Acting NNSA administrator to step down on Inauguration Day

Bookless

The acting head of the National Nuclear Security Administration will resign January 20, Inauguration Day, according to a report in the Aiken (S.C.) Standard. William Bookless, who has more than four decades of experience in the nuclear security field, will also retire from federal service that day, the agency confirmed to the Standard.

The NNSA has made no official announcement or named a replacement for Bookless as of Thursday morning.

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U.S., Canada complete nuclear material shipping effort

A four-year campaign to repatriate 161 kilograms of highly enriched uranium liquid target residue material (TRM) from Chalk River Laboratories in Ontario, Canada, to the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C., has been completed, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) announced on January 12.

The campaign was conducted under the U.S.-Origin Foreign Research Reactor Spent Nuclear Fuel Acceptance Program, established in 1996 to return U.S.-origin spent nuclear fuel and other weapons-grade nuclear material from civilian sites worldwide. Other partners involved in the effort included the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM), Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS), and Savannah River National Laboratory as well as state and tribal governments.

The TRM is the by-product of the production of medical isotopes from AECL’s now-shuttered National Research Universal reactor. The repatriation of the material, begun in 2017 and completed in 2020, involved 115 separate truck shipments, covering some 150,000 miles, according to the announcements.

The year in review 2020: Waste Management

Here is a look back at the top stories of 2020 from our Waste Management section in Newswire and Nuclear News magazine. Remember to check back to Newswire soon for more top stories from 2020.

Waste Management section

  • First-ever cleanup of uranium enrichment plant celebrated at Oak Ridge: The completion of the decades-long effort to clean up the former Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant was celebrated on October 13, with Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette joining U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, and other state and community leaders at the East Tennessee Technology Park, where the uranium enrichment complex once stood. Read more.

Congress set to pass year-end funding bill

The final text of the approximately 5,600-page Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021 was released on December 22. While the timing of final passage is still fluid, the Senate was expected to approve it and send it on to President Trump to sign into law, according to John Starkey, American Nuclear Society government relations director.

Below are some key funding highlights from the legislation pertaining to nuclear energy.

NNSA reportedly hacked as part of “extensive espionage operation”

In an exclusive story published yesterday, the news website Politico reports that networks of the National Nuclear Security Administration and other federal entities have been hacked “as part of an extensive espionage operation.”

Citing officials familiar with the matter, the story says that network breaches have been identified at the NNSA’s Office of Secure Transportation (which is responsible for the transport of government-owned special nuclear materials), Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, the Department of Energy’s Richland Field Office, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

According to the story, the hackers are believed to have gained access to the networks “by compromising the software company SolarWinds, which sells IT management products to hundreds of government and private-sector clients.”

NNSA to review its “dilute and dispose” option for surplus Pu

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.

DOE to provide $12 million for nuclear data research

The U.S. Department of Energy plans to provide up to $12 million for new research on nuclear data in support of crosscutting research. The aim of the program is to expand and improve the quality of data needed for a wide range of nuclear-related activities, from basic research in nuclear science to isotope production and nuclear nonproliferation efforts.

“Increasingly, precise data on the properties of atomic nuclei are central to enabling groundbreaking advances in medicine, commerce, and national security,” said Chris Fall, director of the DOE’s Office of Science, on December 7. “This program targets crosscutting opportunities to enhance the curation of existing nuclear data archives, as well as research to lay the groundwork for new applications in areas of national need.”

WIPP could run out of disposal space, GAO says

The aboveground portion of WIPP’s current ventilation system. Photo: GAO

A study of the Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico has found that the repository faces long-term issues with ensuring sufficient physical space and statutory capacity to dispose of the federal government’s inventory of transuranic (TRU) waste. WIPP is the United States’ only repository for the disposal of TRU waste generated by the DOE’s nuclear weapons research and production.

The Government Accountability Office study, Better Planning Needed to Avoid Potential Disruptions at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (CAO-21-48), was published on November 19.

2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting: Medical isotopes production and applications

The Monday session “Advancement in Medical Isotopes Production and Applications” of the 2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting was sponsored by the Isotopes & Radiation Division and co-chaired by Lin-Wen Hu of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and James Bowen of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Radioisotopes produced from nuclear reactors and accelerators are widely used for medical diagnostics and cancer therapy. Technetium-99m (decay product of molybdenum-99), for example, is used in more than 80 percent of nuclear medicine diagnostic procedures. The session featured speakers who discussed the advancement and status of domestic production and applications of medical isotopes.

Gordon-Hagerty resigns as NNSA administrator

Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty has resigned as administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration and undersecretary of energy for nuclear security, the Department of Energy announced on November 6. William Bookless, who had been serving as NNSA principal deputy administrator for the past year-and-a-half, was named as acting administrator. Bookless spent more than three decades as a senior physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory prior to joining the NNSA.

New NNSA website helps in nuclear safeguards reporting

The National Nuclear Security Administration has launched RAINS—the Reporting Assistant for International Nuclear Safeguards website—intended to assist users with the requirements surrounding international nuclear safeguards.

Nuclear safeguards are designed to verify that all nuclear material declared by a nation-state is not diverted for non-peaceful uses; detect any misuse of declared facilities or locations outside facilities; and detect any undeclared nuclear material or activities in the nation-state.

GAO: Concerns persist on DOE Order 140.1

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on October 29 outlining potential issues regarding a 2018 Department of Energy order on how the department, the National Nuclear Security Administration, and their contractors interact with the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) and its staff. DNFSB is the independent agency responsible for ensuring that DOE facilities are protective of public health and safety.

According to the 81-page GAO report, provisions of DOE Order 140.1, issued in May 2018, restricted DNFSB’s access to information essential to its mission, and a subsequent revision of that order has not eliminated concerns that it would hinder DNFSB in carrying out its oversight responsibilities.

U.S., Canada sign MOU on safeguards and nonproliferation

Brent Park, the NNSA’s deputy administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, and Richard Sexton (on screen), president and chief executive officer of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, show the signed agreement. Photo: NNSA

The United States and Canada have signed a memorandum of understanding—Cooperation and Exchange of Information in Nuclear Security, Safeguards, and Nonproliferation Matters—to enable a more effective collaboration between the two countries in the areas of nuclear safety and security.

The five-year agreement was signed virtually on October 16 by Brent Park, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s deputy administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, and two Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) executives: Richard Sexton, president and chief executive officer, and Shannon Quinn, vice president of Science, Technology, and Commercial Oversight.

A national security argument for U.S. leadership on nuclear power

A recent commentary from Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy—the second in a series by the center’s Matt Bowen titled “Why the United States Should Remain Engaged on Nuclear Power”—examines the geopolitical and national security implications of the United States’ relinquishing the international nuclear energy marketplace to China and Russia.

NNSA assists in removal of HEU from Kazakhstan

The last remaining batch of unirradiated high-enriched uranium in Kazakhstan has been eliminated, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration has announced.

The action fulfills a pledge made by the United States and Kazakh governments one year ago at the 2019 International Atomic Energy Agency’s General Conference, according to a September 22 NNSA news release.

DOE ends dispute with South Carolina on Pu removal

The DOE is working to remove plutonium stored at its Savannah River Site.

The Department of Energy has reached a settlement with the state of South Carolina to remove 9.5 metric tons (t) of plutonium from the state, the agency announced on August 31. Under the settlement, which resolves litigation over the storage of surplus plutonium at the Savannah River Site near Aiken, S.C., the state will receive an upfront lump sum of $600 million in economic and impact assistance payments. In return, the DOE will be allowed more time (through 2037) to remove the plutonium from the state without the threat of lawsuits.

The settlement stems from the DOE's termination of the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility in 2018. The MOX facility was intended to meet a nonproliferation agreement between the United States and Russia to dispose of 34 t of weapons-grade plutonium by converting it to nuclear fuel for commercial power reactors. Reported to be 70-percent completed when construction was halted, the MOX facility was approximately $13 billion over budget and 32 years behind schedule, according to the DOE.

NNSA site tour continues for administrator

NNSA Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty spoke during the agency's 20th Anniversary Celebration event that recognized milestones at the Pantex Plant. Source: NNSA

Coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the creation of the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration, NNSA administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty is continuing with her trip to visit NNSA’s eight laboratories, plants, and sites.

Last week, Gordon-Hagerty was at the Pantex Plant, in Amarillo, Texas, for a 20th Anniversary Celebration of the NNSA.

So far, the tour of sites, which began in July, has taken Gordon-Hagerty to the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C.; Sandia National Laboratories and the NNSA Albuquerque Complex in Albuquerque, N.M.; and Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, N.M., in addition to the Pantex Plant. She is expected to complete the tour by year’s end.

The National Atomic Testing Museum presents Distinguished Lecture Series webinar

Brent Park, NNSA deputy administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation. Photo: NNSA

The National Atomic Testing Museum is hosting a free webinar on July 30 at 9 p.m. (EDT) featuring Brent Park, the National Nuclear Security Administration's deputy administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation. Registration is required.

The webinar is part of the museum’s Distinguished Lecture Series.

Park, a nuclear physicist with 30 years of experience at Department of Energy national laboratories, currently leads the NNSA's efforts to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation and reduce the threat of nuclear and radiological terrorism around the world.

Grants will enhance nuclear medicine and radiology services in Africa

Representatives from African countries assembled in 2019 at an event hosted by Nigeria to discuss the need for assistance in nuclear medicine and radiology. Photo: NNSA

The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration has awarded grants totaling $1.5 million to support an increase in medical staff and the building of facilities and equipment in sub-Saharan Africa, the agency announced on July 27.

The grants of $750,000 each were awarded to the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) and the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI).