March 4, 2002 

General John Gordon
Administrator, National Nuclear Security Agency
Department of Energy
1000 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20585 

Substantial Changes to Plutonium Disposition Mandate Supplemental EIS

Dear General Gordon:

On February 8, the Nuclear Control Institute (NCI) wrote to Secretary Abraham to explain why the Department of Energy (DOE) is required to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) given the substantial changes and significant new circumstances pertinent to the plutonium disposition program, as announced on January 23. Since that letter was written, it has become apparent that there are additional substantial changes to the program that underscore DOEs legal obligation to prepare an SEIS. 

The additional substantial changes to the plutonium disposition program, which trigger need for an SEIS, are twofold: 

1) the decision to build a new waste solidification facility at the Savannah River Site (SRS) to support the mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX) mission, and 

2) the decision to add at least two additional, unnamed reactors for MOX use. 

Under DOEs National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations, these changes each constitute a substantial change from the DOEs Surplus Plutonium Disposition Final Environmental Impact Statement (DOE/EIS-0283)(Nov.1999) (SPDEIS) and the subsequent Record of Decision (ROD), dated January 11, 2000. DOE regulations require DOE to prepare a supplemental EIS if there are substantial changes to the proposal or significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns 10 C.F.R. 1021.314(a).  

New Waste Solidification Facility at the Savannah River Site 

On February 13, at a meeting between the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Duke Cogema Stone & Webster (DCS), the contractor carrying out the MOX program for DOE, NCI learned that DOE is now planning to build a new waste solidification facility at SRS to handle the liquid radioactive waste streams coming from the NRC-licensed MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF). The DCS handouts at that meeting state that program changes include solidification of waste in lieu of processing through SRS waste tanks and that waste processing of high-a and uranium waste streams from the MOX facility would now be handled via processing & solidification at SRS facility off the MFFF site. This new facility thus would not be licensed by the NRC but its operation would rely on waste storage tanks located in the MFFF plant which would provide the feed for solidification. Apparently, the cost of this facility is included in the $3.8 billion cost announced for the MOX-only program, but no cost estimate for the facility has been publicly presented nor has it been subject to any NEPA review.  

DOE stated in the SPDEIS that liquid transuranic (TRU) wastes generated during operation of the pit conversion and MOX facilities at SRS would be evaporated or solidified before being packaged for storage, that such wastes would be certified to WIPP waste acceptance criteria, and that loading the TRUPACT for shipment to WIPP would occur at the planned TRU Waste Characterization and Certification Facility at SRS. (H., pp. H-58) However, the SPDEIS fails to describe any further details about that TRU waste solidification facility.  

Given that a much larger amount of impure plutonium is now intended for processing into MOX---plutonium which DOE has always maintained could not be processed for MOX use---it is critical that DOE fully analyze under NEPA both the plutonium purification process and associated equipment needed, as well as how the resulting waste streams will be managed. The new waste solidification facility, required to support operation of the MFFF plant, in and of itself constitutes a substantial change to the program and thus mandates preparation of an SEIS. 

DOE Seeks Two More MOX Reactors 

With the issuance of DOEs February 15 Report to Congress: Disposition of Surplus Defense Plutonium at Savannah River Site, it is now known how DOE hopes to accelerate the rate of plutonium disposition.  According to the report, which proposes increasing the rate of disposition via MOX from 2 metric tons (MT) to 3.5 MT per year, successful implementation requires obtaining two additional commercial reactors to participate in the program and expanding the rate of plutonium disposition in Russia.  However, the report does not provide any details about how DOE plans to accomplish these objectives and meet the aggressive schedule put forward in the report.   

            In fact, DOE may need even more than two reactors to carry out the new disposition rate. At the currently planned maximum core loading of 40% MOX --- a maximum rooted in technical limits of operating light-water reactors --- a large pressurized-water reactor (1150 MWe) operating on a standard 1.5-year refueling cycle can accommodate at most 0.5 MT of plutonium per year.  Under the old plutonium disposition strategy, which relied on the four reactors currently in the program (Duke Powers Catawba and McGuire ice-condenser plants), only 2 MT per year could have been absorbed.  Thus a minimum of three new reactors --- and probably four --- would likely be needed to accommodate the additional 1.5 MT of plutonium per year without exceeding the current maximum core loading.   

Before Dominion Resources removed its North Anna 1&2 reactors from the plutonium disposition program in April 2000, the maximum estimated throughput for all six reactors was about 2.9 MT per year, and it was estimated that 13 years would  have been required to irradiate 34 MT, beginning in 2007 and ending in 2020. Under the new program, batch delivery of fuel to reactors is scheduled to begin in Fall 2008, and the program is slated for completion in 2019 (11 years duration). Thus, it would appear that at least seven reactors --- three more than the number currently under contract --- would be required to dispose of 34 MT over the shorter time period.  More realistically, the start of the program may be further delayed as a result of the changes to the MOX fabrication plant design that are necessary to purify the plutonium feedstock that was originally slated for immobilization; thus, completion by 2019 would likely require yet another reactor.   

The details of how DOE intends to locate three or even two additional reactors for the MOX program without causing any delays to the existing schedule --- and reducing the overall cost of MOX irradiation by several hundred million dollars to boot --- were not discussed in the Report to Congress.  As mentioned above, the North Anna plant in Virginia was originally part of the plutonium disposition program, but its owner, Dominion Resources, dropped out in April 2000, in what was described as a business decision.  Part of the reason for this was the fact that North Anna would have required additional control rods or modification of the existing control rods to accommodate a 40% MOX loading, which would have been costly.  It is highly unlikely that Dominion could be persuaded to participate again in the controversial MOX program without significant economic incentives.   

A Supplement to the Draft SPDEIS (April 1999) included site-specific analyses of the McGuire, Catawba and North Anna reactors, and this information was incorporated into the Final SPDEIS. Given that Dominion is unlikely to offer its reactors for the MOX program, DOE must fully explain in an SEIS which reactors are now being considered for MOX use and fully analyze in this SEIS the site-specific environmental impacts of MOX use in those reactors, including severe accident scenarios. A generic reactor assessment of MOX use, as discussed in the DOEs Storage and Disposition of Weapons-Usable Fissile Materials Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (DOE/EIS-0229)(Dec. 1996), is insufficient to meet NEPA requirements. Further, DOE itself established the precedent that a Supplement is needed in order to assess reactor information of a site-specific nature.  

Request for Supplement Analysis and Associated Determination 

We understand that DOE may be preparing a Supplement Analysis to aid in determining which steps to take under NEPA, given the changes to the plutonium disposition program. According to DOE regulations [10 C.F.R. 1021.314(c)(3)], DOE shall make the determination and related Supplement Analysis available to the public for informationupon written request. Thus, I am requesting copies of any supplement analysis or analyses and associated determinations prepared due to changes in any aspect of the plutonium disposition program. 

Status of Two Metric Tons of Plutonium Remains Uncertain 

Since the announcement on January 23 that 2 MT of very impure plutonium were going to be sent directly to waste, DOE has failed to clarify the disposition route for this material. It is believed that DOE had planned to downblend the material and send it directly to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico. Expressing his opposition to this idea, Senator Pete Domenici wrote to Secretary Abraham on February 5, stating that dilution of weapons materials, simply in order to facilitate disposal, raises serious questions about our adherence to the same international controls on weapon-related materials that we expect other nations to follow. All disposal options in addition to WIPP, such as direct immobilization in vitrified material at the Defense Waste Processing Facility at SRS, must be fully analyzed in the SEIS. 

Record of Decision Must Not be Revised Prior to Issuance of a Final SEIS 

Given that a number of substantial changes have been made to the plutonium disposition program, it is clear than an SEIS must be prepared. Simply amending the ROD without preparation of an SEIS would constitute a failure on DOEs part to live up to legal requirements stipulated in both DOE and Council on Environmental Quality NEPA regulations. Thus, I request that you make a determination that an SEIS must be prepared and take immediate steps toward its preparation. Given the serious national security, environmental and safety issues presented by disposition of surplus weapons plutonium, it is of the highest importance that DOEs decisions be based on legally required documentation and with full public participation. To do less would further endanger the status of the plutonium disposition program and undermine the admirable non-proliferation goal of removing surplus weapons plutonium from reuse both in the United States and Russia. 

Please contact me at 202-822-8444 or if you have questions about this letter or our position on the need for an SEIS. I look forward to your timely response to this request. 


Tom Clements

cc: Under Secretary Bob Card
Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Proliferation Linton Brooks
Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management Jessie Roberson
Acting Assistant Deputy Administrator Edward Siskin
Director Carol Borgstrom, Office of NEPA Policy and Compliance
Ms. Barbara Mazurowski, Manager, Rocky Flats Field Office