NNSA’s Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation (DNN) is responsible for removing and/or securing high-risk nuclear and radioactive materials around the world that pose a potential threat to the United States and the international community. To support this mission, DNN’s Office of Material Management and Minimization has developed a variety of capabilities to recover highly enriched uranium and plutonium quickly and safely, including the Mobile Packaging (MP) program.
The MP program has worked with Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL), Y-12 National Security Complex (Y-12), and Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) to establish and maintain the Mobile Uranium Facility (MUF), the Mobile Plutonium Facility (MPF), and the specialized teams required to operate them. These mobile systems ensure NNSA is prepared to characterize, stabilize, package, and remove weapons-usable nuclear materials in support of an agreement or treaty quickly and safely. In addition, these systems can be tailored in size to respond to specific material recovery needs.
To stay ready, MP conducts regular training and full-scale exercises with the MUF and MPF. This allows the teams to carry out the complex processes necessary to characterize, stabilize, and package nuclear materials for shipments in diverse and austere environments, requiring a significant degree of self-sufficiency. These exercises also train for the coordination and cooperation with other NNSA offices and U.S. government agencies that could be involved in a real-world deployment of the two systems.
The latest in this series of exercises was called Relentless Rook, which took place at ORNL in April and at the Savannah River Site (home to SRNL) in May and June. This series of exercises ensured that the MUF and MPF teams are as prepared as possible for a potential deployment, despite the challenges posed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and disruptions to other training events.
Over the course of four weeks of operations, the two facilities ran through the full gamut of the simulated materials processes that they may need to handle, from receipt of the material through final packaging in licensed containers. The teams also worked with partners from the DNN Office of Nonproliferation and Arms Control’s Uranium and Plutonium Verification Teams; the NNSA Office of Information Management’s Emergency Communications Network Program; the Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Cooperative Threat Reduction Directorate; and the U.S. Army’s 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives Command, Nuclear Disablement Team.
Moving forward, the MP program will apply the lessons learned from Relentless Rook to make further operational, equipment, and process improvements to enhance NNSA’s ability to recover weapons-usable nuclear material anywhere in the world.