WASHINGTON – The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) published a Notice of Availability (NOA) in the Federal Register on Jan. 19, 2024, announcing the availability of the final Surplus Plutonium Disposition Program (SPDP) Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The SPDP would employ the dilute and dispose strategy to safely and securely dispose of up to 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 satisfies NNSA’s obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) 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. 

The 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium covered in the EIS was previously intended for use in fabricating mixed oxide (MOX) 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. 

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 (CH-TRU) waste underground in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) facility in New Mexico. The approach would require new, modified, or existing capabilities at the Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) 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. 

The final SPDP EIS is posted on the NNSA NEPA reading room web page. NNSA will publish a Record of Decision (ROD) for the program after Feb. 20, 2024. The ROD will be published in the Federal Register and posted on the DOE NEPA and NNSA NEPA Reading Room websites. 

NNSA announced its intent on Dec. 16, 2020, to prepare an EIS to evaluate the environmental impacts of the dilute and dispose strategy. It released the draft EIS for public comment on Dec. 16, 2022. It conducted three in-person public hearings and one virtual public hearing in January 2023. NNSA has incorporated public comments and developed the final SPDP EIS and is committed to complying with all appropriate and applicable environmental and regulatory requirements.