NNSA Sets Spring 2014 as Target For Plutonium-Disposition Decision

Douglas P. Guarino, Global Security Newswire
See more stories about...
Douglas P. Guarino, Global Security Newswire
Oct. 9, 2013, 11:02 a.m.

WASH­ING­TON – The Na­tion­al Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion has made spring of 2014 the tar­get for com­plet­ing an as­sess­ment of its op­tions for dis­pos­ing sur­plus weapons-grade plutoni­um — a move ob­serv­ers say sug­gests the con­struc­tion slow­down at the agency’s con­tro­ver­sial re­pro­cessing fa­cil­ity in South Car­o­lina could last an­oth­er year.

The agency an­nounced the con­struc­tion slow­down of the mixed-ox­ide fuel fab­ric­a­tion fa­cil­ity at its Sa­van­nah River site in April 2013, as part of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s rol­lout of its fisc­al 2014 budget pro­pos­al. The fa­cil­ity is meant to dis­pose of weapons-grade ma­ter­i­als by con­vert­ing them in­to fuel for power plants, but a series of delays and cost over­runs as­so­ci­ated with the pro­ject promp­ted the ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­con­sider wheth­er there are more ef­fi­cient dis­pos­al op­tions.

Anne Har­ring­ton, deputy NNSA ad­min­is­trat­or for de­fense nuc­le­ar non­pro­lif­er­a­tion, told Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire in Au­gust that the agency would not re­lease an an­ti­cip­ated sup­ple­ment­al en­vir­on­ment­al im­pact state­ment re­gard­ing plutoni­um dis­pos­i­tion un­til after it com­pleted the as­sess­ment of its op­tions. At the time, however, Har­ring­ton did not in­dic­ate how long that pro­cess would take. The en­vir­on­ment­al im­pact state­ment had pre­vi­ously been sched­ule for re­lease earli­er this year.

A no­tice the agency made pub­lic Oct. 4 ex­tends the con­tract for work on the doc­u­ment un­til Septem­ber 2014. The no­tice, dated Sept. 5, 2013, says the new tar­get date for is­su­ing the fi­nal en­vir­on­ment­al im­pact state­ment is April 30, 2013. NNSA con­tract­ing of­ficer Ariane Kam­in­sky told GSN on Wed­nes­day that this was due to a ty­po­graph­ic­al er­ror, and that the real tar­get was to be April 30, 2014. Kam­in­sky said the agency was work­ing to re­vise the no­tice, but de­clined to an­swer ques­tions re­gard­ing wheth­er there would be oth­er changes to the doc­u­ment.

The no­tice cites the on­go­ing as­sess­ment of plutoni­um dis­pos­i­tion op­tions as a reas­on for the delay in is­su­ing the en­vir­on­ment­al im­pact state­ment. It says the com­pleted as­sess­ment is not due un­til mid-fisc­al 2014, or spring of the cal­en­dar year.

Tom Cle­m­ents, of the watch­dog group Friends of the Earth, said the new sched­ule sug­gests the ad­min­is­tra­tion might not an­nounce a de­cision on how to move for­ward with plutoni­um dis­pos­i­tion un­til after it rolls out its fisc­al 2015 budget pro­pos­al. Cle­m­ents, a long-time op­pon­ent of the MOX pro­ject, noted the ad­min­is­tra­tion typ­ic­ally re­leases its budget in late winter or early spring. When it re­leased the fisc­al 2014 pro­pos­al in early April of this year, it was con­sidered un­usu­ally late.

If in fact the ad­min­is­tra­tion re­leases its fisc­al 2015 budget pro­pos­al be­fore the plutoni­um-dis­pos­i­tion as­sess­ment, the budget pro­pos­al would likely in­clude re­duced fund­ing levels for the MOX pro­ject sim­il­ar to the fisc­al 2014 pro­pos­al, Cle­m­ents said. As a res­ult of the new as­sess­ment of op­tions and the con­struc­tion slow­down, the fisc­al 2014 budget called for spend­ing $200 mil­lion less than the pri­or year.

Spokespeople for the ad­min­is­tra­tion and Shaw Areva MOX ser­vices, the com­pany do­ing the con­struc­tion work, could not be reached for com­ment by press time.

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
After Wikileaks Hack, DNC Staffers Stared Using ‘Snowden-Approved’ App
5 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

The Signal app is fast becoming the new favorite among those who are obsessed with the security and untraceabilty of their messaging. Just ask the Democratic National Committee. Or Edward Snowden. As Vanity Fair reports, before news ever broke that the DNC's servers had been hacked, word went out among the organization that the word "Trump" should never be used in their emails, lest it attract hackers' attention. Not long after, all Trump-related messages, especially disparaging ones, would need to be encrypted via the Snowden-approved Signal.

Source:
WARRING FACTIONS?
Freedom Caucus Members May Bolt the RSC
7 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

The Republican Study Committee may lose several members of the House Freedom Caucus next year, "potentially creating a split between two influential groups of House conservatives." The Freedom Caucus was founded at the inception of the current Congress by members who felt that the conservative RSC had gotten too cozy with leadership, "and its roughly 40 members have long clashed with the RSC over what tactics to use when pushing for conservative legislation." As many as 20 members may not join the RSC for the new Congress next year.

Source:
SOME THERAPIES ALREADY IN TRIALS
FDA Approves Emergency Zika Test
9 hours ago
THE LATEST

"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday issued emergency authorization for a Zika diagnostics test from Swiss drugmaker Roche, skirting normal approval channels as the regulator moves to fight the disease's spread." Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that a new study in Nature identifies "about a dozen substances" that could "suppress the pathogen's replication." Some of them are already in clinical trials.

Source:
MONEY HAS BEEN PAID BACK
Medicare Advantage Plans Overcharged Government
10 hours ago
THE DETAILS

According to 37 newly released audits, "some private Medicare plans overcharged the government for the majority of elderly patients they treated." A number of Medicare Advantage plans overstated "the severity of medical conditions like diabetes and depression." The money has since been paid back, though some plans are appealing the federal audits.

Source:
DESPITE CONSERVATIVE OBJECTIONS
Omnibus Spending Bill Likely Getting a Lame-Duck Vote
10 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

"GOP leaders and House Democrats are already laying the groundwork for a short-term continuing resolution" on the budget this fall "that will set up a vote on a catch-all spending bill right before the holidays." As usual, however, the House Freedom Caucus may throw a wrench in Speaker Paul Ryan's gears. The conservative bloc doesn't appear willing to accept any CR that doesn't fund the government into 2017.

Source:
×