Nuclear Materials:

Plutonium Processing in the Nuclear Weapons Complex

RCED-92-109FS: Published: Aug 20, 1992. Publicly Released: Sep 10, 1992.

Additional Materials:


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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Energy's (DOE) methods and facilities for plutonium processing.

GAO found that: (1) DOE uses two basic processes for recovering plutonium, the aqueous and pyrochemical processes, at four processing sites; (2) because of environmental and safety concerns and reductions in nuclear weapons, DOE has closed most of its processing facilities, and only the processing facilities at Los Alamos are currently operating; (3) sites which formerly produced plutonium or processed it into nuclear weapons components all used aqueous processing and bomb reduction, but varied in their use of the other pyrochemical processes; (4) deciding whether or not a particular type of scrap will be processed to recover plutonium primarily depends on how the cost to process the plutonium compares with the cost to dispose of the scrap as radioactive waste; and (5) the degradation of the nuclear weapons complex and the end of the Cold War have reduced the need for nuclear weapons and plutonium, and will affect decisions as to which plutonium processing plants will resume operations.

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