USA sets out nuclear security strategy

06 April 2016

The US Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has outlined its strategic plans for reducing the threat of nuclear proliferation and terrorism, including changes to the USA's program to dispose of surplus military plutonium.

The information was published on 1 April in Prevent, Counter and Respond - A Strategic Plan to Reduce Global Nuclear Threats (FY 2017-FY 20201) - referred to as FY 2017 NPCR - which updates a full report on the NNSA's integrated strategy for preventing, countering and responding to nuclear weapons proliferation and nuclear and radiological threats.

The report highlights the Iran Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) - the agreement between the IAEA and the E3/EU+3 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK and the USA) to ensure the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear activities - as a major development representing a significant change to the nuclear proliferation threat environment. However, it also notes the emergence of new terrorist threats in Western Europe and the USA, increasingly frequent and sophisticated cyber-attacks, and the emergence of new and potentially proliferation-relevant technologies - specifically additive manufacturing, also known as 3D-printing - as key developments in the "threat environment".

The NNSA's Emerging Technologies Working Group, established in June 2015, is tasked with identifying and analysing such emerging technology developments.

Plutonium disposition

In the report, the NNSA says the US administration's proposal to pursue a "dilution and disposal" approach to plutonium disposition, instead of converting it into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel for use in light water reactors, represents a significant change. The USA is required to dispose of 34 tonnes of weapons grade plutonium under a weapons reduction agreement signed with Russia in June 2000, but President Barack Obama's FY2017 budget submission proposes a "dilution and disposal" approach as enabling the material to be disposed of sooner, at lower cost and with lower technical risks than conversion to MOX.

The NNSA's strategic plan for fiscal 2017 includes the completion of pre-conceptual design and the start of conceptual design for the dilution and disposal approach; the continuation of ongoing work to develop a detailed "lifecycle baseline" for the program; studies to optimize the final waste form, including optimizing container loading and material configuration at the repository; and conducting environmental analyses and examining the potential legislative changes needed to enable the disposition of diluted plutonium "at an appropriate facility".

FY 2017 NPCR is available on the NNSA's website.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News