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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)









MARCH 12, 1998

Statement of Howard R. Canter

Acting Director

Office of Fissile Materials Disposition

U.S. Department of Energy

Before the

Subcommittee on Strategic Forces

Committee on Armed Services

United States Senate

March 12, 1998


Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I am pleased to appear before you to discuss the Department of Energy's Fiscal Year 1999 budget request for Fissile Materials Disposition.

Within the Department of Energy, the Office of Fissile Materials Disposition administers a key national security program aimed at reducing the threat that nuclear weapons materials could fall into the hands of terrorists or non-nuclear nations. The Program focuses on implementing the disposition of U.S. surplus highly enriched uranium and plutonium and providing technical support for Administration efforts to attain reciprocal actions for the disposition of surplus Russian plutonium.

The Fiscal Year 1999 budget request for these activities is $169 million, an increase of $65.3 million over the Fiscal Year 1998 comparable amount. The increase in Fiscal Year 1999 will allow the program to begin design of key U.S. plutonium disposition facilities for disassembling and converting nuclear weapons pits to unclassified forms and for fabricating mixed oxide (MOX) fuel and to expand joint technical work with Russia by designing a pilot-scale plutonium conversion system in Russia. The sections that follow describe the current and planned activities and requested funding for the Department's fissile materials disposition activities.


The Program's efforts in Fiscal Years 1998 and 1999 will focus on implementing the Administration's hybrid plutonium disposition strategy that calls for immobilizing surplus weapons plutonium and burning surplus plutonium as mixed oxide fuel in existing, domestic commercial reactors. While both approaches are viable for the disposition of surplus plutonium, technical, institutional and cost uncertainties associated with both the immobilization and MOX technologies continue to exist. The Program is conducting the necessary technology development and demonstrations, preparing site-specific environmental analyses, acquiring detailed cost proposals, and participating in negotiations with Russia and other nations to enable surplus weapons plutonium disposition to proceed to the construction phase, expected in the FY 2001 - FY 2002 time frame.


Approximately 50 metric tons of plutonium have been declared surplus to national defense needs. A significant portion of this material is in the form of nuclear weapons pits which must be disassembled, and the resulting plutonium metal safely and permanently converted to an unclassified oxide form that is suitable for either immobilization or MOX/reactors as well as for international inspection. To accomplish this task, the Program is sponsoring the development of ARIES (Advanced Recovery and Integrated Extraction System) being developed jointly by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Sandia National Laboratories is developing robotics for the system.

The ARIES installation is nearing completion. Current activities are focused on testing and demonstrating an integrated prototype system at Los Alamos with hot start-up of individual components scheduled to begin later this month and integrated operations to begin this summer. This demonstration is important as a means to establish key design requirements for a full-scale Pit Disassembly and Conversion Facility.

The FY 1999 budget request seeks funding to complete process development and continue testing of the integrated prototype system at Los Alamos. Funding is also being sought to begin Title I & II design of a Pit Disassembly and Conversion Facility with an annual processing capability of 3.5 metric tons of surplus plutonium. Following successful testing and progress with Russia, a full-scale facility, capable of processing thousands of pits per year, is expected to be operational in FY 2005.

Pit disassembly and conversion is an important and vital element in a comprehensive program of making plutonium as unattractive and unsuitable for weapons use as the plutonium remaining in spent fuel from commercial reactors (Spent Fuel Standard). Redirecting the principal objective of the materials disposition program towards pit disassembly and conversion in the absence of more extensive measures to disposition the plutonium, could place the United States at a strategic disadvantage with respect to Russia. The reason for this is the limited U.S. capacity for pit fabrication compared to the extensive Russian capability to remanufacture warheads and recycle fissile materials.


The Department is focusing on a can-in-canister approach in which cans of plutonium immobilized with ceramic material would be arrayed within large canisters into which intensely radioactive high-level waste would be poured. The resulting large, heavy, radioactive waste canisters increase the proliferation resistance of the immobilized plutonium. The can-in-canister approach would make use of an existing high level waste vitrification facility such as currently exists at Savannah River and as is planned to be built at the Hanford Site after the turn of the century. Subsequently, the canisters would be disposed of in a geologic repository.

While both ceramic and glass have the potential to meet immobilization mission objectives, the Department recently decided to focus future work on the use of ceramics for a number of reasons. The ceramic form offers advantages in the areas of proliferation resistance, repository durability, lower radiation exposure and cost effectiveness. The Department's focus on the use of ceramics resulted from years of research and technical reviews. This will allow DOE to concentrate on one form and brings immobilization, as a means for disposing of surplus weapons plutonium, one major step closer to realization.

With immobilization, the uncertainty is primarily technical. While several countries, including the United States and Russia, have experience with immobilizing high level wastes, none of the experience has involved large quantities of plutonium. Furthermore, although our laboratory experiments are confirming the technological aspects of how to immobilize plutonium, this has never been demonstrated on an industrial scale. Fiscal Year 1999 efforts will be aimed at resolving technological issues associated with evaluating the impact of impurities in the surplus plutonium forms, developing and demonstrating production-scale processes and equipment, and conducting the necessary verification testing of the preferred can-in-canister approach in order to be confident that it can be successful in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Assuming that satisfactory progress continues, the Department expects to request funds to begin Title I & II design activities for an Immobilization and Associated Processing Facility next year as part of the FY 2000 budget request. Although design of the immobilization facility is currently scheduled to begin one year later than for the MOX fuel fabrication facility, the construction schedule for the immobilization facility supports operation beginning in FY 2006 -- one year earlier than the MOX facility.


DOE is continuing with a program of research and development for MOX fuel and is conducting the appropriate NEPA and other reviews to support Departmental decisions on plutonium disposition. However, since burning mixed oxide fuel in reactors has been demonstrated overseas, the principal uncertainty associated with this approach involves the required cost and business arrangements. Because the Department does not own the reactors needed to irradiate the MOX fuel and there is no MOX fuel fabrication plant in the United States, DOE is conducting a competitive procurement to solicit business proposals from industry teams to provide these services. DOE prefers that mixed oxide fuel fabrication and irradiation services be coupled and integrated by a single consortium. This approach would maximize private sector participation and encourage traditional business relationships among fuel designers, fuel fabricators, reactor vendors, reactor operators, and architect & engineering firms, including retaining the long-standing relationship between utilities and their fuel fabricators. DOE expects to issue a Request for Proposals shortly and award a contract in late Fiscal Year 1998.

We anticipate that the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility would be designed, built/modified, and operated by a private sector consortium at an existing DOE site. The facility would be government-owned and operated solely for the disposition of surplus U.S. plutonium. The government would retain the right to terminate operation of the fuel fabrication facility, either at the completion of the plutonium disposition mission or earlier, if required. In the case of operating reactors, the reactor owners would retain their inherent responsibility for operating their reactors safely in accordance with Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulations. The Department also plans to have the MOX fuel fabrication facility constructed and operated in accordance with Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing standards.

The FY 1999 budget request will fund fuel qualification design, licensing efforts, process development for MOX fuel fabrication, irradiation tests of the MOX fuel as well as the start of Title I & II design of a MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility with a capability to process 3.5 metric tons of surplus plutonium oxide per-year. Since the MOX facility requires substantial design information to construct it in accordance with NRC licensing standards, the design would be started in FY 1999. Contingent on significant progress toward disposition of Russia plutonium, facility construction would take place in order to be operational in FY 2007.


The next two to three years will be a crucial period in the U.S.-Russian relationship concerning the storage and disposition of surplus weapons plutonium. In order to avoid putting the United States at a strategic disadvantage in future negotiations with Russia as well as to avoid the large-scale expenditure of funds until necessary, the Administration will not construct new facilities for disposing of surplus U.S. plutonium (Immobilization and Associated Processing Facility, Pit Disassembly and Conversion Facility, and Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility) unless there is significant progress with Russia on plans for plutonium disposition.

Important foundations have been laid this past year for progress between the United States and Russia on surplus plutonium disposition. The U.S. decision in January 1997 to pursue a hybrid strategy (MOX/immobilization) for U.S. plutonium disposition followed an extended period of analysis and public debate, and set the course for United States policy into the next century. With the continued support of the Congress, DOE is on schedule for a multi-year program for accelerated implementation of plutonium disposition.

Russia has responded in several positive ways. In May 1997, the Russian Defence Council for the first time acknowledged plutonium disposition to be a crucial security policy, arms control, and nonproliferation issue for Russia, and assumed institutional cognizance in this area. The Defence Council also signaled that, while plutonium disposition and START III are closely linked, the Russian Government sees positive value in proceeding towards a comprehensive agreement with the United States on plutonium disposition independent of START III.

In July 1997, President Yeltsin established by Presidential decree a high-level interagency standing committee on plutonium disposition under the Russian Defence Council's purview. Further, he tasked the Committee, among other things to recommend: (1) a concept of disposition for Russia's excess plutonium; (2) Russian views and proposals for a comprehensive U.S.-Russian agreement on the disposition of plutonium; and (3) ideas for Russian state management of plutonium disposition, including participation in international projects. The Committee was also charged with the development of a Russian declaration on the amount of excess plutonium, from the point of view of the military needs of Russia.

In September 1997, Russian President Yeltsin made the first official Russian declaration of excess quantities of weapons plutonium (50 metric tons) and highly enriched uranium (500 metric tons). In November 1997, senior officials from both governments came together for the first time on an interagency basis for two days of meetings on issues and opportunities in U.S.-Russian plutonium management and disposition at Harvard University. The Harvard meeting laid the early foundation for a series of agreements that the two countries will pursue in the next three years. This framework, reiterated in meetings of U.S. and Russian officials in Moscow in December and in Washington in January, consists of four linked components: (1) a technical cooperation agreement to continue small scale tests and demonstrations and proceed to pilot-scale tests and demonstrations; (2) a joint statement of guiding principles setting forth in general and nonbinding terms the conditions which the two countries see as governing their future cooperation in plutonium management and disposition; (3) a pilot-scale plutonium conversion agreement concerning financing, nonproliferation, and other terms and conditions related to the construction and operation of a pilot-scale plutonium conversion facility in Russia; and (4) a bilateral agreement addressing arms control, nonproliferation and transparency issues, as well as a multilateral understanding concerning financing and responsibilities for the construction and operation of industrial-scale facilities. This framework provides for cooperation in plutonium management and disposition on an industrial scale as well as for the coordination of U.S.-Russian efforts with those of other partners.

Steps along these lines are already being taken. In February, the two governments completed the initial round of negotiations on a bilateral agreement on scientific and technical cooperation in plutonium management and disposition and reached agreement on nearly all counts. We expect this agreement to be signed in the coming months. In February also, the U.S. and Russian governments agreed to begin negotiations this spring on a joint statement of guiding principles, which would commit the two governments to a set of principles for long-term safe and effective management and disposition of excess plutonium. The aim is to have this joint statement of guiding principles ready for signature at the time of the next Presidential Summit this summer.

The FY 1999 funding request for Russian activities provides for expansion of small-scale tests and demonstrations of technical operations being jointly evaluated and start of design and equipment procurement for a pilot-scale plutonium conversion system in Russia.


In summary, the portion of the Fiscal Year 1999 budget to be allocated towards plutonium disposition activities (Pit Disassembly and Conversion; Immobilization; Mixed Oxide Fuel and Irradiation Services; and Work with Russia) is $155.4 million. This funding will allow the Department to begin detailed designs of two of the three disposition facilities; continue performance tests, process development, and technology demonstrations; and complete the NEPA environmental analysis and issue a Record of Decision (ROD) in late 1998 on the location of one or more plutonium disposition sites. In addition to domestic-based activities, work with Russian will be expanded to include a series of analyses and small-scale tests and demonstrations of disposition technologies, and design of a pilot-scale weapons plutonium conversion system in Russia. The Fiscal Year 1999 budget for plutonium disposition activities represents an increase of $72.3 million over Fiscal Year 1998. This increase is due to the start of Title I & Title II design for the Pit Disassembly and Conversion Facility and the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility ($53 million), the development of a Russian pilot-scale plutonium conversion system ($15 million), and other disposition activities such as MOX/reactor consortium project management and systems engineering plans ($4.5 million). This increase is partially offset by decreases in other activities (- $7.3 million).


In July 1996, the Department issued a Record of Decision regarding the disposition of surplus highly enriched uranium (HEU). The Program's efforts in FY 1998 and FY 1999 will continue to focus on implementing the July 1996 Record of Decision to disposition up to 85% of the surplus highly enriched uranium by down-blending it with other uranium materials to commercially-usable low enriched uranium, thereby advancing U.S. nonproliferation goals, reducing storage and security costs, and providing revenues to the Treasury from the commercial sale of these surplus assets over time. The remaining surplus HEU that is in forms that would be unsuitable for down- blending to commercial reactor fuel will be down-blended and disposed of as waste.

To date, 174.3 metric tons (MT) of HEU have been declared excess to national security needs. Some of this material is in the form of spent fuel, and not available for down-blending. Because of the various forms of HEU and the availability dates from weapons dismantlement and site cleanup operations, down blending will take place over an extended period. Thirteen MT of highly enriched uranium have already been transferred to the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC), and an additional 50 MT is to be transferred over the next six years pursuant to the USEC Privatization Act. An additional 33-40 MT of off-specification material, not saleable on the open market, is expected to be transferred to the Tennessee Valley Authority for use in its reactors over the period between 2001 and 2006. TVA will share its fuel savings with the U.S. Treasury. DOE is preparing plans for disposing of the remaining surplus HEU.

The portion of the Fiscal Year 1999 budget for highly enriched uranium disposition activities is $4.2 million. This funding will allow the Department to facilitate and implement disposition of surplus highly enriched uranium, including off-specification highly enriched uranium. The decrease of $1.1 million from Fiscal Year 1998 is due to the completion of the procurement of shipping containers for the surplus material.


In January 1997, the Department issued a Record of Decision regarding the storage of all weapons-usable fissile materials and the disposition of surplus plutonium. The Department will reduce the number of sites where plutonium is stored through a combination of storage alternatives and disposition alternatives. Under this decision, DOE began shipping surplus plutonium pits from Rocky Flats to Pantex in April 1997 with shipments expected to be completed in early FY 1999. Stabilized and separated non-pit plutonium from Rocky Flats will be moved to Savannah River (after certain conditions are met). Storage of surplus plutonium at other sites will continue, pending disposition. Highly enriched uranium will continue to be consolidated and stored at the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant, pending disposition of the surplus.

The portion of the Fiscal Year 1999 budget to be allocated towards storage of surplus fissile materials is $0.9 million. This funding will allow the Department to obtain support for issues related to operational aspects of the facilities, transportation issues, and other requirements associated with implementation of storage activities. The decrease of $0.5 million from Fiscal Year 1998 is due to completion of site-specific conceptual design of facility upgrades for pit materials. Detailed design and construction of upgrades for surplus pit materials will be funded from FY 1997 carryover balances. Expansion of the planned Actinide Packaging and Storage Facility to be built at Savannah River Site to store surplus, non-pit plutonium materials currently at Savannah River Site and Rocky Flats (Project 97-D-140) is funded in EM line item Project 97-D-450.


The Department is currently preparing an Environmental Impact Statement to help determine the extent to which the immobilization and MOX approaches will be used, the technologies, and the site(s) where surplus weapons plutonium disposition activities will take place. Four sites (Hanford, Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, Pantex and Savannah River) are being considered for constructing and operating a Pit Disassembly and Conversion Facility and a MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility. The Savannah River Site, which has an existing operational high level waste vitrification capability, has been identified as the Department's Preferred Alternative for immobilization. Hanford, which has plans for such a capability, will also be considered. The identification of the preferred site(s) is expected to be made in the draft EIS scheduled for release in the second quarter of 1998 with final site selection to appear in a Record of Decision scheduled for late 1998.

The portion of the Fiscal Year 1999 budget to be allocated to core technologies and NEPA is $3.9 million. This funding will provide crosscutting technologies and program integration activities, support beginning environmental analyses and associated public scoping and outreach activities for U-233 disposition. The net decrease of $5.8 million results from the completion of the environmental analyses associated with the site(s) selection for the disposition facilities, technical support activities and activities associated with technologies common to all disposition alternatives.


Program Direction provides the overall management, oversight, staffing, and administrative support necessary to carry out the mission of the Fissile Materials Disposition program. The portion of the Fiscal Year 1999 budget to be allocated for Program Direction is $4.6 million--a modest 3% of the program cost.


This Fissile Materials Disposition Program has concluded the decision-making process for storage and identified a strategy for disposing of surplus weapons-usable fissile materials. Storage decisions are being implemented and funding issues have been addressed. Disposition efforts are on a fast-track aimed at reducing the danger from theft or diversion of surplus weapons materials. Technology process development, tests, and demonstrations are ongoing and preliminary facility layouts are complete. Work with Russia on small-scale tests and demonstrations of disposition technologies is moving forward and a framework for U.S.-Russian disposition agreements is being developed. Now is the time for the U.S. to send a clear signal to the world community regarding our nonproliferation goals and encourage the support of other nations by beginning design of U.S. disposition facilities and the Russian pilot-scale plutonium conversion system. The U.S. cannot proceed independently beyond completion of the design of facilities without significant progress from Russia. U.S. support for the pilot-scale system in Russia, beginning design of key U.S. disposition facilities, and implementing the framework of agreements on plutonium disposition will set the stage to achieve significant progress in Russia so that facility construction can commence as scheduled. It is an investment in our future well worth making.

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