DOE Plans to Move Tons of Surplus Plutonium to WIPP and LANL Postpones Tritium Venting

The Department of Energy (DOE) published a notice about its plans to prepare an environmental impact statement for the disposal of 34 metric tons of radioactive surplus plutonium at the deep geologic Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), located in southeastern New Mexico.  DOE NOI Surplus Pu EIS FedReg 121620

DOE is proposing to dilute the plutonium before disposal at WIPP.  But in a report earlier this year, the National Academy of Sciences stated that WIPP’s legal capacity can only hold waste long ago designated for disposal from DOE sites.  Review of the Department of Energy’s Plans for Disposal of Surplus Plutonium in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant at

Over the last 25 years, several U.S. Presidents have designated more than 62 metric tons, or about 69 tons, of plutonium as surplus.  Previously, DOE has proposed immobilizing it for disposal in a geologic repository other than WIPP and fabricating it into fuel for nuclear power plants.  Another option is to continue to store it at the Pantex Plant in Texas, or the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

DOE has also proposed building new facilities at the Savannah River Site, including a plutonium pit disassembly and conversion facility; a mixed-oxide fuel fabrication facility; and a waste solidification building.  Billions of dollars have been spent, but none of those facilities is in operation.     

To begin a new environmental impact statement process, DOE asks the public to comment about what the scope of the statement should be.  The scope will necessarily include alternative proposals, including a no action alternative.

A virtual public meeting will be held in January.  Written scoping comments are due to DOE by February 1, 2021.  CCNS will post sample public comments on our website after the first of the year.

In other news, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) announced that it would postpone venting over 100,000 Curies of radioactive tritium from four Flanged Tritium Waste Containers, or FTWCs, until spring or summer 2021.  LANL determined to delay the venting activities because winter is approaching and because the New Mexico Environment Department has not responded to LANL’s request for temporary authorization to vent.

LANL held two virtual public meetings about the proposal with over 200 people attending.  LANL accepted questions but did not provide responses during the meeting.  Their responses are now posted on the website.  A fact sheet and powerpoint presentations are also available there.

At the same time, the resistance is formidable.  One influential example is the Tewa Women United petition that says the venting must be halted for the protection of vulnerable New Mexico communities.  Over 3,000 people have signed it.

LANL will continue to update its FTWC website.  They expect to schedule a virtual meeting before any venting takes place, as has been recommended.

  1. Wednesday, December 16 from 5:30 to 7:15– Semi-annual EPA Individual Stormwater Permit for LANL Public Meeting. For the draft agenda and more information, go to


  1. Thursday, December 24th – DOE’s response is due to the DNFSB re: Technical Report 46, Potential Energetic Chemical Reaction Events Involving Transuranic Waste at Los Alamos National Laboratory,


  1. Tuesday, January 19th at noon – New Mexico Legislature begins 60-day session.             


  1. Mark Your Calendar: Friday, January 22nd – The United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons goes into effect. 


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