Reconfiguration of the Nuclear Weapons Complex

ACTION: Notice to Separate the Current Reconfiguration Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) into Two Separate Analyses: Tritium Supply and Recycling, and Stockpile Stewardship and Management

SUMMARY: In January 1991, the then Secretary of Energy announced that the Department would prepare a programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) examining alternatives for the reconfiguration of the nuclear weapons complex (the Complex). The framework for the Reconfiguration PEIS was described in the January 1991 Nuclear Weapons Complex Reconfiguration Study (Reconfiguration Study), a detailed examination of alternatives for the future Complex. Because of the significant changes in the world since January 1991, especially with regard to projected future requirements for the United States' nuclear weapons stockpile, the Department has concluded that the framework described in the Reconfiguration Study does not exist today. Contributing factors to this conclusion include public comments at the September-October 1993 PEIS scoping meetings, the fact that no new nuclear weapons production is required for the foreseeable future, budget constraints, and the Department's decision to prepare a separate PEIS on Storage and Disposition of Weapons-Usable Fissile Nuclear Materials. As a result of these changed circumstances, the Department is proposing to separate the Reconfiguration PEIS into two PEISs: (1) a Tritium Supply and Recycling PEIS to be completed in November 1995; and (2) a Stockpile Stewardship and Management PEIS.

Stockpile stewardship includes activities required to maintain a high level of confidence in the safety, reliability, and performance of nuclear weapons in the absence of underground testing, and to be prepared to test weapons if directed by the President. Stockpile management activities include maintenance, evaluation, repair or replacement of weapons in the existing stockpile. To define a new stockpile stewardship and management proposal, the Department is reviewing its nuclear weapons complex stockpile stewardship and management activities. This review will take into account the latest information concerning current and projected future stockpile requirements. To assist the Department in defining a new proposal, the Department intends to hold a public meeting in early 1995 to receive comments on how to conduct the scoping process for the Stockpile Stewardship and Management PEIS, and to have preliminary discussions on potential alternatives. This will be followed by public scoping meetings later in 1995.

In the meantime, the Department will continue to evaluate alternatives for tritium supply and recycling in a Tritium Supply and Recycling PEIS. While the focus of this PEIS will be on alternatives for a long-term, assured supply of tritium, the PEIS also will include an assessment of the environmental and institutional impacts associated with using one or more commercial light water reactors for tritium production as a contingency in the event of a national emergency. Specific commercial reactors will not be identified in this PEIS.

The purpose of this notice is to provide the public with an update regarding DOE's intentions for National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review of elements of the future Complex, and to request comments on the Tritium Supply and Recycling PEIS proposal. An Implementation Plan (IP) for the Tritium Supply and Recycling PEIS will be issued after comments on this notice have been received and considered. The IP will explain more fully the scope of the Tritium Supply and Recycling PEIS.

DATES: Comments, whether written, recorded on the program's toll-free telephone number, or submitted electronically, must be postmarked or received by November 26, 1994 to ensure consideration. Late comments will be considered to the extent practicable. The program's toll-free telephone number is 1-800-776-2765. Instructions on submitting comments electronically can be found in the Supplementary Information section of this notice.

ADDRESSES: Written comments on the Tritium Supply and Recycling PEIS proposal, requests for further information on the Tritium Supply and Recycling program, requests for copies of the revised Tritium Supply and Recycling PEIS Implementation Plan (IP) (when available), and requests regarding the Stockpile Stewardship and Management PEIS should be sent to:

Stephen Sohinki, Director
Office of Reconfiguration
U.S. Department of Energy
P.O. Box 3417
Alexandria, VA 22302
(202) 586-1300

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For general information on the DOE National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, please contact:

Carol M. Borgstrom, Director
Office of NEPA Oversight, EH-25
U.S. Department of Energy
1000 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20585
(202) 586-4600 or 1-800-472-2756

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background. In January 1991, the goal of the Reconfiguration program was, as it is now, to make the Complex smaller, less diverse, and less costly to operate. At the time, the projected production levels were much smaller than historic levels, but much larger than they are today. The document that provided the framework for the original proposal was the January 1991 Reconfiguration Study. That document was the result of many months of effort by a task force which thoroughly reviewed the status and capabilities of the weapons complex against projected future requirements. As a result of that effort, the Department envisioned that the future Complex would consist of fewer sites, and that functions might be relocated to achieve consolidation, greater efficiency, and significant long-term cost savings. Indeed, as a result of the Secretary's decision last year approving the nonnuclear consolidation proposal (which had been separated from the original Reconfiguration PEIS effort), weapons complex functions will be terminated at three sites and significant cost savings will be achieved within a short period of time.

The purpose of the Reconfiguration PEIS was to establish the locations for the future weapons complex functions. It was envisioned that, once future mission locations were established through the PEIS process, project-specific environmental analyses would follow the PEIS and cover in detail the projects necessary to implement the PEIS decisions at each site.

Within the Reconfiguration PEIS scope, potential relocation and consolidation of the "nuclear" functions of the complex (i.e., plutonium and uranium component fabrication and processing, weapons assembly and disassembly, tritium supply and recycling, and fissile materials storage) were being analyzed. In order to relocate any of these functions at the assumed levels of production, major new construction would have been required, entailing significant (billions of dollars) "up-front" cost with a "pay-back" period significantly longer than for nonnuclear consolidation.

With the end of the Cold War, the projected long hiatus in the need for new nuclear weapons production, and the budget constraints that are anticipated to continue for the foreseeable future, the framework presented in the January 1991 Reconfiguration Study no longer fits current circumstances or supports any realistic proposal for reconfiguration of the nuclear weapons complex. Therefore, the Department intends to separate the Reconfiguration proposal into two parts, and will prepare a PEIS on each part. The first PEIS is the Tritium Supply and Recycling PEIS, which will address the need for tritium. The second is the Stockpile Stewardship and Management PEIS, which will address the rest of the complex. To assist in the development of a Stockpile Stewardship and Management proposal, the Department intends to involve stakeholders in early 1995 through a meeting in advance of formal scoping. The goal of this approach is to enable stakeholders to have an active role in developing the Stockpile Stewardship and Management proposal, rather than reacting to a proposal developed solely by the Department. The Department expects to develop a proposal after this initial meeting, and to issue a Notice of Intent before public scoping meetings later in 1995.

The Department currently has no capability for the production of tritium, which decays at a rate of approximately five percent per year, and which is required for every active weapon in the stockpile. Current projections indicate that new tritium is required to be available in the 2011-2015 time frame. Depending upon the alternative selected, it could take up to fifteen years or more for a tritium source, once selected, to begin producing tritium. Not only is planning for a new, assured tritium supply required to begin now to meet projected stockpile requirements, but the Department must meet a statutory deadline of March 1, 1995, to issue a PEIS addressing tritium supply alternatives. Therefore, the Department intends to separate the tritium supply and recycling alternatives from the future Stockpile Stewardship and Management proposal. The following discussion outlines the history of the Reconfiguration program, and the current proposal for tritium supply and recycling.

Original Reconfiguration Plan (February 1991 to July 1993)

An NOI to prepare a PEIS for Reconfiguration of the Nuclear Weapons Complex was published in the Federal Register on February 11, 1991 (56 FR 5590). That NOI proposed to study the options presented in the Nuclear Weapons Complex Reconfiguration Study (DOE/DP-0083) of January 1991. A series of 15 public scoping meetings were held around the country to solicit comments regarding the Reconfiguration proposal. At that time, alternatives for a new tritium supply facility were being evaluated in a separate New Production Reactor (NPR) Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). In November 1991, however, in response to nuclear weapons stockpile reductions which delayed the need for a new tritium supply facility, the then Secretary of Energy announced that the analysis of NPR alternatives would be incorporated into the Reconfiguration PEIS.

An IP for the Reconfiguration PEIS was published in February 1992. The IP summarized the comments received during scoping, including incorporation of the NPR analysis into Reconfiguration, described the scope of the Reconfiguration program, the alternatives that were to be evaluated, and the methodology for preparing the PEIS.

Program Changes (July 1993 to April 1994)

After the publication of the original IP in February 1992, additional major reductions in the nuclear weapons stockpile resulted in significant program changes. As a result of these changes, a revised NOI for the PEIS was published in the Federal Register on July 23, 1993 (58 FR 39528). Changes in the scope of the Reconfiguration PEIS reflected the fact that the future Complex could be smaller and more integrated than previously envisioned, and placed increased importance on stewardship of existing special nuclear materials.

During the public scoping period from July-October 1993, many members of the public questioned why the Department planned to analyze new nuclear weapon facilities in general, and new nuclear weapon component fabrication facilities in particular, given the lack of requirements for new nuclear weapons and an otherwise limited workload. There was a perception among many members of the public that evaluation of new facilities in the PEIS indicated an intention to construct those facilities in a predetermined time frame. Based upon this feedback, and a resulting reevaluation of known and projected requirements for weapons complex work for the next decade, the Department believes that the lack of any foreseeable need for new nuclear weapons, together with higher priority budget needs (both for the Department and the Nation), make it unnecessary and inappropriate to consider most types of new weapons production facilities, except for tritium facilities, at this time. Moreover, the Department has been directed, both by the President and the Congress, to establish a program for maintaining the safety and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing. This new program, entitled Stockpile Stewardship, is expected to require new diagnostic facilities and capabilities. As described above, efforts to formulate a new proposal for Stockpile Stewardship and Management will be initiated in 1995.

In addition, a new, separate project has been initiated by the Secretary of Energy to consider alternatives for: (1) long-term storage of separated fissile nuclear materials (primarily plutonium and highly enriched uranium), whether stored for defense purposes or surplus to defense needs; and (2) disposition of surplus fissile nuclear materials. The environmental impacts associated with these options are being analyzed in the Storage and Disposition of Weapons-Usable Fissile Nuclear Materials PEIS, currently in preparation. The establishment of that project has further reduced the scope of the previously-envisioned Reconfiguration PEIS.

Current Proposal for Tritium Supply and Recycling

The proposal for tritium supply and recycling includes the evaluation of technology and siting alternatives. The Department intends to identify a preferred technology and siting alternative in the Draft Tritium Supply and Recycling PEIS. Four different technologies to supply tritium in a new facility will be assessed in the PEIS: Heavy Water Reactor (HWR); Modular High Temperature Gas-Cooled Reactor (MHTGR); Advanced Light Water Reactor (ALWR) [both a large reactor design and a smaller reactor design]; and Accelerator Production of Tritium (APT).

Currently, five candidate sites are being considered for new tritium facilities: the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory (INEL); the Nevada Test Site (NTS); the Oak Ridge Reservation (ORR) in Tennessee; the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas; and the Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina.

The tritium recycling mission includes removing, separating, and purifying tritium gas contained in tritium reservoirs from returned weapons, receiving new tritium from the tritium supply plant, blending the recycled tritium and the new tritium, and loading the tritium mixture into new or used reservoirs for shipment to the Pantex Plant for weapons assembly operations. Currently, tritium recycling is conducted at SRS. If a new tritium supply facility were to be located at SRS, tritium recycling would stay at SRS and be upgraded. If a tritium supply facility were constructed elsewhere, either a new tritium recycling facility would be collocated with it and the facilities at SRS phased out (thus terminating the defense mission at SRS), or the tritium recycling facilities at SRS would be upgraded. No-action alternatives for each of the sites where tritium facilities may be located will provide a baseline for comparison of the environmental impacts.

Additionally, the Department intends to include, in the Tritium Supply and Recycling PEIS, an assessment of the environmental and institutional impacts associated with using one or more commercial light water reactors for tritium production as a contingency in the event of a national emergency. While the purpose of the Tritium Supply and Recycling PEIS is focused on assessing the reasonable alternatives for a government-owned, long-term, assured supply of tritium, programmatic NEPA coverage of this contingency option, which would only be needed in the event of a national emergency, would ensure that the public is informed of the Department's overall planning for meeting tritium requirements-- both contingency (until a long-term, assured source is on line) and long-term. This analysis would be generic and would not identify any specific commercial reactors that might be used if such an option were ever required to be implemented.

An IP for the Tritium Supply and Recycling PEIS, to be issued after comments on this notice have been received and reviewed, will explain more fully the scope of the PEIS.

Public Involvement

The Department's initiatives for further public involvement in the Tritium Supply and Recycling PEIS are intended to provide the public complete, accurate, and timely information, and to facilitate effective participation in the NEPA process. The initiatives include a series of fact sheets describing various aspects of the Tritium Supply and Recycling PEIS as well as other program activities. These fact sheets will be mailed to those on the program mailing list throughout the remainder of 1994 and 1995. To provide substantial opportunities for feedback to the Department, the initiatives include the use of a toll-free telephone number; placement of program information, including this notice, on an electronic bulletin board to enable comments and feedback to be transmitted electronically; and a speakers bureau to fulfill requests for DOE officials to speak with the public. In addition, once the Tritium Supply and Recycling draft PEIS is published, the public will be invited to review and comment on the document. During the comment period, the Department will conduct a series of interactive workshops to provide further explanation of information in the document and to provide the public with an opportunity to present comments, questions, and concerns, and to discuss them with DOE officials.

DOE is in the process of updating the mailing list for the Tritium Supply and Recycling program and the Stockpile Stewardship and Management program. A fact sheet on this notice, along with a mailback response form, is being sent to all those on the current Reconfiguration mailing list. The purpose of the mailback response form is to allow individuals and organizations to indicate their continuing interest in receiving information regarding either the Tritium Supply and Recycling program or the Stockpile Stewardship and Management program. Interested parties wishing to remain on the mailing list for either the Tritium Supply and Recycling program or the Stockpile Stewardship and Management program must complete and return the mailback response form or call 1-800-776-2765 with the same request.

Environmental Issues. The Tritium Supply and Recycling PEIS will identify and analyze direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts resulting from the tritium supply and recycling alternatives. These include potential impacts from constructing and operating the proposed facilities, including: impacts to air quality, water resources, plants and animals, land use, historic resources, archaeological sites; socioeconomic impacts; impacts associated with generating radiological and nonradiological wastes; impacts associated with transporting radioactive materials; and the potential consequences of both normal and accidental radiological and nonradiological releases on the public and worker health and safety.

Tritium Supply and Recycling PEIS Schedule. The IP for the Tritium Supply and Recycling PEIS will be completed after comments on this announcement have been considered. It is expected to be completed in January 1995. The Draft Tritium Supply and Recycling PEIS, which will include preferred alternatives for tritium supply and recycling functions, will be completed no later than March 1, 1995. Following the publication of the Draft Tritium Supply and Recycling PEIS, public hearings (interactive workshops) will be held, and a Final Tritium Supply and Recycling PEIS is expected to be completed by November 1995.

Tritium Supply and Recycling Decisions. No sooner than 30 days after issuance of the Final Tritium Supply and Recycling PEIS, DOE will issue a Record of Decision (ROD) to document its decisions. The ROD will explain how DOE has balanced environmental considerations against other relevant factors, such as economic and technical considerations, and the Department's statutory mission, in reaching its decision. Following the ROD, project-specific NEPA documents will be prepared as necessary to support actual implementation of the ROD.

Comments All interested parties are invited to submit their comments on the Tritium Supply and Recycling PEIS by regular mail as explained in the section entitled "Addresses" at the beginning of this notice, or by calling the Tritium Supply and Recycling toll free number at 1-800-776-2765. Instructions will be given on how to record your comments. As an alternative, comments can also be submitted electronically by using the Federal Information Exchange bulletin board and following the instructions listed below:

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Issued in Washington, D.C. this 24th day of October 1994, for the United States Department of Energy.

_____________________
Victor H. Reis
Assistant Secretary
for Defense Programs


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