WASHINGTON, D.C. – A sizeable amount of U.S. nuclear weapons material has been removed from nuclear weapons sites this fiscal year, according to the head of the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). With the completion of a recent shipment from NNSA's Y-12 National Security Complex, a total of 12 metric tons (or more than 26,000 pounds) of plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU) is now on the path to disposition, when it will no longer be able to be used in a nuclear weapon.
By reaching 12 metric tons of special nuclear material removed from its sites, NNSA has already surpassed its goal for the entire fiscal year.
"As the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile number continues to go down under this administration, it is important for security and nuclear nonproliferation reasons to dispose of the excess weapons material," said NNSA Administrator Thomas D'Agostino. "It has been a priority of mine to consolidate nuclear weapons material to fewer sites, and to quickly and safely dispose of the material we no longer need."
The bulk of the material consists of HEU from NNSA's Y-12 National Security Complex. Excess HEU is shipped to different facilities for "downblending," or conversion, to low enriched uranium (LEU), which cannot be used in a nuclear weapon. Much of the LEU from Y-12 is used for the Reliable Fuel Supply Initiative, which would supply fuel for countries with good nonproliferation credentials.
As part of D'Agostino's vision of the future U.S. nuclear weapons complex, NNSA also plans to consolidate nuclear materials at five sites by 2012, two years ahead of the original plan, and with significantly reduced square footage at those sites by 2017. This will further improve security and reduce security costs, and is part of D'Agostino's overall effort to transform the Cold War-era nuclear weapons complex into a 21st century nuclear security enterprise.
The total inventory of special nuclear materials requiring the highest level of security protection has been removed from NNSA's Sandia National Laboratories. NNSA has already reduced its inventory at its Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory by 25 percent. Some of this material goes to other NNSA sites, but much of the surplus plutonium from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is sent to the Savannah River Site where it is proposed to be turned into fuel at the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility, pending future decisions.
Excess nuclear weapons material is the result of lower stockpile numbers and the number of nuclear weapons NNSA has dismantled. In 2004, President Bush directed that, by 2012, the size of the overall nuclear weapons stockpile (both reserve and operationally deployed) should be reduced nearly 50 percent from its size when he took office in 2001. That goal was met five years early, so he further directed that the stockpile be reduced almost 15 percent more by 2012. Currently, the stockpile is the smallest it has been since the Eisenhower administration.
NNSA dismantles retired weapons and has significantly increased dismantlement rates over the last few years. The agency most recently completed dismantlement of two nuclear weapon types, the W79 and W56, and continues to take apart other weapons. Dismantlement rates have increased enough, including a 146% increase last year, so that as more weapons have been retired by President Bush, NNSA will still be able to dismantle all retired weapons within the original timeframe.
Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a separately organized agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce 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 United States and abroad.
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