In fulfilling its mission, EM manages and dispositions surplus nuclear materials and spent nuclear fuel. These are not waste. They are nuclear materials no longer needed for national security or other purposes, including spent nuclear fuel, special nuclear materials (as defined by the Atomic Energy Act) and other nuclear materials (See DOE Order 410.2, Attachment 6, page 3, "34. Nuclear Materials").
The EM Nuclear Materials Program is responsible for:
- Safely and securely managing Spent Nuclear Fuel (SNF) in EM facilities
- Safely storing and handling SNF at L-Basin at Savannah River Site, South Carolina; the Idaho National Laboratory and Engineering Center facilities at the Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho; and the Canister Storage Building and Interim Storage Area at the Hanford Site in Washington.
- Safely receiving and storing SNF in support of various departmental missions
- Processing SNF in H-Canyon at the Savannah River Site for final disposition
- Safely and securely managing EM’s inventory of nuclear materials
- Safely storing and receiving nuclear materials in support of the nuclear nonproliferation mission
- Down-blending surplus plutonium
- Operating H-Canyon
The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 defines SNF as fuel that has been withdrawn from a nuclear reactor following irradiation, the constituent elements of which have not been separated by reprocessing. SNF may include: (1) intact, non-defective fuel assemblies or fuel rods; (2) failed fuel assemblies or fuel rods; (3) segments of fuel rods or pieces of fuel derived from spent fuel rods; and (4) various nonfuel components and structural parts of irradiated fuel assemblies. Some of these are items that are managed as SNF, although they may not be classified as SNF.
EM's mission is to safely and efficiently manage its SNF and prepare it for disposal in a geologic repository, or otherwise safely remove it from the inventory.
EM, in coordination with the National Nuclear Security Administration, is responsible for disposition of surplus, non-pit, weapons-usable plutonium-239. (Plutonium pits are the radioactive cores of nuclear warheads where the reactions occur that cause the warhead to detonate.) EM is also responsible for disposition of about 21 metric tons of surplus highly enriched uranium materials, which includes approximately 13.5 metric tons contained in SNF.
EM’s large and diverse inventory of nuclear materials presents a broad range of technical challenges, often requiring development of unique technical solutions. Developing those solutions is the goal of EM's Nuclear Materials Technology Development Program.