Weapons-grade plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU) are the critical ingredients for making a nuclear weapon. With the end of the Cold War, hundreds of tons of these materials were determined to be surplus to U.S. and Russian defense needs. Denying access to plutonium and HEU is the best way to prevent nuclear proliferation among rogue states and terrorist organizations.
The most certain method to prevent these materials from falling into the wrong hands is to dispose of them. While disposing of HEU involves a relatively simple downblending process with depleted or natural uranium, disposing of plutonium is more complicated.
Russian Plutonium Disposition
In September 2000, the United States and Russia signed a Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA). The United States is providing assistance to Russia for implementation of Russia's plutonium disposition program. In November 2007, Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman and Rosatom Director Sergei Kiriyenko signed a joint statement which reaffirmed Russia's commitment to dispose of its surplus weapons plutonium. This joint statement presents a technically and financially credible approach for Russian plutonium disposition that is consistent with Russia's national energy strategy, relying upon the use of both existing and planned Russian fast reactors.
U.S. Plutonium Disposition
The United States is firmly committed to disposing of excess weapons plutonium. Given the complexity and long-term uncertainty facing the MOX project, the United States is stepping back to review options. This step in no way lessens the US commitment to meeting obligations under the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement. The United States is reaffirming its commitment to disposing of excess plutonium and ensuring that we are able to follow-through in the decades to come.
However, we owe it to the American people to continually review our work and make strategic decisions for the future. The MOX project cost has grown significantly, and given the current budgetary environment, we owe it to taxpayers to step back and look at this project as well as alternative approaches rather than spending billions more without careful consideration.
With billions more likely needed to complete construction, and tens of billions more needed to execute the program in the coming years, the annual budget debates in Congress have raised the issue whether sufficient long-term funding will be available to support the MOX project and all of NNSA’s critical nuclear security priorities. In an environment where the Budget Control Act and sequestration severely curtail our resources, we need to step back and review all available options, of which MOX continues to be an option.