This report is the product of a congressional request1 to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine for an evaluation of the general viability of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration’s (DOE-NNSA’s2) conceptual plans for disposing of 34 metric tons (MT) of surplus plutonium in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) (DOS 2010). Congress asked the National Academies to evaluate two issues:
- DOE-NNSA’s plans to ship, receive, and emplace surplus plutonium in WIPP; and
- DOE-NNSA’s understanding of the impacts of these plans on WIPP and WIPP-bound waste streams.
See Box 1-1 for the full statement of task.
2 Throughout this report, the committee refers to DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration as “DOE-NNSA,” the DOE’s Office of Environmental Management as “DOE-EM,” and to the broader Department of Energy as “DOE.”
The National Academies appointed a committee of 13 technical experts to carry out this evaluation; their biographies are provided in Appendix A. The committee held eight meetings to gather information for this evaluation and prepare this Interim Report; agendas for the committee’s information-gathering meetings are provided in Appendix B.
This report, the first of two to be issued during this study, was developed to provide initial input to Congress and advice to DOE-NNSA within the originally estimated timeline of the study. It provides an interim evaluation of the general viability and issues surrounding the DOE-NNSA’s conceptual plans as assessed by the information provided to date. The committee’s assessment for this Interim Report is a high-level review of the proposed diluted and dispose process, current WIPP capacity, and requirements of the PMDA. The second report, to be issued at the conclusion of the study, will address the entire statement of task (Box 1-1). Key documents and information such as National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) strategies and decisions, criticality and performance assessments, plans for international monitoring and verification, and programmatic information contained within DOE’s life-cycle cost estimate are not publicly available for the committee’s review. Therefore, the viability of DOE-NNSA’s conceptual plans on transportation safety, security, and regulatory compliance (Task 2.a), and pre- and post-closure safety and performance of WIPP (Task 2.d) are not addressed.
This report is organized into three chapters:
- Chapter 1 (this chapter) provides information about the tasking for this study.
- Chapter 2 describes the proposed disposition of surplus plutonium by the United States, including DOE-NNSA’s conceptual plans for disposing of 34 MT of surplus plutonium in WIPP.3
- Chapter 3 provides committee interim findings, conclusions, and recommendations as well as questions on DOE-NNSA’s conceptual plans.
The committee distinguishes between findings, conclusions and recommendations using the following criteria:
- Findings: summary statements about the evidence with which no reasonable person could argue without rejecting the evidence—no judgment is involved,
- Conclusions: judgments based on one or more findings or analysis of the evidence—never contain the word “should,”
- Recommendations: proposed actions based on one or more conclusions—usually contain the word “should” and indicates an actor and an action.
3 Dispositioning, disposal and storage are used throughout this report with the following definitions (as defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA 2016): Dispositioning: Consigning of, or arrangements for the consigning of, radioactive waste for some specified (interim or final) destination, for example for the purpose of processing, disposal or storage. Disposal: Emplacement of waste in an appropriate facility without the intention of retrieval. Storage: The holding of radioactive sources, radioactive material, spent fuel or radioactive waste in a facility that provides for their/its containment, with the intention of retrieval.