Unlimited Release
Printed October 1996


J.P. Hinton
G.A. Harms
R.W. Barnard
L.W. Kruse
D.E. Bennett
J.A. Milloy
R.W. Crocker
W.A. Swansinger
M.J. Davis
K.J. Ystesund

Sandia National Laboratories

H.J. Groh
Savannah River Site (ret.)

E.A. Hakkila
W.L. Hawkins
Los Alamos National Laboratory

E.E. Hill
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory


This report is the product of a four-month independent technical assessment of potential proliferation vulnerabilities associated with the plutonium disposition alternatives currently under review by DOE/MD. The scoped of this MD-chartered Sandia-led study was limited to technical considerations that could reduce proliferation resistance during various stages of the disposition process below the Stored Weapon/Spent Fuel standards. Both overt and covert threats from host nation and unauthorized parties were considered. The results of this study will be integrated with complementary work by others into an overall Nonproliferation and Arms Control Assessment in support of a Secretarial Record of Decision later this year for disposition of surplus U.S. weapons plutonium.


[page 4-14] Dry Storage Casks

The mass of a container is a barrier to theft. However, the wide availability of energetic materials forces one to look carefully at potential attacks that could rapidly open a container and allow the extraction of its contents. The tools available to the thief fall into the following classes.

Conical Shaped Charges Penetration / Perforation
Linear shaped Charges Cutting steel
High Explosives Breaching Charges
Low Explosives Lifting Charges or Bursting
Burn Bars Thermite Cutting of metals and concrete


Targets that consist of massive casks containing fragile components such as fuel elements present additional challenges. Excessive explosive charge size can rupture and deform the fragile component delaying their separation.

Given adequate time and information an explosive/thermal attack can be designed to efficiently penetrate very large, complex objects. To get a sense of the time that might be required, reference is made to some experiments conducted in the 1970's by Sandia National Laboratories. The experiments were directed at determining the delay various barriers would create. Though the goals of this set of experiments were different from those of a team trying to extract spent fuel from a dry storage cask, the times should be representative. In the absence of actual test data on dry storage casks, an estimate of 15 to 30 minutes is reasonable.


[page 5-2]

5.1.2. Accessibility


In all cases it is estimated that intrinsic resistance to theft could be overcome in 15 to 20 minutes by one heavy lift helicopter and a few people on the ground.


[page 5-3]

5.1.3 Immobilization Conclusion


As is the case with spent fuel, the intrinsic features for immobilized forms should not be relied upon to provide significant levels of proliferation resistance prior to emplacement in an underground repository. Until that time, sufficient measures must be provided to prevent unauthorized parties from accessing and removing sufficient material. The shortfalls in intrinsic barriers relative to the SFS [Spent Fuel Standard] should be recognized in configuring adequate institutional protective measures.

The entire Red Team Proliferation Vulnerability Report is available on the Web from the U.S. Department of Energy at


[What's New] Return to What's New        [Sea Shipments] Return to Sea Shipment Page

 [Home Page]Home Page