Consensus Report

Disposal of Surplus Plutonium at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant: Interim Report (2018)

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

In response to a request from Congress, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has appointed an expert committee to evaluate the general viability of the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration conceptual plans for disposing of 34 metric tons (MT) of surplus plutonium in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), a deep geologic repository near Carlsbad, New Mexico. The U.S. stockpile of surplus plutonium currently exceeds 60 metric tons (MT) and exists in many forms, including reactor fuel, pits from retired nuclear weapons, used nuclear fuel, and scraps and residues from nuclear weapons production.

These materials are being disposed of in accordance with the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA), signed by the United States and the Russian Federation in 2000 and amended in 2010, which requires both countries to dispose of surplus plutonium by integrating it into mixed oxide (MOX) fuel followed by irradiation in commercial nuclear reactors. However, DOE is pursuing a different disposal approach -- a dilute and dispose process -- that DOE says would cost less than half of the MOX option and would meet the intent of the PMDA.

This interim report provides a high-level review of the proposed diluted and dispose process, current WIPP capacity, and requirements of the PMDA. A second report, to be issued after the committee receives additional planning documents from DOE, will address the statement of task in its entirety.