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NNSA completes milestones for initial steps in plutonium disposition

Monday, Nov 19, 2012

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has announced that it recently completed two milestones towards production of early plutonium oxide feedstock for its Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility. In its second year in production, NNSA exceeded the FY 2012 goal of 200 kilograms of plutonium oxide production by disassembling nuclear weapons pits and converting them into plutonium oxide at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). NNSA also initiated operations at H-Canyon and HB-Line at the Savannah River Site (SRS) to begin plutonium oxide production. The oxide production at both LANL and SRS provides the initial feedstock for the MOX facility and demonstrates the first steps towards permanent plutonium disposition.

“The progress achieved at LANL and SRS in support of plutonium disposition demonstrates the benefits of utilizing existing facilities in support of NNSA’s efforts to eliminate surplus weapons plutonium,” said NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino. “Feedstock for the MOX facility represents a critical component of the U.S. plutonium disposition strategy and will enable the U.S. to meet international nonproliferation commitments while advancing President Obama’s goal of permanently reducing the number of nuclear weapons across the globe.

The disassembly, conversion and certification, which were completed at LANL, are significant accomplishments in an ongoing effort to safely dispose of surplus weapon-grade plutonium. NNSA used the Advanced Recovery and Integrated Extraction System (ARIES) at LANL to prepare, package and certify the plutonium oxide product. Following a rigorous product certification process, Shaw AREVA MOX Services, the prime contractor for the design, construction and start-up of the MOX facility, has officially accepted a total of 442 kilograms of plutonium oxide from LANL for the MOX facility.

Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS) initiated repackaging and dissolution of the non-pit plutonium material in H-Canyon this month, marking a significant milestone for H-Canyon's efforts to support the mission to produce early feed for the MOX facility. The H-Canyon Complex will eventually provide approximately 3.7 metric tons (MT) of plutonium oxide feedstock for the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility from the excess defense plutonium currently stored at SRS.

Under an agreement between NNSA and the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM), the SRS H-Canyon and HB-Line, which are owned by EM and operated by the SRS management contractor SRNS, will process plutonium to meet the specifications for use in the MOX facility. Use of the SRS’s HB-Line and H-Canyon, the only operating production-scale, shielded chemical separation facilities in the U.S., takes advantage of the extensive plutonium experience among SRNS’s H-Canyon and HB-Line staff and allows for the conversion of this plutonium into feed material that will be readily available for the MOX facility’s first years of operation. The successful startup of the dissolution process is a key milestone in preparing the materials for conversion to MOX fuel.

Through the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement, the U.S. and Russia have agreed to each dispose of at least 34 MT of surplus weapon-grade plutonium, enough total material for 17,000 nuclear weapons. Once at the MOX facility, the plutonium oxide from LANL along with the oxide already at SRS from H-Canyon will be blended with depleted uranium, fabricated into MOX fuel and irradiated in domestic nuclear power reactors. After the MOX fuel is irradiated in civilian reactors, it is no longer suitable for use in nuclear weapons.

Source: NNSA

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