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Gullible governments – US Energy Department returns to costly and risky plutonium separation technologies

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, By Jungmin KangMasafumi TakuboFrank von Hippel | September 14, 2022, On July 17, the United Kingdom ended 58 years of plutonium separation for nuclear fuel by closing its Magnox nuclear fuel reprocessing plant at Sellafield. This leaves the UK with the world’s largest stock of separated power-reactor plutonium, 140 metric tons as of the end of 2020, including 22 tons separated for Japan. The UK is also second in the world only to Russia in the size of its overall inventory of separated plutonium with 119 tons, including 3.2 tons for weapons. Russia’s stock, 191 tons, is mostly “weapon-grade” separated for use in nuclear weapons during the Cold War, but the UK’s power-reactor plutonium is also weapon usable, and therefore also poses a security risk. The UK has no plan for how it will dispose of its separated plutonium. Its “prudent estimate” placeholder for the disposal cost is £10 billion ($12.6 billion).

One obvious way to get rid of separated plutonium would be to mix it with depleted uranium to make “mixed-oxide” (MOX) fuel energetically equivalent to low-enriched uranium fuel, the standard fuel of conventional reactors. Despite the bad economics, since 1976 France has routinely separated out the approximately one percent plutonium in the low-enriched uranium spent fuel discharged by its water-cooled reactors and recycled the plutonium in MOX fuel.

But both the UK and the US have had negative experiences with building their own MOX production plants.

In 2001, the UK completed a MOX plant, only to abandon it in 2011 after 10 years of failed attempts to make it operate. For its part, the US Energy Department, which owns almost 50 tons of excess Cold War plutonium, contracted with the French government-owned nuclear-fuel cycle company, Areva (now Orano), in 2008 to build a MOX fuel fabrication plant. But the United States switched to a “dilute and dispose” policy for its excess plutonium in 2017 after the estimated cost of the MOX plant grew from $2.7 billion to $17 billion.

Despite decades of failed attempts around the world to make separated plutonium an economic fuel for nuclear power plants, the United States Energy Department is once again promoting the recycling of separated plutonium in the fuel of “advanced” reactor designs that were found to be economically uncompetitive 50 years ago. At the same time, other countries—including Canada and South Korea, working in collaboration with the Energy Department’s nuclear laboratories—are also promoting plutonium separation as a “solution” to their own spent fuel disposal problems. These efforts not only gloss over the long history of failure of these nuclear technologies; they also fail to take into account the proliferation risk associated with plutonium separation—a risk that history has shown to be quite real.

Renewed advocacy for plutonium separation. As the UK finally turns its back on plutonium separation, the United States Energy Department is looking in the other direction. Within the Energy Department, one part, the Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, is struggling to dispose of excess Cold War weapons plutonium, as two others—the Office of Nuclear Energy and ARPA-E (Advanced Research Project Agency – Energy)—are promoting plutonium separation……………………………………..

In fact, the Energy Department’s Office of Nuclear Energy is promoting sodium-cooled reactor designs based on the Idaho National Laboratory’s Experimental Breeder Reactor II, which was shut down in 1994 due to a lack of mission after the end of the US breeder program a decade earlier. The Energy Department’s office is now supporting research, development, and demonstration of sodium-cooled reactors by several nuclear energy startups.

Among them is Bill Gates’ Terrapower, to which the department has committed as much as $2 billion in matching funds to build a 345-megawatt-electric sodium-cooled prototype reactor—called Natrium (sodium in Latin)—in the state of Wyoming. One of Wyoming’s current senators, John Barrasso, is a leading advocate of nuclear power and could become chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources if the Republicans take control of the upper chamber in the elections this fall.

Terrapower insists Natrium is not a plutonium breeder reactor and will be fueled “once through” with uranium enriched to just below 20 percent and its spent fuel disposed of directly in a deep geologic repository, without reprocessing. Natrium, however, is set to use, initially at least, the same type of fuel used in Idaho’s Experimental Breeder Reactor II. The Energy Department maintains that this spent fuel cannot be disposed of directly because the sodium in the fuel could burn if it contacts underground water or air. On that basis, the Idaho National Laboratory has been struggling for 25 years to treat a mere three tons of spent fuel from the Experimental Breeder Reactor II using a special reprocessing technology called “pyroprocessing.”

In pyroprocessing, the fuel is dissolved in molten salt instead of acid, and the plutonium and uranium are recovered by passing a current through the salt and plating them out on electrodes. In 2021, Terrapower stated that it plans to switch later to a fuel for Natrium that does not contain sodium but then received in March 2022 the largest of eleven Energy Department grants for research and development on new reprocessing technologies.

Liquid-sodium-cooled reactor designs date back to the 1960s and 1970s, when the global nuclear power community believed conventional power reactor capacity would quickly outgrow the available supply of high-grade uranium ore. Conventional reactors are fueled primarily by chain-reacting uranium 235, which comprises only 0.7 percent by weight of natural uranium. Because of this low percentage, nuclear power advocates focused on developing plutonium “breeder” reactors that would be fueled by chain-reacting plutonium produced from the abundant but non-chain-reacting uranium 238 isotope, which constitutes 99.3 percent of natural uranium. (Liquid-sodium-cooled reactors are sometimes called “fast-neutron reactors” because they utilize fast neutrons to operate. Sodium was chosen as a coolant because it slows neutrons less than water. Fast neutrons are essential to a plutonium breeder reactor because the fission of plutonium by fast neutrons releases more excess secondary neutrons whose capture in uranium 238 makes possible the production of more plutonium than the reactor consumes.)

Large programs were launched to provide startup fuel for the breeder reactors by reprocessing spent conventional power-reactor fuel to recover its contained plutonium.

………………………………….. Only a few prototypes were built and then mostly abandoned. In 2020, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Nuclear Energy Agency estimated that sufficient low-cost uranium would be available to fuel existing conventional reactor capacity for more than a century.

Zombie plutonium-separation programs. Even though separated plutonium has morphed from the nuclear fuel of the future into a disposal problem, civilian plutonium separation continues in several countries, notably France, Japan, and Russia. It is also being advocated again by the offices within the US Energy Department that fund research and development on nuclear energy.

Russia still has an active breeder reactor development program, with two operating liquid sodium-cooled prototypes—only one of them plutonium fueled—plus a small, liquid, lead-cooled prototype under construction. But Russia has already separated 60 tons of power-reactor plutonium and has declared as excess above its weapons needs approximately 40 tons of weapon-grade plutonium. These 100 tons of separated plutonium would be enough to provide startup fuel for five years for six full-size breeder reactors.

China and India have breeder reactor prototypes under construction, but their breeders are suspected of being dual-purpose. In addition to their production of electric power, the weapon-grade plutonium produced in uranium “blankets” around the breeder cores is likely to be used for making additional warheads for their still-growing nuclear arsenals.

France and Japan require their nuclear utilities to pay for reprocessing their spent fuel and for recycling the recovered plutonium in MOX fuel, even though both countries have known for decades that the cost of plutonium recycling is several times more than using low-enriched uranium fuel “once through,” with the spent fuel being disposed of directly in a deep geological repository.

Claimed benefits of reprocessing. Advocates of plutonium recycling in France and Japan justify their programs with claims that it reduces uranium requirements, the volume of radioactive waste requiring disposal, and the duration of the decay heat and radiotoxicity of the spent fuel in a geologic repository. These benefits are, however, either minor or non-existent. First, France’s plutonium recycling program reduces its uranium requirements by only about 10 percent, which could be achieved at much less cost in other ways, such as by adjusting enrichment plants to extract a higher percentage of the uranium 235 isotopes in natural uranium. Second, with proper accounting, it is not at all clear that recycling produces a net reduction in the volume of radioactive waste requiring deep geological disposal. Third, the claimed heat reduction, if realized, could reduce the size of the repository by packing radioactive waste canisters more closely. But this is not significant because, with the currently used reprocessing technology, americium 241, which has a 430-year half-life and dominates the decay heat from the spent fuel during the first thousand years, remains in the reprocessed waste.

Claims of the reduced toxicity of reprocessed waste turn out to be false as well. For decades, France’s nuclear establishment has promoted continued reprocessing in part out of hope that, after its foreign reprocessing customers did not renew their contracts, it could sell its plutonium recycling technology to other countries, starting with China and the United States. But, with the notable exception of the canceled US MOX plant, these efforts so far have not materialized, and the willingness of the French government to continue funding its expensive nuclear fuel cycle strategy may be reaching its limits………………………..

Proliferation danger. Aside from the waste of taxpayer money, there is one major public-policy objection to plutonium separation: Plutonium can be used to make a nuclear weapon. The chain-reacting material in the Nagasaki bomb was six kilograms of plutonium, and the fission triggers of virtually all nuclear warheads today are powered with plutonium. Reactor-grade plutonium is weapon-usable, as well.

In the 1960s, however, blinded by enthusiasm for plutonium breeder reactors, the US Atomic Energy Commission—the Energy Department’s predecessor agency—promoted plutonium worldwide as the fuel of the future. During that period, India sent 1,000 scientists and engineers to Argonne and other US national laboratories to be educated in nuclear science and engineering. In 1964, India began to separate plutonium from the spent fuel of a heavy-water research reactor provided jointly by Canada and the United States. Ten years later, in 1974, India used some of that separated plutonium for a design test of a “peaceful nuclear explosive,” which is now a landmark in the history of nuclear weapon proliferation……………………….

False environmental claims for reprocessing. Since the 1980s, advocates of reprocessing and plutonium recycling and fast neutron reactors in the Energy Department’s Argonne and Idaho National Laboratories have promoted them primarily as a strategy to facilitate spent fuel disposal.

The George W. Bush administration, which came to power in 2001, embraced this argument because it saw the impasse over siting a spent fuel repository as an obstacle to the expansion of nuclear power in the United States. To address the proliferation issue, the Bush Administration proposed in 2006 a “Global Nuclear Energy Partnership” in which only countries that already reprocessed their spent fuel (China, France, Japan, and Russia) plus the United States would be allowed to reprocess the world’s spent fuel and extract plutonium. The recovered plutonium then would be used in the reprocessing countries to fuel advanced burner reactors (breeder reactors tweaked so that they would produce less plutonium than they consumed). These burner reactors would be sodium-cooled fast-neutron reactors because the slow neutrons that sustain the chain reaction in water-cooled reactors are not effective in fissioning some of the plutonium isotopes. After Congress understood the huge costs involved, however, it refused to fund the partnership…………………………….

Plutonium and the geological disposal of spent fuel. Despite the unfavorable economics, the idea of separating and fissioning the plutonium in spent fuel has been kept alive in the United States and some other countries in part by continuing political and technical obstacles to siting spent fuel repositories. Proponents of reprocessing have managed to keep their governments’ attention on plutonium because it is a long-lived radioelement, a ferocious carcinogen—if inhaled—and has fuel value if recycled.

But detailed studies have concluded that plutonium makes a relatively small contribution to the long-term risk from a spent fuel geologic repository for spent fuel from commercial power reactors.

……………………………………………….. risk assessments are theoretical, but they are based on real-world experience with the movement of radioisotopes through the environment.

The main source of that experience is from the large quantities of fission products and plutonium lofted into the stratosphere by the fireballs of megaton-scale atmospheric nuclear tests between 1952 and 1980. During that period, the Soviet Union, the United States, China, the United Kingdom, and France injected into the stratosphere a total of about eight tons of fission products and 3.4 tons of plutonium—comparable to the quantities in a few hundred tons of spent light water reactor fuel. These radioisotopes returned to earth as global radioactive “fallout.”

…………………………………… In addition to the proliferation danger dramatized by the case of India, plutonium separation also brings with it a danger of a massive accidental radioactive release during reprocessing. The world’s worst nuclear accident before Chernobyl involved the Soviet Union’s first reprocessing plant for plutonium production, in 1957……………………………………………..

Gullible governments. Nearly half a century after India conducted its first nuclear test in 1974 with assistance provided inadvertently by Canada and the United States, both countries’ governments seem to have forgotten about the proliferation risk associated with spent fuel reprocessing. Today, advocates of fast-neutron breeder or burner reactors are pitching again the same arguments—used before the test—to gullible governments that seem unaware of the history of this issue. This ignorance has created problems for Canada’s nonproliferation policy as well as that of the United States.

In Canada, a UK startup, Moltex, has obtained financial support from federal and provincial governments by promising to “solve” Canada’s spent fuel problem. Its proposed solution is to extract the plutonium in the spent fuel of Canada’s aging CANDU (CANada Deuterium Uranium) reactors to fuel a new generation of molten-salt-cooled reactors. The Moltex company also proposes to make Canada an export hub for its reactors and small reprocessing plants.

In South Korea, the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, with support from Energy Department’s Argonne and Idaho National Laboratories, has similarly been campaigning to persuade its government that pyroprocessing spent fuel and fissioning plutonium in sodium-cooled reactors would help solve that country’s spent fuel management problem.

It is time for governments to learn again about the risks involved with plutonium separation and to fence off “no-go zones” for their nuclear energy advocates, lest they unintentionally precipitate a new round of nuclear-weapon proliferation.


[1] Carbon 14 and iodine 129 are difficult to capture during reprocessing and therefore are routinely released into the atmosphere and ocean by France’s reprocessing plant at La Hague. Also, had the uranium 238 in the spent fuel not been mined, its decay product, radium 226, would have been released within the original uranium deposit. So, even though some reprocessing advocates join with nuclear power critics in amplifying the hazards of plutonium and other transuranic elements in underground radioactive waste repositories, they generally omit comparisons with reprocessing hazards (in the case of reprocessing advocates) or with natural uranium deposits (in the case of repository opponents).

September 21, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, 2 WORLD, Reference | Leave a comment

Weapons-grade plutonium secretly sent from South Carolina to Nevada removed early

The Nevada site was used to conduct nuclear weapons testing from 1945 to 1992. Press, September 17, 2022, CARSON CITY, Nev — Weapons-grade plutonium that secretly was sent to Nevada over objections from the state has been removed ahead of schedule, federal officials said.

U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto said in a statement that she was notified by the National Nuclear Security Administration late Friday that the plutonium had been removed. The work that started last year had been expected to wrap up by the end of 2026.

The U.S. Energy Department under former President Donald Trump had planned to ship a full metric ton (2,204 pounds) of plutonium to Nevada from South Carolina, where a federal judge ordered the material be removed from a Savannah River site.

Nevada had argued in a lawsuit that the clandestine shipment of half a metric ton (1,100 pounds) of plutonium to the vast Nevada National Security Site — an area larger than the state of Rhode Island — in 2018 amounted to a “secret plutonium smuggling operation.” The U.S. government argued it kept the shipment secret because of national security concerns.

The Nevada site was used to conduct nuclear weapons testing from 1945 to 1992.

The legal battle ended in mid-2020 after the federal government agreed to remove the highly radioactive material already trucked to Nevada and abandon any future plans to send more.

The material now is held at a site in New Mexico, a congressional aide told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

September 20, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment

Plutonium secretly shipped to Nevada removed sooner than expected

By Gary Martin Las Vegas Review-Journal, September 16, 2022

WASHINGTON – A half-metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium secretly shipped into Nevada has been removed four years early under federal court order and an agreement reached by U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and former Energy Secretary Rick Perry, officials said Friday.

Cortez Masto, D-Nev., first announced the removal of the plutonium, stored at the Nevada National Security Site north of Las Vegas.

She was notified by the National Nuclear Security Administration late Friday………………….

The NNSA shipped the plutonium from the Savannah River Site in South Carolina to Nevada in 2019 under federal court order.

Nevada officials, while notified it would happen, were incensed when efforts to stop the transfer through federal courts became moot after the Department of Energy disclosed the plutonium had already been shipped into the state.

Four years ahead of schedule

“When I heard that the Trump administration secretly shipped weapons-grade plutonium to our state, I acted immediately to ensure it was removed,” Cortez Masto said in a statement.

Cortez Masto also secured in writing a pledge by Perry not to send any more plutonium from South Carolina to Nevada.

“I’m proud to announce the removal has been completed four years ahead of schedule,” Cortez Masto said.

A federal judge ordered the Department of Energy to remove weapons grade plutonium from the Savannah River Site in South Carolina after a facility to turn the radioactive material into fuel for nuclear power plants was terminated.

Some of the material was sent to the Nevada facility, and some to the Pantex Plant in Texas until pits to accommodate the material at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico were completed, according to NNSA.

The material from Nevada now has been shipped to Los Alamos, a congressional aide confirmed.

Secret shipment from South Carolina draws ire

Former Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, was furious that the Energy Department shipped the plutonium to Nevada when the state in May 2019 had notified the federal government of its intent to seek an injunction to prevent the transfer.

Sandoval directed then-state Attorney General Adam Laxalt to file a lawsuit in federal court in Reno to block the shipment.

But the lawsuit was dismissed after Energy Department lawyers in 2020 disclosed in court papers that the shipment had already occurred, making the state’s lawsuit moot.

Gov. Steve Sisolak and state Attorney General Aaron Ford, both Democrats, filed another lawsuit and won a ruling that would force the federal government to eventually remove the plutonium.

………. the danger of exposure to the materials prompted the federal judge to order the plutonium moved from South Carolina.

‘Beyond outrage’

The secret shipping of the plutonium, because of federal national security concerns, drew the ire of Nevada officials of both major political parties who accused Perry and the Energy Department of lying to the state about its intent…………………………….

The shipment heightened tensions between Nevada and the Trump administration, which also sought to open Yucca Mountain as a permanent nuclear waste repository, just 60 miles north of Las Vegas.

September 19, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment

City of Aiken provides will receive more than $168M in plutonium storage settlement

by: Dixie DawsonJoey Gill,  Aug 30, 2022  “………………………………… The community also got an update on plutonium settlement money. Aiken County will reportedly receive more than $168 million, or 30% of $525 million, from the federal government’s settlement with the state over plutonium storage.

“They secured 168-million-850-thousand dollars for projects through Aiken County from the South Carolina plutonium settlement funds,” said David Jameson, President and CEO of the Aiken Chamber of Commerce, “Aiken County citizens will benefit from the catalytic impact of your efforts to many, many years.”………………………

August 31, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment

California nuclear power plant extension challenged in legislative proposal

“This is too little too late, a sham process designed to circumvent citizen enforcement of the National Environmental Policy Act,”

Watchdog groups contend that regardless of the review, the NNSA will march ahead with its production plans for plutonium cores at Los Alamos

S nuclear policy | US nuclear stockpile | Environment protection

AP  |  Albuquerquue (US) August 20, 2022

The US government is planning to review the environmental effects of operations at one of the nation’s prominent nuclear weapons laboratories, but its notice issued Friday leaves out federal goals to ramp up production of plutonium cores used in the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

The National Nuclear Security Administration said the review being done to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act will look at the potential environmental effects of alternatives for operations at Los Alamos National Laboratory for the next 15 years.

That work includes preventing the spread and use of nuclear weapons worldwide and other projects related to national security and global stability, the notice said.

Watchdog groups contend that regardless of the review, the NNSA will march ahead with its production plans for plutonium cores at Los Alamos.

The northern New Mexico lab part of the top secret Manhattan Project during World War II and the birthplace of the atomic bomb is one of two sites tapped for the lucrative mission of manufacturing the plutonium cores. The other is the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

The US Energy Department had set deadlines for 2026 and 2030 for ramping up production of the plutonium cores, but it’s unclear whether those will be met given the billions of dollars in infrastructure improvements still needed.

Watchdog groups that have been critical of Los Alamos accused the NNSA of going through the motions rather than taking a hard look at the escalating costs of preparing for production, the future consequences to the federal budget and the potential environmental fallout for neighbouring communities and Native American tribes.

This is too little too late, a sham process designed to circumvent citizen enforcement of the National Environmental Policy Act,” said Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico.

The Los Alamos Study Group, another New Mexico-based organisation that monitors lab activities, said there is no indication that NNSA will pause any preparations for the sake of complying with National Environmental Policy Act, which mandates some scrutiny before moving ahead with major federal projects.

The group pointed to more than $19 billion in new construction and operational costs for Los Alamos’ new plutonium core production mission through fiscal year 2033. They say the price tag is expected to grow.

According to planning documents related to the sprawling Los Alamos campus, lab officials have indicated that they need more than 4 million square feet (371,612 square metres) of new construction to bolster one of its main technical areas and the area where the lab’s plutonium operations are located. Several thousand new staff members also would be needed.

This is a completely bogus process in which NNSA seeks to create a veneer of legitimacy and public acceptance for its reckless plans,” said Greg Mello, director of the Los Alamos Study Group……….. more

August 20, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, environment, politics, USA | Leave a comment

Japan to Give Plutonium from Spent Fuel to France, – (but the high level wastes must be returned to Japan)  Tokyo, June 21 (Jiji Press)–The Japan Atomic Energy Agency will give France plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel from its Fugen advanced converter reactor, officials have said.

The agency will conclude a contract with a French nuclear company this month at the earliest, according to the officials.

The French side is expected to reprocess the spent nuclear fuel from the reactor, which is in the decommissioning process, in the central Japan prefecture of Fukui.

On Wednesday, the Japanese and French governments exchanged notes on the transportation and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel and the return of high-level radioactive waste to Japan.

The two sides agreed to start the removal of 731 spent nuclear fuel assemblies from Fugen in April 2023 and complete the work by the end of March 2027.

June 21, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan | Leave a comment

US Government Secret Files: Human Experiments With Plutonium Side Effects

by SOFREP, 22 May 22, ” ……………………………………   The Manhattan Project…………..    The most famous development of the Manhattan Project was when they produced atomic bombs, two of which were the Little Boy Bomb and the Fat Man Bomb, that were dropped on the two cities of Japan, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. There was also this not-so-famous bomb that was supposed to be the third bomb to be dropped in Japan had they not surrendered, known as the Demon Core (know why it was called as such here.)

Although a huge chunk of the Manhattan Project was dedicated to the development and production of the weapons, a small portion of it was dedicated to studying the health effects of the radioactive materials involved in the project, which was Plutonium.

Human Experiments

………………….     the huge amounts of radioactive materials used in the experiments also led to widespread contamination even outside of the research facilities. They wanted to know exactly the risks and dangers that these researchers were facing, so they began studying the effects of radiation on human bodies.

The plutonium toxicity studies began with rats as the main subject. These were quickly deemed inconclusive, so they decided to move the experiments onto human trials beginning in 1945. They didn’t realize at the time that rats are pretty resistant to radiation. At that time, details about plutonium were not yet disclosed to the public, so they decided that for the secrecy of it, they would not inform anyone outside of scientific circles about the trials, not even the human test subjects.

A total of eighteen human subjects were selected and injected with plutonium without their knowledge from 1945 until 1947, their ages ranging from 4 to 69. One common thing about them was their diagnosis of a terminal illness.

Patient CAL-1

One of the involuntary subjects of the human radiation experiment was a house painter from Ohio in his late 50s named Albert Stevens, or patient CAL-1. At that time, he had checked into the University of California Hospital in San Francisco and was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It was suggested that a gastroscopy be performed to make sure that the diagnosis was accurate, but it never really happened. And so Stevens was chosen for the study because, according to acting chief of radiology Earl Miller, “he was doomed” to die.

Before he underwent the operation that would try to rid him of cancer, Stevens was injected with what would be known as the highest accumulated radiation dose in any human, 131 kBq (3.55 µCi) of plutonium. After that, stool and urine samples were taken from Stevens for analysis. He then underwent an operation to remove his cancer, which included taking out parts of his liver, entire spleen, lymph nodes, part of his pancreas, part of his omentum, and most of his ninth rib.

When some of the materials removed from Stevens were analyzed, they discovered that Stevens was misdiagnosed and did not have cancer in the first place. He was, in fact, suffering from a large gastric ulcer. He and his family were not informed about it and were instead told that his recovery was speedy. …………..

May 23, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment

Seismic Concerns at Los Angeles Nuclear Laboratory and Expanded Plutonium Pit Production

Seismic Concerns at LANL and Expanded Plutonium Pit Production, May 19th, 2022, Ongoing  Plutonium operations at Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Technical Area 55 are centered in the middle of the 36-square mile national nuclear weapons facility.  LANL is the only U.S. facility with the capabilities to fabricate plutonium triggers, or the fissile pits, for nuclear weapons.  However, Technical Area 55, or TA-55, is located within the complex Pajarito Fault Zone between two young, north – south running faults called the Guaje Mountain and    Rendija Canyon faults.  Visual evidence of faulting     can be found in the canyons to the north of TA-55. see Seismic Documents.

The U.S. Department of Energy owns LANL.  It has plans for expansion of all things plutonium-pit production at the Plutonium Facility and at least five new support buildings at TA-55.  CCNS anticipates that DOE will continue its efforts to conceal and ignore the reality of the growing seismic threats of the young faults.

We witnessed similar efforts in the mid-2000s when DOE began to design a new super Walmart-sized Nuclear Facility within TA-55 next door to the Plutonium Facility.  DOE was so bold as to dig into the volcanic tuff with heavy equipment to prepare a pad for future construction.  In the end, public opposition and escalating costs forced the cancellation of its plans.

Fabricating plutonium pits for nuclear weapons involves many steps – some using aqueous processes that result in water contaminated with radiation and hazardous materials.  That water is treated across the street from the Plutonium Facility at the Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility and for decades was discharged through an industrial outfall into Effluent Canyon.  Since November 2011, though, the treated water has been evaporated into the air at a mechanical evaporator.  

In April, the Environmental Protection Agency renewed the five-year industrial permit for LANL to discharge through Outfall 051 into Effluent Canyon.

We note that on May 11th, CCNS, Honor Our Pueblo Existence, and the Albuquerque Veterans for Peace, Chapter No. 63, appealed the EPA decision to permit the outfall and five others to the Environmental Appeals Board.

Then on May 5th, the New Mexico Environment Department approved for the first time a ground water discharge permit for not only for the Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility, the outfall and Mechanical Evaporator, but for two large solar evaporative tanks, and a new low-level radioactive liquid waste treatment facility.  In addition, DOE plans to build a liquid waste treatment facility for the transuranic plutonium liquid waste., go to Los Alamos County, and scroll down to DP-1132 where the draft permit is posted, but not the final permit.

These facilities are all in support of DOE’s plans for expanded plutonium pit production at LANL.

May 21, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, safety, USA, weapons and war | 1 Comment

Five new plutonium buildings for Los Alamos National Laboratory, with the costly funding details rather obscure

Nuclear agency plans five new plutonium buildings at Los Alamos lab, Santa Fe New Mexican , By Scott Wyland, May 18, 2022  

As a further sign Los Alamos National Laboratory is inching toward its 2026 target for making 30 warhead triggers a year, nuclear security managers plan to construct five buildings in the lab’s plutonium complex over the next five years, in part to support that effort.

A new building would be funded annually, beginning in fiscal year 2023, with the aim of supporting production of the bomb cores, known as pits, and other plutonium operations, according to the National Nuclear Security Administration’s budget request for the coming year.

The total cost of the five buildings will be more than $240 million………………….

One critic of the lab’s pit production plans said each of the buildings was priced just under the $50 million threshold that would trigger a more rigorous congressional review.

That might allow the lab to change the office buildings into something else later for a different purpose, such as producing more pits, said Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group.

“No one ever talked about these costs before,” Mello said. “We don’t think this is the end of the surprises. There are more surprises to come.”

The federal budget for plutonium operations has climbed steeply in recent years, both at the lab and at Savannah River Site in South Carolina, where officials hope to make an additional 50 pits yearly by the mid-2030s.

Under the U.S. Department of Energy’s draft budget, the lab’s plutonium modernization funding would climb to $1.56 billion in 2023 from the current year’s $1 billion, more than a 50 percent increase.

At the same time, the nuclear security agency, an Energy Department branch, has proposed funneling $700 million this coming year toward converting Savannah River Site into a pit factory. That’s a sizable jump from the $475 million spent for that purpose in the last budget cycle………………….

Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, said federal officials want the lab’s pit plant to be able to produce up to 80 pits for short periods.

He contends the lab is likely to use this “surge capacity” given the longer time it will take for Savannah River to begin production……………..

May 21, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Vitrification of Hanford’s nuclear waste is plagued with problems, would emit toxic vapours

Turning Hanford’s nuclear waste into glass logs would emit toxic vapors, says document,

By Allison Frost (OPB) May 10, 2022  The Hanford nuclear reservation in south central Washington state holds 56 million gallons of radioactive waste. The facility produced plutonium for U.S. atomic bombs in WWII, and it kept producing for the country’s nuclear weapons through the late 1980s.

The plan to contain that waste by turning it into glass logs, or vitrification, has been plagued with problems for decades. Some of the waste contained in underground tanks is leaking into the Columbia River. Workers have sued over exposure to toxic waste, and the current federal funding for cleanup is less than federal and state lawmakers say is needed.

Now, an internal Department of Energy document says that the vitrification process would create a toxic vapor. The next public hearing on the nuclear plant will be held Tuesday, May 10, and public comments are being accepted through June 4. We’re joined by freelance reporter John Stang who’s been covering Hanford for three decades and obtained the internal DOE document.

May 10, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment

Plutonium contamination in Ohio, USA

Russian nuclear warheads bought, processed and material shipped to Southern Ohio, by DUANE POHLMAN, 9 May 22,


The Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant (PORTS) is a massive facility, dominating the landscape in Pike County. It was also a massive fixture in America’s front lines during the Cold War.

For nearly five decades, from 1954 to 2001, PORTS processed uranium, critical to making America’s nuclear arsenal and fueling its nuclear navy.

Now closed and partially dismantled, PORTS is considered “ground zero” for claims of radioactive contamination in nearby communities, now riddled with rare cancers that are claiming children.

“We’ve got alarming cancer rates,” said Matt Brewster, noting Pike County is number one in Ohio for cancer rates, as compiled by the state health department.


The US Department of Energy (DOE) which continues to oversee PORTS, insists radiation around the plant is at safe levels.

However, some of the radioactive particles in the air around PORTS are not the uranium you would expect to find, but something much more deadly: plutonium.

“The chemical and radiological toxicity associated with plutonium is many, many times worse than uranium,” notes Dr. David Manuta, who was the chief scientist at PORTS from 1992 to 2000.

Plutonium and plutonium-related particles are being picked up around Ports, both by the DOE’s own instruments and by independent studies.

In 2017, a DOE air monitor across from the now-closed Zahn’s Corner Middle School, picked up Neptunium-237. The following year, the same monitor found Americium-241. Both elements are byproducts of plutonium.

Ketterer Report by Local12WKRC on Scribd   AT TOP

May 10, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment

New Mexico Governor concerned over plans for plutonium waste being disposed of in Carlsbad.

Adrian Hedden, Carlsbad Current-Argus, 20 Apr 22,

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signaled support for an activist group opposing a plan at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant to dispose of diluted, weapons-grade plutonium in the underground nuclear waste repository near Carlsbad.

Lujan Grisham, in an April 8 letter to U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, shared a petition circulated by Santa Fe-based group 285 All in opposition of the plan and called on the federal Department of Energy to “take action” to address the concerns.

The plan proposed by the DOE would see 35 metric tons of down-blended plutonium waste sent from the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas to Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico for processing.

It would then be sent to the DOE’s Savannah River in South Carolina for final preparation and then to the WIPP site in southeast New Mexico for disposal…………..

Critics of the proposal argued the plan would transport nuclear waste across New Mexico multiple times, and the inclusion of down-blended plutonium would mark an “illegal” expansion of WIPP’s statutorily allowed waste streams.

The petition expressing those fears was signed by 1,146 people in New Mexico and delivered to Lujan Grisham’s office in Santa Fe on March 1.

In her letter to Granholm, Lujan Grisham called on the agency which owns and operates WIPP to consider the concerns raised in the petition.

April 21, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment

USA’s production for plutonium ”pits”will fall short of the goal.

NNSA Pick To Review Plutonium Pit Plan As Goal Appears Out Of Reach, March 22, 2022 The Biden administration’s pick to lead the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) military programs told lawmakers he would review the plan to increase production of plutonium pits at two NNSA locations, as it becomes increasingly evident the administration will likely fall short of the… (Subscribers only)

March 24, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Japan’s power companies move to reduce plutonium stockpiles held overseas

Utilities move to reduce plutonium stockpiles held overseas, By JUNICHIRO NAGASAKI/ Staff Writer, March 8, 2022   Japan’s leading power companies decided to transfer ownership of tons of plutonium stored in Britain and France for reprocessing in a quest to reduce the stockpile as quickly as possible.

The plan was unveiled Feb. 18 by the Tokyo-based Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan (FEPC). The recycling program will allow operators of pluthermal generation facilities to use plutonium produced by other utilities.

Japan has nearly 40 tons of plutonium in storage, fueling international concerns over its potential for use in nuclear weapons.

Major utilities in Japan commission facilities in Britain and France to extract plutonium from spent nuclear fuel produced at atomic power plants in this country. It is processed into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel for reuse at domestic nuclear plants.

Japan’s plutonium stockpiles in Britain and France totaled 21.8 tons and 15.4 tons, respectively, as of December 2020. Britain shut down its only MOX plant in 2011, which means it can no longer reprocess plutonium.

As a result, and for accounting purposes, pluthermal operators such as Kyushu Electric Power Co. will exchange their plutonium reserves in Britain for the stockpile in France for use by Tokyo Electric Power Co. and other utilities that have yet to introduce pluthermal generation. The plutonium will then be reprocessed and imported back to Japan.

As a first step, 700 kilograms of plutonium will come under the ownership transfer program for use in fiscal 2026 at the No. 3 reactor of Kyushu Electric’s Genkai plant in Saga Prefecture. 

The FEPC anticipates that pluthermal power production will be in service in at least 12 reactors across Japan by fiscal 2030.

As things currently stand, the technology only applies to four reactors: the No. 3 reactor of the Genkai plant; the No. 3 reactor of Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata plant in Ehime Prefecture; and the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors of Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture.

For that reason, utilities have not managed to drastically reduce the volume of stored plutonium.

A reprocessing facility operated by Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, to recover plutonium from spent nuclear fuel is scheduled for completion in the first half of fiscal 2022.

But there are fears the treatment plant will not start full-scale operations to stop plutonium from accumulating further. With that in mind, the FEPC began considering how to reduce the amount of stockpiled plutonium.

March 8, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan | Leave a comment

Activist groups to rally against plutonium disposal project at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

Adrian HeddenCarlsbad Current-Argus 23 Feb 22,
A plan to dilute weapons-grade plutonium and then dispose of it at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, an underground repository for low-level nuclear waste near Carlsbad, drew concerns from around New Mexico amid fears transporting this stream of waste could risk public safety.

The U.S. Department of Energy announced in 2020 a plan that would ship the plutonium from the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas to Los Alamos National Laboratory where it would be chemically diluted.

The waste would then head to the DOE’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina for packaging before the final shipment to WIPP in southeast New Mexico.

This would mean the 34 metric tons of the waste on the way to its final resting place at the WIPP site could pass through New Mexico three times.

Cynthia Weehler, co-chair of Santa Fe-based activist group 285 All said this creates an unacceptable risk for local communities in New Mexico and 11 states she said the waste would travel through.  

285 All advocates for issues throughout New Mexico, focusing on U.S. Highway 285 which stretches from the mountains in northern New Mexico down into the high desert and oilfields of the southeast region, crossing into West Texas.

That’s why Weehler and a consortium of groups critical of WIPP and nuclear activities in New Mexico planned to deliver a petition to New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham next week, asking the state’s highest government leader to oppose the plutonium project.

“Unless New Mexico says NO to WIPP expansion, other disposal locations will not be developed, and WIPP will always be the only dump site, which is not fair. New Mexico never agreed to bear the burden of being the only site,” read a portion of the petition.

Weehler said the petition has about 1,140 signatures as of Monday and is being distributed in the Santa Fe area and to communities along the transportation routes.

The petition will be delivered to the State Capitol at 11:30 a.m., March 1 during a press conference on the east side of the Roundhouse.  

“We don’t expect an accident to happen every week or every community, but when you increase the time and the shipments, we just see this as an inevitability over the time frame,” Weehler said. “It’s going to be a huge increase in shipments and it’s going to last almost this whole century.”

Weehler said Lujan Grisham should cite the legal agreement between the State and DOE that defines WIPP’s mission: to dispose of low-level transuranic (TRU) waste at the site near Carlsbad, streams she said were pre-determined by the agreement and should not be expanded.

If the DOE’s plutonium plan moves forward, Weehler said it would amount to an “expansion” of WIPP both in its mission and the volume of waste it would accept.

“The waste would be plutonium-contaminated material, contaminated during the production of nuclear weapons,” Weehler said. “This is something different (than TRU waste).”

WIPP officials said this was not the case…………………………….. 

The plutonium would be “down blended” meaning its level of radioactivity would be lowered so that the waste would qualify as TRU waste and could be disposed of at WIPP without adjusting federal policy.

“In order for it qualify, they’re having to dilute it. They’re having to adulterate it,” Weehler said. “This will never be acceptable. For them to say that is just unbelievable to me.” ………..

February 24, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, opposition to nuclear, USA | Leave a comment