WASHINGTON – The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration published a Notice of Availability in the Federal Register Dec. 16, 2022, announcing the availability of the draft Surplus Plutonium Disposition Program Environmental Impact Statement for comment.
The SPDP would employ the dilute and dispose strategy to safely and securely dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium surplus to the Nation’s defense needs, using new, modified, or existing facilities at sites across the Nation.
The EIS will satisfy NNSA’s obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act as the agency seeks to fulfill two important goals:
- Reduce the threat of nuclear weapons proliferation worldwide by dispositioning surplus plutonium in the United States in a safe and secure manner.
- Meet NNSA’s domestic and international legal obligations.
To allow the public an opportunity to comment on the draft SPDP EIS, there will be a 60-day comment period starting Dec. 16, 2022, and multiple public hearings in early 2023. The public will also have the opportunity to submit written comments. Information about the public hearings will be provided in the NNSA NOA and posted on the NNSA NEPA reading room web page at least 15 days before the first hearing.
Following the comment period, NNSA will prepare the final EIS for the program. Publication of the final SPDP EIS will be announced in the Federal Register and in an NNSA press release. If NNSA decides to implement the proposed action, that will be followed by publication of a Record of Decision, which will officially document and explain the agency’s decision.
The 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium covered in the EIS was previously intended for use in fabricating mixed oxide fuel. After irradiation in commercial power reactors, the fuel would have been stored pending disposal in a deep geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel. DOE cancelled the MOX project in 2018.
The EIS proposes preferred and no-action alternatives:
- NNSA’s preferred alternative, the dilute and dispose strategy, also known as “plutonium downblending,” includes converting pit and non-pit plutonium to oxide, blending the oxidized plutonium with an adulterant, compressing it, encasing it in two containers, then overpacking and disposing of the resulting contact-handled transuranic waste underground in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant facility in New Mexico. The approach would require new, modified, or existing capabilities at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the Pantex Plant in Texas, and WIPP.
- Under the No Action Alternative, up to 7.1 metric tons of non-pit plutonium would be processed at either LANL or SRS. If the processing occurs at LANL, then the resulting plutonium oxide would be transported to SRS. If it occurs at SRS, then the resulting material would remain there. In both cases the processed material would be diluted, characterized, packaged, and transported as CH-TRU defense waste to the WIPP facility for disposal.
To allow the public and governments an opportunity to comment on the draft SPDP EIS, there will be a 60-day comment period starting Dec. 16, 2022 and four public hearings in January 2023. The public and governments will also have the opportunity to submit written comments. Information about the public hearings is provided in the NNSA NOA and posted on the NNSA NEPA reading room web page.
Following the comment period, NNSA will prepare the final EIS for the program. Publication of the final SPDP EIS will be announced in the Federal Register and in an NNSA press release.