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Science  18 May 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6390, pp. 690-692
DOI: 10.1126/science.360.6390.690

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  • Preventing future failure of plutonium disposition strategies
    • Neil Hyatt, Department of Materials Science & Engineering, The University of Sheffield, UK.

    Following its decision terminate the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF) at Savannah River, after a decade of construction activity and expenditure of more than $7.6 Billion [1], the US Department of Energy plans to “dilute and dispose” of 34 tons of surplus weapons plutonium in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). Whilst this may present an expedient route to reducing the immediate proliferation risk of this material, the long term safety of this disposition option is uncertain [2,3]. In particular, the original disposal system safety case is challenged by the increase in envisaged plutonium inventory (by a factor of three), increased risk of human intrusion, and lack of sufficiently demanding performance requirements on the plutonium disposal package, due to reliance on the geological isolation [3]. The failure of MFFF will also urge further scrutiny of the UK policy to disposition up to 140 tons of separated plutonium as MOX fuel, with no evident appetite for utilisation in commercial reactors [4].
    In 1994, the National Academy of Sciences advised the US Government to adopt a “dual-track strategy” for managing surplus plutonium, with parallel development of MOX fuel and immobilisation approaches to de-risk the programme, given the uncertainties in cost and technical implementation, and to achieve earlier completion of the disposition mission [5]. Immobilisation technology has matured considerably over the last two decades and is considered a credible option...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.

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