In fulfilling its mission, EM manages and dispositions nuclear materials that are excess to national security and have no DOE programmatic use (“surplus nuclear material”), and spent nuclear fuel (SNF) resulting from nuclear weapons productions and energy research. (See DOE Order 410.2, Attachment 6, page 4, "46. Surplus Nuclear Material"). (Note that, at times, decisions have been and will be made to recover valuable isotopes from nuclear materials considered surplus, as well as spent nuclear fuel.)
The EM Nuclear Materials Program is responsible for:
- Safely and securely managing SNF in EM facilities
- Safely storing and handling SNF at L-Basin at Savannah River Site, South Carolina; the Idaho Nuclear Technology 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 storing and receiving SNF in support of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) minimization activities
- 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The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 defines Spent Nuclear Fuel (SNF) as fuel that has been withdrawn from a nuclear reactor following irradiation, the constituent elements of which have not been separated by reprocessing. Note that some fissionable materials which have been irradiated and withdrawn from a nuclear reactor may be determined not to be fuel, although they are currently being managed as SNF. DOE is expecting to provide clarification in the near future for the management and disposition of these materials.
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 facilitates implementation of safe, cost-effective interim and long-term storage, processing and disposition of DOE’s surplus nuclear materials. (As explained above, surplus nuclear materials are nuclear materials that are excess to national security and have no DOE programmatic use.) “Nuclear Material” means any material that is “special nuclear material,” “byproduct material,” or “source material” as defined in the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as amended.
EM, in coordination with the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), is responsible for disposition of surplus, non-pit, weapons-usable plutonium-239. (The term “non-pit plutonium” refers to plutonium that is not in the metal pit form that is the core of a nuclear weapon. 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.
For additional information, contact Jomaries Rovira, Director of EM’s Office of Nuclear Materials, at Jomaries.Rovira@em.doe.gov