WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced this week that it had successfully disassembled nuclear weapons “pits” and converted them into more than 240 kg of plutonium oxide, an initial step in permanent plutonium disposition. The certified oxide is an initial source of feed for NNSA’s Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility, which is currently under construction at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. The disassembly, conversion and certification, which were completed at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), is a significant accomplishment in an ongoing effort to safely dispose of surplus weapon-grade plutonium.
“The successful conversion of plutonium metal into plutonium oxide resulted from a partnership between NNSA’s Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation and Defense Programs offices and is an important accomplishment that demonstrates a safe and proven process for disassembling nuclear weapon cores that also provides material for the MOX Facility,” said Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Anne Harrington. “This key component of the U.S. plutonium disposition strategy enables the U.S. to meet international nonproliferation commitments while advancing President Obama’s goal of permanently reducing the number of nuclear weapons across the globe.”
NNSA developed technologies that would both disassemble nuclear weapon pits and convert the resulting plutonium metal into an unclassified plutonium oxide form that is suitable as feed for the MOX Facility. LANL is expected to convert at least two metric tons (MT) of plutonium to oxide by 2018 as part of a larger effort to provide up to 10 MT of early feedstock for MOX.
NNSA used the Advanced Recovery and Integrated Extraction System (ARIES) at LANL to prepare, package and certify the plutonium oxide product. LANL successfully demonstrated that the ARIES process and procedures met the demanding Nuclear Regulatory Commission requirements for nuclear facility operations and record-keeping (NQA-1). Following a rigorous product certification process, Shaw AREVA MOX Services, the prime contractor for the design, construction and start-up of the MOX facility, has officially accepted the first 240 kg of plutonium oxide from LANL for the MOX facility.
Once at the MOX facility in South Carolina, the plutonium oxide from LANL will be blended with depleted uranium, fabricated into MOX fuel and irradiated in domestic nuclear power reactors. After the MOX fuel is irradiated in civilian reactors, it is no longer suitable for use in nuclear weapons.
Through the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA), the U.S. and Russia have agreed to each dispose of at least 34 metric tons of surplus weapon-grade plutonium, enough material for approximately 17,000 nuclear weapons. To implement plutonium disposition in the United States, NNSA is building the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility to fabricate the plutonium feedstock into MOX fuel.
A fact sheet on NNSA’s plutonium disposition program is available online.
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Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science in the nation’s national security enterprise. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability, and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; reduces the global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad.