Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

FY 1995 BUDGET - ATOMIC ENERGY DEFENSE ACTIVITIES, 03/23/1994, Question and Answer

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

 Question 8.    Secretary O'Leary, what other nation currently
                reprocesses spent reactor spent fuel? What nations are
                expected to develop this capability in the next 10 to 20
                years? What is our policy towards nations who seek the
                capability to reprocess spent reactor fuel?
 Answer:        Currently only Japan, the United Kingdom, France, and
                Russia reprocess spent power reactor fuel for plutonium
                recycle. India has a program of uncertain direction
                since its facilities are not currently operating. It is
                not expected that any additional nations will develop
                the capability to reprocess spent reactor fuels for
                plutonium recycle. This stems largely from the fact that
                the "once-through" fuel cycle is projected to be more
                economical for the next several decades. "Once through"
                refers to the fact that uranium is used as fuel once,
                and there is no reprocessing to recover plutonium or
                uranium. Some states may develop reprocessing for
                military programs.  These states could include North
                Korea, Pakistan, or Iran. Our policy is to discourage
                spent fuel reprocessing universally.  However, as stated
                in the President's Non-proliferation policy the U.S.
                will maintain its existing commitments regarding the
                use of plutonium in civil nuclear programs in Western
                Europe and Japan.
 Question lb:   Are there any unresolved or outstanding safety issues at
                Pantex, with respect to disassembly of nuclear weapons
                or additional storage of plutonium pits?
 Answer:        On April 5, 1994, Pantex operations were placed in a
                maintenance mode upon discovery of a faulty filter in a
                secondary air filtration system. All operational
                activities, such as disassembly, were halted. Only
                activities associated with corrective or preventive
                maintenance of the facility and equipment or safety
                system surveillance and checks were allowed to take
                place. Since all bays and cells have  a similar
                filtration system, all were transferred to a maintenance
                mode. The contractor has finished the required
                corrective actions, to include consolidation of safety
                documentation and conducting additional training on
                facility safety systems. The Department is in the
                process of completing its validation of the contractor's
                actions and is expected to concur shortly on the
                contractor's request to transfer the facilities back to
                an operational mode to continue disassembly of weapons.
                Nothing is more important than providing a work
                environment that is safe for plant employees and that
                does not pose a threat to the public or the environment.
                             QUESTION FROM SENATOR EXON
 Question 8c:   Will environmental restoration and management
                contractors be treated the same as or differently from
                more traditional site operating contractors?
 Answer:        Under the contract reform initiative, contracts for
                environmental restoration and management will include
                essentially the same key components of performance-
                based contracting as the contracts for the management of
                the Department's production and laboratory facilities.
                These components are aimed at improving contractor
                performance and accountability and improving the
                Department's management of its contract resources. In
                particular, both clean-up contracts for environmental
                restoration and waste management activities and
                management contracts that support the environmental
                management program will include performance measures and
                criteria that clearly state the Department's
                expectations for contract performance and provide
                incentives to meet or exceed the performance criteria.
                In addition, the Department will review contractual
                requirements for such activities to determine whether
                such activities can be contracted on a fixed price
                The Department already has moved to implementing the
                Contract Reform initiatives in its environmental
                restoration contracts. Under the Contract Reform
                initiative, the Rocky Flats site has been identified as
                a pilot project for implementing performance-based
                contracting and other reform initiatives.
 Question 9:    Secretary O'Leary, is reprocessing spent reactor fuel
                considered a proliferation risk by this Administration?
                If so, what are we doing to discourage nations from
                reprocessing spent fuel?
 Answer:        Reprocessing of spent reactor fuel is considered a
                proliferation risk by this administration as it has been
                by every previous administration. Any production of
                fissile material involves some proliferation risk, which
                is why the U.S. is such a strong supporter of
                international safeguards and the International Atomic
                Energy Agency which administers safeguards. Safeguards
                are intended to minimize the proliferation risks raised
                by peaceful nuclear activities.
                As you know, under current U.S. law, the U.S. must cease
                nuclear cooperation with any state which provides
                reprocessing technology to or receives reprocessing
                technology from another state. In addition, the U.S.
                strongly opposes reprocessing of spent fuel in regions
                of tension, and discourages it in all other regions
                because it raises proliferation concerns without
                any proven economic benefit or necessity.
 Question 13:   Secretary O'Leary, is it true that the Japanese will
                soon begin operation of their Monju breeder reactor
                which will use plutonium to produce electricity.?
 Answer:        Yes, the Monju prototype fast breeder reactor was
                started, at least on a low-power basis, last month. It
                is expected to generate 280 megawatts of electricity and
                is fueled with mixed- oxide fuel containing plutonium.
                We are advised that it will begin full power operations
                by the end of next year.
 IFR Reactor Safety
 Question 17:   Secretary O'Leary, is it not true that the IFR
                technology is safer than the fast reactors currently
                used in Russia?
 Answer:        Results from the safety demonstration tests performed
                on April 3, 1986 in the Experimental Breeder Reactor-II
                in Idaho, and published in Nuclear Engineering and
                Design, demonstrated that the IFR technology, which
                uses metal fuel, is safer than oxide fuel technology,
                which is used in Russian fast reactors. The key safety
                component of the IFR technology and the associated
                Advanced Liquid Metal Reactor (ALMR) is the metal fuel.
                Russian fast reactors are based on oxide fuel that has
                significantly different properties and behavior during
                transient events. The IFR/ALMR system incorporates the
                passive safety features of the EBR-11.
 National Academy of Sciences Study
 Question 23:   Secretary O'Leary, please comment on the National
                Academy of Sciences recent study "Management and
                Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium." Did this study
                address the IFR technology?
 Answer:        The National Academy of Sciences study provides an
                excellent framework for grappling with the difficult
                challenge of safely and securely managing the
                radioactive materials that are a legacy of the Cold War.
                The Department will use the Academy study, as well as
                other input, in its efforts to develop recommendations
                and arrive at a broad-based consensus on actions for the
                control and disposition of surplus fissile materials.
                The study did not specifically address Integral Fast
                Reactor (IFR) technology. It noted that building new
                reactors is a long-term disposition option but that the
                high costs and long lead times required for new reactors
                would be justifiable only if problems of licensing and
                public acceptance made existing reactors unavailable.
                Preferred approaches for long-term plutonium
                disposition noted in the study include: existing
                reactors, deep boreholes, accelerators and/or
                All of these options will be appropriately considered
                within the requirements of the National Environmental
                Policy Act. A decision to select any option (existing
                reactor, new reactor, accelerator, vitrification,
                etc.) would need to include considerations of need,
                timing, cost, nonproliferation goals and environmental
                impacts and issues.
 Destruction of Plutonium
 Question 28:   Secretary O'Leary, can any other technology, beside the
                IFR, completely destroy plutonium?
 Answer:        Neither IFR nor any other technology is capable of 100%
                destruction of plutonium. Significant destruction of
                plutonium can potentially be achieved with at least two
                technologies other than the current IFR system. These
                technologies are the Accelerator-Based Converter System
                (ABC) and the deep burner Advanced Liquid Metal Reactor
                with zirconium/plutonium fuel. Both of these
                technologies are in the conceptual design phase and
                would require additional research and development to
                qualify the acceptability of the concept.
                All of these technologies (including IFR), employed to
                maximize destruction of plutonium, would involve
                considerable chemical processing and generate
                radioactive and mixed waste.

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