Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


Basis Date:
S. Nunn
Senate Armed Services
Docfile Number:
Hearing Date:
DOE Lead Office:
Hearing Subject:
Witness Name:
H. O'Leary
Hearing Text:

                           QUESTIONS FROM SENATOR LEVIN
 Nevada Test Site
 Question #lc:  Could you make more substantial reductions in support
                functions at the Nevada Test Site and be ready to resume
                nuclear testing with a slightly longer lead time?
 Answer:        Consistent with the Presidential Decision Directive
                (PDD), the Department of Energy has adjusted the
                resources at both the national laboratories and the
                Nevada Test Site (NTS) to reflect the continuing
                moratorium on underground nuclear testing and to
                maintain capability to conduct a nuclear test within 6
                months up to FY 1996 and 2-3 years after that time.
                Major reductions have already been made to support
                functions at NTS through the Test Operations Review Team
                and Support Operations Review Team. These efforts are
                continuing, and have enabled the Testing budget request
                to be reduced from an FY 1992 congressional
                appropriation of $511.5 million to the Department's FY
                1995 Budget request of $374.7 million, of which $255.7
                million is projected for NTS. We do not believe we could
                make significant further reductions to support functions
                at this time without jeopardizing the Presidential
                commitment. At $255.7 million, the Department will
                maintain a readiness posture consistent with the PDD
                while maintaining support functions at the NTS with
                funding that has been adjusted downward to relatively
                fixed minimum levels over the past few years.
 Question 2:    Does Japan's development of a Purex processing plant
                create a proliferation threat? Has the Administration
                discouraged Japan from developing the capability to
                reprocess spent reactor fuel with the Purex process?
 Answer:        As the National Academy of Sciences has pointed out,
                separated plutonium is a proliferation problem. The
                policy of the Clinton Administration is not to encourage
                the separation of plutonium for use in civil nuclear
                fuel cycles and to limit plutonium stockpiling. At
                present virtually all of Japan's commercial reprocessing
                is being done in France and the U.K. Japan has a small
                reprocessing facility and is building a large Purex
                reprocessing facility at Rokasho. The U.S. would prefer
                that Japan not separate plutonium from its spent fuel
                unless it has a near term need for this material.
 Question 6:    Secretary O'Leary, if we could burn plutonium and spent
                civilian fuel in a safe reactor, wouldn't that reduce
                the risk of nuclear proliferation? If not, why not:
                Please be specific.
 Answer:        The policy of the Clinton Administration is not to
                encourage the civil use of plutonium and to limit its
                stockpiling.  The U.S. does not separate plutonium for
                nuclear power purposes. Separating, stockpiling, and
                using plutonium for civil power purposes would be at
                odds with these policies which were designed to address
                the full range of proliferation problems and allow the
                U.S. to provide leadership in this important issue. As
                part of the U.S. effort to identify methods of disposing
                of surplus weapons grade plutonium we are addressing
                means of turning separated plutonium into the equivalent
                of spent nuclear fuel.
 Question 15:   Secretary O'Leary, if the Russians, French and Japanese
                do not use plutonium in reactors, what are they supposed
                to do with it?
 Answer:        This is an important question and the disposition of
                the world's surplus plutonium is being addressed by this
                Administration in the interagency group directed by
                Frank von Hippel, Assistant Director for National
                Security Affairs in the White House Office of Science
                and Technology Policy. To address this issue I have
                created a DOE Fissile Material Disposition and Control
                Project. At a minimum, since plutonium use in reactors
                is not keeping pace with production through
                reprocessing, these states should take every step to
                bring plutonium separation into line with demand. To
                continue,current reprocessing levels will add to the
                world's plutonium surplus.
                                SENATOR KEMPTHORNE
 Question 27:   Secretary O'Leary, is it true that the National Academy
                of Sciences study looked at making weapons plutonium
                similar to existing stocks of spent reactor fuel? Is
                spent reactor fuel a proliferation threat? If so, please
                explain why.
 Answer:        Yes. The National Academy of Sciences' study recommended
                that, "options for the long-term disposition of
                weapons plutonium should seek to meet a 'spent fuel
                standard'-that is, to make this plutonium roughly as
                inaccessible for weapons use as the larger and growing
                quantity of plutonium that exists in spent fuel from
                commercial reactors."
                While converting weapons plutonium to the spent fuel
                standard goes a long way towards reducing its
                proliferation risk, spent reactor fuel continues to be a
                proliferation threat; albeit reduced. The threat results
                from the fact that spent reactor fuel can be
                reprocessed to extract weapons usable plutonium by
                countries with established military or commercial
                reprocessing capabilities. These countries would
                encounter few difficulties separating plutonium from
                intensely radioactive spent fuel and recovering enough
                material to produce one or more nuclear weapons.
                However, it is a less immediate threat than separated
                plutonium which can be directly used in nuclear
                Countries without established military or commercial
                reprocessing capabilities would encounter greater
                difficulty in extracting plutonium from spent fuel. Some
                of the problems include: a requirement for significant
                engineering skill and experience, adverse health effects
                to workers receiving large radiation doses and the need
                to possess remotely operated equipment for many of the
                separation tasks.
                        Questions from Senator Kempthorne
 Question 31:   Secretary O'Leary, do you believe our current policy
                not to test our nuclear weapons will persuade Kim Il
                Sung to terminate North Korea's nuclear weapons program?
                Will it persuade Saddam Hussein?
 Answer:        Under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, both North Korea and
                Iraq are prohibited from developing nuclear weapons.
                While Iraq and North Korea have not abided by their
                commitments to the NPT, the treaty has made it possible
                to determine violations and bring international pressure
                to end them. We are better off with this treaty than
                without it. The U.S. is abiding by a nuclear test
                moratorium and seeking to negotiate a comprehensive
                nuclear test ban because these activities improve the
                international nuclear nonproliferation regime, including
                making the indefinite extension of the NPT more likely.
                It is in the best interests of the U.S. to seek a CTBT
                at the earliest date and to attempt to include both
                North Korea and Iraq in that Treaty. This will further
                subject these states to international scrutiny and
                            QUESTIONS FROM SENATOR KEMPTHORNE
 Nuclear Testing
 Question #33:  Secretary O'Leary, is it true that underground nuclear
                tests give us greater confidence in the safety and
                reliability of our nuclear weapons?
 Answer:        Nuclear testing has played an important and undeniable
                role in establishing the current high level of
                confidence we have in the safety and reliability of our
                nuclear weapons. In deciding to extend the current
                nuclear testing moratorium through September 1995,
                President Clinton considered the contribution nuclear
                testing would make in improving our confidence in
                nuclear weapon safety and reliability. In arriving at
                his decision he weighed this potential contribution
                against several other factors: the restraint the other
                declared nuclear powers have shown in not responding to
                China's nuclear test last October with tests of their
                own; the encouraging progress recorded in the
                Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty negotiations since they
                formally opened on January 25, 1994; and, the adverse
                implications further U.S. nuclear tests would have on
                our broader non-proliferation objectives, including,
                most notably, our interest in securing the indefinite
                extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty next
                year.  The President will revisit this issue next year
                when he reviews a further extension of the testing
 Questions from Senator Hutchinson
 Question 1c:   The Department of Energy has begun to identify ways to
                further reciprocity and transparency in future
                agreements to destroy excess weapons grade materials and
                dismantle excess nuclear weapons.  What is the
                Department doing to ensure both accountability of
                materials [and] security of weapons design information?
                Will the mechanisms on which DOE is working be
                applicable at Pantex and Russian dismantlement
 Answer:        The Department of Energy (DOE) is the prime implementing
                agency in two important arms control and
                non-proliferation initiatives: President Clinton's offer
                to submit excess fissile material to International
                Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection and the
                U.S./Russian joint statement on reciprocal inspections
                of storage facilities for fissile material removed from
                nuclear weapons. Under both initiatives, some fissile
                weapon components could be inspected.
                DOE is developing technologies and procedures to allow
                the IAEA to inspect fissile weapon components without
                revealing weapon design information. The goal of this
                development effort is to maximize the confidence of
                IAEA inspections without potentially contributing to
                nuclear proliferation. The situation is somewhat
                different in regard to the Russians because Russia
                already knows how to build nuclear weapons. The U.S. may
                be able to accept more intrusiveness under a bilateral
                reciprocal agreement with Russia in order to increase
                mutual confidence that materials being inspected are
                removed from nuclear weapons and are properly accounted
                for. However, as required by legislation, sensitive
                weapon design information will be protected. DOE
                expects all inspection measures to apply to equally to
                the U.S. and Russia.
                     QUESTIONS FROM SENATOR EXON
 Foreign Research Reactor Spent Fuel Program
 Question 4:    DOE Facilities are not adequate to store all the spent
                fuel that will, ultimately, be received from the
                foreign research reactors. What plans has DOE made to
                accommodate all the spent fuel that will be returned
                under this program?
 Answer:        The Department is still investigating how to manage
                the return of the U.S. origin foreign research reactor
                spent nuclear fuel. The Department of Energy (DOE)
                will prepare an Environmental Impact Statement
                discussing the proposed return of up to 15,000 of
                these spent fuel elements. The Environmental Impact
                Statement will also address the question of how DOE
                will accommodate spent fuel returned under this
                On April 27, 1994, DOE completed the Environmental
                Assessment necessary to bring back up to 409 of these
                15,000 spent fuel elements from eight foreign research
                reactors that have run out of space to store their
                spent fuel or face regulatory problems associated with
                the storage of spent fuel at their sites. There is
                adequate space at the Savannah River Site facility for
                storage of all expected domestic and proposed foreign
                research reactor spent fuel that may be received until
                the Environmental Impact Statement process is
                completed (December 1995). The Environmental
                Assessment was a high priority task that resulted in the
                issuance of a finding of no significant environmental
                impact for the shipment of the 409 fuel elements.
                Analysis for the Environmental Impact Statement has now
                become high priority. DOE has not yet chosen the
                specific interim storage location or technology.

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