The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration intends to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) evaluating alternatives for the safe disposal of 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium through its Surplus Plutonium Disposition Program (SPDP). The NNSA published in the December 16 Federal Register its intent to prepare the EIS, which will examine the agency’s preferred alternative, “dilute and dispose,” also known as “plutonium downblending,” and other identified alternatives for disposing of the material.
The NNSA is offering the public the opportunity to comment on the proposed scope of the EIS until February 1. In light of the COVID-19 health crisis, the agency will host an Internet- and phone-based virtual public scoping meeting in place of an in-person meeting. The date of the meeting will be provided in a future notice posted on the NNSA website.
The method: The surplus weapons-grade plutonium was intended to be converted into mixed-oxide (MOX) nuclear fuel at the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site, but that project was canceled in 2019. Since then, the DOE and the NNSA have pursued the dilute-and-dispose approach to managing the material, in which pit and non-pit metal plutonium would be converted to oxide, blended with an adulterant, and disposed of as transuranic waste at the DOE’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico. According to the NNSA, the dilute-and-dispose approach would require new, modified, or existing capabilities at the Savannah River Site, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Pantex Plant, and WIPP.
The SPDP EIS will also analyze a “no action alternative” and any other viable alternatives that may arise from public scoping.
The NNSA had previously decided to use the dilute-and-dispose method to dispose of portions of the 34 tons of surplus plutonium, issuing records of decisions (ROD) in April 2016 and August 2020 to dispose of, respectively, 6 tons and 7.1 tons of non-pit plutonium.
Following the scoping period, the NNSA will prepare a draft EIS for the program, which will be announced in the Federal Register and local media outlets to invite further public comment before preparing a final EIS. That action will be followed by an ROD officially documenting and explaining the agency’s decision.
Comments: Written comments on the scope of the SPDP EIS, requests to be placed on the SPDP EIS mailing list, and requests for information related to the SPDP EIS should be sent by mail to Jeffrey Galan, NEPA Document Manager, NNSA Office of Material Management and Minimization, Savannah River Site, P.O. Box A, Bldg. 730-2B, Rm. 328, Aiken, SC 29802; or sent by email to SPDP-EIS@NNSA.DOE.GOV or phone to 803/952-7434.