licensing activities for a MOX-fuel-fabrication plant would begin with preliminary communication by the applicant with the staff of the NRC, most likely taking several months. Following receipt of the application and an initial review, the staff may request additional information from the applicant. Upon completion of the application, an Environmental Assessment (EA) would be performed and an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) might be found necessary. These environmental documents would be developed in parallel with the rest of the safety review and preparation of the Safety Evaluation Report.
The principal areas where the details of the safety review of a plutonium fuel-fabrication facility would differ from a low-enriched uranium fuel-fabrication facility are criticality accidents, fire safety and health physics. The current 10 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) Part 20 and the Part 70 rules are probably sufficient in these and other applicable areas. License reviewers however may require additional measures for MOX fuel fabrication facilities which are not applicable to uranium facilities to ensure safety.
A MOX fuel fabrication facility designed to process tens of tons of excess U.S. plutonium over a period of decades must meet extensive material control and accounting (MC&A) and physical protection requirements. The facility would be required to submit an MC&A plan that covers: (1) records; (2) reports; (3) written procedures; (4) facility organization; (5) material control areas; (6) measurement systems; and (7) measurement control programs. The facility would also have to submit a security plan that covers: (1) the security organization; (2) physical barriers; (3) access controls subsystems and procedures; (4) detection, surveillance, and alarm subsystems; (5) communications subsystems; (6) test and maintenance programs; (7) contingency response and procedures; and (8) force training and qualifications. Typically, the approval process for MC&A and physical security is completed within the time period of the safety review.
The entire licensing process for a MOX-fuel fabrication facility, including the required environmental reviews, would require an estimated 3-5 years, depending upon the complexity of the facility and the extent of the application of previously-reviewed technology utilized in the facility. If new, previously unevaluated technology were utilized by the license applicant, it is possible that research would need to be conducted to support the application.
Licensing MOX Fuel Use in Existing Reactors. There are some general technical and licensing issues that an operating reactor licensee would need to address in applying for a license amendment to bum MOX fuel. These issues include minor revisions to the accident analyses for the Final Safety Analysis Reports, an evaluation of thermal-hydraulic stability of the core, other core physics and reactivity control issues, and possible changes to the previously-considered environmental impacts. The review would be similar to a normal core reload review. The review would be completed within 18 months under regular procedures.
Transportation Requirements for MOX Powder and Fuel. The development of MOX shipping containers for powder or fresh MOX fuel rods would take considerable effort. Safety requirements dictate that shipment of MOX powder would require a container with effective double containment. For shipments of fresh MOX fuel rods between points within the U.S., the inventory of currently-approved containers may be able to support an experimental effort, but could not handle a high-volume fuel cycle. Only one container is currently authorized to ship fresh MOX fuel in rods; however, this container would have to be retrofitted or redesigned to meet new regulations before additional containers could be manufactured. The regulatory structure for approval of such containers is in place. In addition, to ship spent MOX fuel, spent fuel containers will need to be developed or a current container will need to be reapproved.
NRC staff anticipates that certification of containers could take about one year under high priority assignment, or two to three years under regular procedures. All time estimates are approximate and are subject to change, given better definition of the particular circumstances involved.
With regard to physical security during transport, shipments containing significant quantities of weapons-usable materials are currently being transported under an interim agreement between NRC and DOE, in which the DOE Safe Secure Transport (SST) system is used to transport the material. The interim nature of the agreement was due to DOE concern about the limited space available on the SST for transporting commercial special nuclear material and the request from DOE that NRC make attempts to find a viable transporter for the commercial sector. If it became difficult for DOE to make available the SST system for the transport of MOX fuel because of the quantity of fuel required to be transported, the existing NRC program for protecting shipments would need to be revised to either incorporate modifications into the regulations or to provide an alternate generic solution. In the event a request for a license from a commercial transporter is received, the applicant would be required to submit plans for security, contingency response, and guard force training and qualification.
Immobilization. Immobilization of plutonium would involve transport of the plutonium, processing for immobilization, and disposal. The transportation issues involved in transporting separated plutonium to an immobilization facility are the same as those that would be involved in transporting separated plutonium to a MOX fuel fabrication facility. In both instances, the forms to be transported will have to be specified before the regulatory issues can be identified.
Initial licensing of an immobilization facility would require establishing the design basis, developing the licensing record file, establishing a decommissioning plan, integrating the facility into the NRC regulatory framework, and training NRC inspectors and licensing reviewers. The current fuel cycle Standard Review Plan (SRP) topics should be applicable to the licensing of an immobilization facility. The actual review, however, may differ because review topics may not include all topics needed for the immobilization facility review.
The duration of the review is estimated to take approximately 3-5 years depending upon the complexity of the facility and the environmental reports required. It is anticipated that because of the staff's lack of familiarity with immobilization facilities, more review time would be required than for a MOX-fuel fabrication facility.
Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) was created by Congress in 1988 as an independent oversight agency within the Executive Branch to provide advice and recommendations to the Secretary of Energy regarding public health and safety issues at the DOE's defense nuclear facilities. If the DNFSB determines that an imminent or severe threat to public health or safety exists at a defense facility, it must transmit its recommendations directly to the President, as well as the Secretaries of Energy and Defense.
The DNFSB reviews operations. practices, and occurrences at defense nuclear facilities for their impact on public health and safety. The DNFSB is authorized by its enabling statute (42 U.S.C. sec. 2286) to conduct investigations and special studies, seek the assistance of other federal agencies, hold public hearings, issue subpoenas, and establish reporting requirements for the DOE in performing its function. The Secretary of Energy and contractors at defense nuclear facilities are required to cooperate fully with the DNFSB.
A defense nuclear facility is defined in the DNFSB's enabling statute as a production or utilization facility (as defined in the Atomic Energy Act) under the control or jurisdiction of the Secretary of Energy, and operated for national security purposes. Facilities or activities pertaining to the Naval nuclear propulsion program, and nuclear waste facilities developed pursuant to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and licensed by the NRC are excluded from the DNFSB's jurisdiction. Facilities or activities involved with the transportation of nuclear weapons and materials are also excluded.
In the event that defense nuclear facilities, as defined by the DNFSB's enabling statute, are involved in the disposition of excess fissile materials, the DNFSB would be required under current law to exercise its health and safety oversight responsibilities for those facilities. Exact specification of the DNFSB's involvement must await more specific definition of the facilities, materials, and activities to be involved.
Department of Energy. The DOE is also part of the regulatory and oversight system through the DOE Office of Environment, Safety and Health.
NONPROLIFERATION AND INTERNATIONAL CONSIDERATIONS
Safeguards and Irreversibility
Demilitarization and disposition of excess plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU) supports a number of U.S. nonproliferation policies:
Placing stocks of fissile materials excess to defense needs under international safeguards and their subsequent disposition in a manner that would be difficult to reverse would strengthen confidence in other nations that the process of nuclear arms reduction is irreversible;
Disposition of the these materials in a difficult to reverse manner would dramatically reduce the threat of their theft; and
Disposition of excess stocks of weapons materials would indicate to other countries that the U.S. takes seriously its own proposals to eliminate accumulated excess stockpiles of plutonium and HEU of all types -- both military and civilian. With regard to plutonium in particular, it is the U.S. view that plutonium is much more secure in spent fuel than in separated form.
At the same time, particular options could conflict with the pursuit of U.S. policy not to encourage reprocessing and the civil use of plutonium.
One of the key goals of U.S. nonproliferation strategy is to strengthen the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), and gain an indefinite extension of this treaty in 1995. Article VI of the NPT states that each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament. Measures to demilitarize excess plutonium and HEU, store them under international safeguards, and dispose of them in a difficult to reverse manner would all demonstrate U.S. and Russian commitments to irreversible nuclear arms reductions.
Such measures would also provide political support for the rapid conclusion of the fissile material cutoff treaty, which would provide for a verified global ban on the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons or explosives, or outside of international safeguards. The fact that this treaty would not address existing stockpiles of unsafeguarded fissile materials that have resulted from past production has caused concerns among some states. Taking concrete steps to address these stockpiles -- initially the large stockpiles belonging to Russia and the U.S.--would be helpful by demonstrating a path whereby excess stocks of fissile materials produced in the past would be eliminated.
The same steps taken to demonstrate the irreversibility of the nuclear arms reduction process can also serve to increase the diversion resistance of the plutonium and HEU. Disposing of directly weapons-usable plutonium in a manner that makes it difficult to retrieve sets an important standard. In addition to making the plutonium and HEU less accessible, adding barriers to recovery would in most cases make attempts at diversion far easier to detect.
During the phase in which plutonium is stored or processed, pending final disposition, risks of diversion must be addressed. Changing the form of the plutonium from weapons components into any disposal form requires extensive handling, processing, and likely transportation. These risks must be minimized and then balanced against the large longer-term benefits associated with changing the form of the plutonium to one that is more inherently diversion resistant.
The choice of particular disposition options must also be evaluated against U.S. policy not to encourage the civil use of plutonium or reprocessing. It must take into account the fact that any option that created an extensive regulatory and technical infrastructure for civil plutonium use could lower the threshold to future use of plutonium fuels. It could also encourage others to adopt similar programs or, if plutonium is shipped abroad, strengthen existing programs or create new ones outside the United States. Alternatively, the disposition of already-separated plutonium in MOX could be viewed as a means for managing stocks of excess weapons-usable material that does not encourage reprocessing and thereby the civil use of plutonium. Further, MOX disposition options may also serve to demonstrate that civil plutonium use is uneconomic. As with all other options, each disposition option involving MOX would, therefore. require a searching evaluation of its potential impact on U.S. nonproliferation policy.
Russia's Approach to Plutonium Disposition
Joint U.S.-Russian examination of plutonium-disposition options is about to begin. However, Russia's Ministry of Atomic Energy (Minatom) has already expressed a clear initial preference for the use of plutonium in MOX. This reflects Minatom's long-term commitment to the future deployment of a closed civil nuclear cycle with reprocessing and fast-neutron plutonium breeder reactors. This perspective differs from that of the U.S. government, which no longer encourages the civil use of plutonium.
Minatom's initially expressed preference would be to use separated plutonium to fuel commercial-scale 800-Megawatt electric-power output fast-neutron reactors (BN800s) operating initially on a "once-through" fuel cycle (i.e. a fuel cycle not involving early recovery of the plutonium from the spent fuel). Pending the availability of such reactors, the current plan is for "safe and reliable" storage of separated plutonium. The construction of up to a total of four BN-800s is planned at Beloyarsk and at the "South Urals" site near Russia's commercial RT-1 spent power-reactor fuel reprocessing plant at Ozersk (formerly known as Chelyabinsk-65), about 75 miles north of Chelyabinsk. A partially constructed breeder reactor MOX fuel fabrication plant in Ozersk would be completed to supply the MOX fuel. The approximately 25 tons of excess civil plutonium that have been separated at RT-1 would also be used to produce MOX for the BN-800s. However, it is not clear whether the required financial resources will be available to carry out these plans.
In the medium-term, Russia has alternatives to using fast-neutron reactors to dispose of plutonium. It possesses a number of VVER-1000 light-water reactors that may have the capability to burn the plutonium as a mixed oxide fuel -- much as reactors in Western Europe have routinely done for many years. In Russia, as elsewhere, it would be necessary for licensing authorities to determine whether the use of MOX fuel would increase the safety risks from these reactors.
Minatom is also interested in the possibility of selling MOX fuel abroad. If MOX production costs were lower in Russia than in Western Europe this might be profitable. However, the relative production costs of low-enriched uranium (LEU) and MOX fuel are likely to be the same in Russia as in Western Europe with the result that even higher profits could be realized if Russia could sell LEU fuel to the same buyers.
Russia also has great expertise in some of the other plutonium-disposition options that are being examined in the U.S. plutonium-disposition R&D program. Thus, for example. Russian technologists have studied extensively the vitrification (glassification) of high-level waste, including at an operating vitrification plant near the RT-1 reprocessing facility (which produces phosphate glass rather than the borosilicate glass used in Western Europe and planned for use in the U.S.). Russia also has great expertise in the drilling of deep boreholes -- having already drilled the world's deepest borehole in the Kamchatka Penninsula.
(1) Nonproliferation and Export Control Policy (White House Fact Sheet, September 27,
(4) Joint Statement by the President of the Russian Federation and the President of the United States of America on Nonproliferation and Arms Control of Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Means of their Delivery. January 14, 1994 (Washington: White House Office of the Press Secretary).
(5) Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1994), p.1.
(6) Natural uranium contains only 0.7 percent U235.
(7) Pu238 is considered an effective denaturant at concentrations above 80 percent because it generates so much heat (560 Watts per kilogram). But it would be prohibitively expensive to produce enough Pu-238 to denature many tons of weapons or civilian plutonium.
(8) See, e.g., Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium, pp. 24-25.
(9) Nonproliferation and Export Control Policy (see above).
(10) President Clinton, letter to Representative Fortney Pete Stark, October 20, 1993.
(11) Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium, p. 10.
(12) Secretary Hazel O'Leary, Department of Energy Press Release, January 24, 1994.
(13) Recommendation 94-1 to the Secretary of Energy pursuant to 2286a(5) Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as amended (Washington, D.C.: Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, May 26, 1994. See also Plutonium Storage Safety at Major Department of Energy Facilities (Washington, D.C.: Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, April 14, 1994).
(14) U.S. Department of Energy Plutonium Disposition Study: Technical Review Committee Report, Vol II (Washington, D.C.: Department of Energy, July 2, 1993).
(15) Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium.
Richland 11.0 MT
Idaho National Engineering Laboratory 0.5 MT
Argonne National Laboratory-West 4.0 MT
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory 0.4 MT
Los Alamos National Laboratory 2.6 MT
Rocky Flats 12.9 MT
Savannah River 2.1 MT
MT - Metric Tons
Overall Pu Production Summary:
The U.S. produced 89 MT of weapons-grade Pu from 1945-1988
- Savannah River produced 36 MT from 1953-1988
- The Hanford Site near Richland, WA produced 53 MT of weapons-grade Pu from 1945-1987
Hanford also produced 13 MT of reactor grade Pu
Initial Criteria Proposed by DOE for Screening Disposition Alternatives
1. Resistance to theft or diversion in processing and storage by subnational groups. Each step in the disposition process must be capable of providing for comprehensive protection and control of weapons-usable fissile material. 2. Resistance to retrieval, extraction and reuse. The final disposition of the excess material must be highly resistant to potential reuse in weapons by the host nation. 3. Technical viability. There should be a high degree of confidence that the alternative will be technically successful. 4. Environmental, safety & health compliance. High standards of public and worker health and safety, and environmental protection must be met, and significant additional ES&H burdens should not be created. 5. Cost effectiveness. Disposition should be accomplished in a cost- effective manner, and be compatible with reasonable long term storage alternatives. 6. Timeliness. The technology concept should be demonstrated within about 20 years and disposition should be completed within about 50 years. 7. Fostering progress and cooperation with Russia and other countries. Each step in the disposition process must allow international inspections, and the alternative should provide a good example for the disposition of international weapons-usable materials inventories. 8. Public and Institutional Acceptance. An alternative should be able to muster a broad and sustainable consensus on the manner in which disposition is accomplished. 9. Additional Benefits. An alternative should leverage government investments for disposition of excess materials to contribute to other national or international initiatives.
THE HONORABLE JOHN H. GIBBONS ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
SPEECH TO THE PUBLIC FORUM ON PLUTONIUM DISPOSITION
MAY 4, 1994
PLUTONIUM AND INTERNATIONAL SECURITY
It's a pleasure to be here today to talk about a problem that concerns us all -- dealing with the vast stockpiles of plutonium produced during the Cold War. Nothing could be more central to our security than making sure this material does not fall into the wrong hands.
This is one of the most challenging policy problems I've come across, weaving together issues of technology, security, environment, energy, and international politics. To integrate these varied aspects of the problem, we'll need careful management, high-level oversight, and well-informed public input. That's why we're all here today. We can't solve this problem without you.
Today, I want to describe to you the comprehensive, four-part strategy this administration has developed to deal with this problem. But first, let me outline the scale of the plutonium problem we have.
A Security Liability
Separated plutonium poses major security risks. We have a continuing crisis on the Korean peninsula because North Korea might have separated a few kilograms of plutonium -- enough for a nuclear bomb. Yet at the same time, Russia and the United States must deal with tens of tons of excess plutonium, the result of the ongoing dismantlement of thousands upon thousands of nuclear weapons. As a recent National Academy of Sciences report warned, this excess material poses a "clear and present danger" to international security.
The plutonium problem doesn't stop there. We have to worry about excess plutonium chemically separated from civilian spent fuel as well. There are already almost l00 tons of this civilian separated plutonium -- which also poses proliferation risks -- around the world today, and more is building up all the time. This plutonium was originally intended to be fuel for breeder reactors that now will not be built for decades -- if ever.
Finally, there are hundreds of tons of plutonium in spent fuel from civilian nuclear power plants all over the world. But today that plutonium poses much less security risk than separated plutonium, because the spent fuel's intense radioactivity makes it difficult to extract the plutonium for use in bombs. Plutonium that has been separated -- including both weapons plutonium and civilian plutonium -- is far easier to handle and make bombs from.
The Academy study -- about which you'll hear more in a moment -- recommended that we move out with all deliberate speed to make it as difficult to make bombs out of the excess separated plutonium as it is to make bombs out of the plutonium in spent fuel. Then the excess plutonium we're now trying to cope with could become, in effect, one small part of the larger global problem of disposal of spent fuel and other nuclear wastes. That's another big problem, but one we know we must solve in any case.
An Economic Liability
Contrary to some claims, there is no money in plutonium -- except, perhaps, on the nuclear black market. Making reactor fuel from plutonium is so expensive that the fuel cannot compete on the commercial market, even if the plutonium itself is "free." Like oil shale, plutonium has energy locked inside, but the cost of getting that energy out is more than the energy is worth in today's market.
Therefore, anything we do with our excess weapons plutonium will cost money. But, given the stakes, we must view that expense as an investment in security, just as we once viewed the cost of its production.
An Environmental Liability
Finally, plutonium is not only an economic, but also an environmental liability, thousands of times more toxic than uranium. This administration will make protection for health, safety, and the environment a fundamental requirement of our plutonium storage and disposition activities. I am convinced that with your help, we can develop approaches that will allow us to achieve our critical security goals and meet stringent environmental and safety standards at the same time.
An Urgent Problem
Given the security stakes, we cannot afford unnecessary delay. Simply storing this material in forms that could readily be put back into nuclear weapons would not create the irreversible arms reductions we have committed to seek. And it would mean leaving the material in a form that would be easy to carry off if there were ever a breakdown in security.
Unfortunately, while disposition of plutonium is an urgent task, the reality is that it will take decades to accomplish. I'm reminded of the French marshal who, after learning that it would take 30 years for trees to grow along the boulevard leading to his estate, told his gardener that he'd better start planting tonight, rather than waiting until tomorrow.
This problem is difficult enough in the United States; Russia must face this daunting challenge in the midst of continuing political, economic, and social turmoil. Yet what we do with our plutonium in the United States will inevitably have a major impact on what Russia does. And what we do with the basic building blocks of our Cold War nuclear arsenal will inevitably affect how other countries manage their plutonium, and how they view our seriousness about arms reductions and nonproliferation.
A Comprehensive Approach
Well, there's the challenge before us. Now what are we going to do about it?
Let me lay out for you the comprehensive approach to the plutonium problem this administration has developed over the past few months. Our approach has four elements: securing nuclear materials, building confidence through openness, halting further accumulation, and carrying out ultimate disposition.
First, and most urgently, we are working to remove opportunities for bomb materials to end up on a nuclear black market. If we don't nail some barn doors shut before the horses get out, nothing else we do in this area will be worth much. So we are buying 500 tons of HEU from Russia, blending it down to low-enriched reactor fuel that can be sold to commercial producers of nuclear power, without proliferation risk; we are helping Russia with a safe, secure storage site for other fissile materials; and we have proposed a new initiative to help Russia find and fix the most urgent security and accounting problems throughout its far-flung nuclear complex.
Second, we are building confidence through openness. You have to know how big a problem is before you can solve it, so we have proposed that the United States and Russia share comprehensive information on their stocks of plutonium and HEU. We have made a first step by unilaterally declaring how much weapons plutonium we have produced. In March. we agreed with Russia that the two sides would begin monitoring the storage sites for components from dismantled nuclear weapons. We are also taking steps to submit these excess materials to fully international inspections; the initial bilateral monitoring will provide valuable experience toward that end. We seek to build a structure of openness that builds confidence that nuclear weapons are being dismantled, plutonium and HEU are secure, and excess materials are not being used for new nuclear weapons.
Third, there's what I like to call the "universal theory of holes." That is, if you're in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging. If we have too much separated plutonium, we should stop making more. Our country has stopped already. Now we are working with Russia to help them to stop. In March, we reached an agreement with Russia under which they will shut down their military plutonium production reactors. We will help them find financing to replace the energy these reactors now provide. We also agreed that the material produced in the meantime will not be used for new weapons. The bilateral accord we are now working to finalize will be the first step toward a global treaty designed to end mankind's production of these fissile materials for weapons forever.
At the same time, we will work with Russia and other countries to prevent the dangerous accumulation of unneeded plutonium in civilian nuclear programs. This plutonium too can be used in nuclear bombs. The United States does not use separated plutonium in its civilian nuclear reactors, and does not encourage others to do so. Others, including Russia and some of our allies, have taken a different view -- with the result, as I mentioned, that almost 100 tons of separated plutonium for civilian purposes is now sitting in storage in various countries, with more building up all the time. We will work cooperatively with other countries in our efforts to unravel this knotty problem.
Fourth and finally, we are examining what to do with the existing separated plutonium to reduce its security risks in the long term. We need to build the security and transparency I have just described, and transform the excess weapons plutonium into a form in which it is better protected from diversion by its own physical and chemical characteristics, or eliminated altogether.
Fortunately, we have an excellent National Academy of Sciences report, about which you will hear more in a moment, to guide our thinking. The Academy panel recommended that the "spent fuel standard" -- making this material as difficult to use for weapons as the much larger and growing stocks of plutonium in civilian spent fuel -- be the goal of our disposition efforts. Of all of the plutonium-disposition options the Academy panel examined, they concluded that two could achieve this "spent fuel standard" more quickly, more surely, and more cheaply than any of the others.
One approach is to use the excess weapons plutonium as fuel in existing nuclear reactors -- mixed with uranium, in a so-called mixed oxide, or MOX fuel. The other is to blend the plutonium with high-level radioactive wastes, which will then be mixed with molten glass and shaped into huge glass logs. As l mentioned earlier, the MOX approach would require a substantial government subsidy, and the glass approach would cost money as well. In each case, intensely radioactive products containing plutonium would have to be stored and ultimately disposed of, like the spent fuel and high-level wastes we already have to handle. There would still be some possibility that the plutonium could be recovered, but it wouldn't be much easier to do that than to get plutonium out of the much larger and growing amounts of ordinary spent fuel already in storage. We are examining a variety of other disposition options as well.
Balancing the complex security, environmental, and technological issues involved, and building a sustainable consensus behind a single option, will not be easy. Virtually all of the options would require substantial plutonium processing, handling, and transport, and would result in some form of plutonium-bearing radioactive wastes that would have to be put somewhere. I have no doubt there will be some lively discussions concerning where such facilities will be located, and what process will be used for gaining approval for them. But as I said before, we cannot afford to delay. We are looking forward to working with you: well-informed public participation throughout the process will be fundamental to getting the job done.
The Way Forward
This is an ambitious agenda: securing fissile material, building confidence through openness, limiting further production, and ultimately transforming it into forms that pose less security risk. The new common themes are comprehensiveness -- focusing on all the materials rather than merely selected parts -- and reciprocity. We are now willing to open up our nuclear sites in the same way we are suggesting to Russia.
Our vision is of the United States and Russia running our nuclear weapons complexes in reverse -- dismantling thousands of nuclear weapons rather than building more, getting rid of nuclear weapons materials rather than producing ever larger stockpiles, cleaning up rather than further fouling our nuclear sites, fostering openness and trust rather than maintaining strictest secrecy. This administration is committed to making that vision a reality.
As a first step, this year the Secretary of Energy created a department-wide task force to manage storage and disposition of excess fissile materials. That task force is advancing on multiple fronts; they will be the host for those of you who stay on for tomorrow's meeting.
But because these are fundamental issues stretching beyond the expertise of any one department, we have established a broad interagency process to ensure that all the voices that must be heard, are heard. Working with the National Security Council, my office chairs the working group on plutonium disposition. That is the group that is your host today. A new joint U.S.-Russian working group will provide an interagency focus for coordinating our transparency initiatives. We expect to be meeting soon with Russian experts to push these initiatives forward, following up on commitments made at the January Clinton-Yeltsin summit.
Two years ago, frustrated by the inaction of the last administration, the late Richard Nixon warned that while we had "won" the Cold War, we were not yet committed to winning the peace. This Administration is working aggressively to accomplish that complex task. But we can't do all this without you. If we are to make difficult decisions soon, and sustain the broad support we need to carry them out over the long haul, your ideas and oversight will be critical. Working together, we can get this job done. The future of efforts to reduce nuclear arms and stem their spread depends on our success.