[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 6 (Wednesday, January 9, 2013)]
[Pages 1848-1850]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-00239]



Plutonium-238 Production for Radioisotope Power Systems for 
National Aeronautics and Space Administration and National Security 

AGENCY: Department of Energy.

ACTION: Notice of Intent to Prepare a Supplement Analysis; Notice of 
Cancellation of an Environmental Impact Statement.


SUMMARY: The Department of Energy (DOE) issued the Programmatic 
Environmental Impact Statement for Accomplishing Expanded Civilian 
Nuclear Energy Research and Development and Isotope Production Missions 
in the United States, Including the Role of the Fast Flux Test Facility 
(Nuclear Infrastructure or NI PEIS) in December 2000 to evaluate 
alternatives for enhancement of DOE's nuclear infrastructure. After 
considering the analysis in the NI PEIS and other relevant factors, DOE 
decided to reestablish domestic production of plutonium-238 (Pu-238) 
for radioisotope power systems (RPSs) to support the National 
Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and national security 
missions. Although a Record of Decision (ROD) for the NI PEIS was 
published in January 2001, DOE has not implemented the decision to 
date. That decision included using the Advanced Test Reactor at the 
Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and the High Flux Isotope Reactor at 
the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee to irradiate 
neptunium-237 (Np-237) targets; using the Radiochemical Engineering 
Development Center at ORNL to fabricate Np-237 targets and isolate Pu-
238; utilizing TA-55 at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to 
purify and encapsulate Pu-238; and, using existing facilities at INL to 
assemble and test the RPSs. Subsequent to the decision, DOE issued the 
draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed Consolidation of 
Nuclear Operations Related to Production of Radioisotope Power Systems 
(Draft Consolidation EIS) in 2005 to consolidate the nuclear operations 
related to RPSs at a single site. DOE is now proposing to implement 
that earlier decision based on the NI PEIS and cancel the Consolidation 
EIS. Prior to proceeding with implementation of that earlier decision, 
DOE will prepare a Supplement Analysis (SA) in accordance with DOE's 
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Implementing Procedures to 
determine whether a supplement to the NI PEIS or a new EIS should be 
prepared, or that no additional NEPA review is warranted.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For further information on the Pu-238 
Production Program, please contact: Ms. Alice Caponiti, Program 
Director for Infrastructure Capabilities, Office of Space and Defense 
Power Systems (NE-75), Office of Nuclear Energy, U.S. Department of 
Energy, 1000 Independence Ave. SW., Washington, DC 20585, Phone 301-
903-6062, [email protected].
    For information on NEPA analysis for Pu-238 production, please 
contact: Dr. Rajendra Sharma, NEPA Compliance Officer, Office of 
Nuclear Energy (NE-31), U.S. Department of Energy, 1000 Independence 
Ave. SW., Washington, DC 20585, Phone 301-903-2899, 
[email protected].
    For general information on the DOE NEPA process, please contact: 
Ms. Carol Borgstrom, Director, Office of NEPA Policy and Compliance 
(GC-54), U.S. Department of Energy, 1000 Independence Ave. SW., 
Washington, DC 20585, Phone 202-586-4600; leave a message at 1-800-472-
2756; facsimile 202-586-7031; or send email to: [email protected].



    Under the authority of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, DOE's 
missions include: (1) Producing isotopes for research and applications 
in medicine and industry; (2) meeting nuclear material needs of other 
Federal agencies; and (3) conducting research and development 
activities for civilian use of nuclear power. As part of these 
responsibilities, DOE and its predecessor agencies have supplied Pu-238 
for U.S. space programs and national security missions for more than 
five decades. NASA uses RPSs, which are fueled by Pu-238, as the source 

[[Page 1849]]

electric power and heat for deep space missions. Nuclear reactors and 
chemical processing facilities at DOE's Savannah River Site (SRS) 
historically produced Pu-238. However, the relevant nuclear reactors 
and the chemical processing facilities and capabilities in F-Canyon and 
H-Canyon at SRS have been shut down or are no longer available. Lacking 
any source of domestic production of Pu-238, DOE signed a 5-year 
contract in 1992 to purchase up to 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of Pu-238 
per year from Russia, not to exceed 40 kilograms (88 pounds) total. 
This purchase agreement was executed through a series of contracts and 
extensions. Purchases were suspended in 2009 due to a restructuring of 
the Russian nuclear industry and a need to establish a new contracting 
arrangement. Although DOE plans to pursue a new agreement under new 
terms with Russia, this process could delay any delivery of Pu-238 by 
three or more years, and such an arrangement will always be a risk to 
NASA missions. As discussed in detail in Section 1.2.2 of the NI PEIS, 
updated mission guidance from NASA at the time the NI PEIS was prepared 
indicated that the U.S. inventory of Pu-238 reserved for U.S. space 
missions was likely to be depleted by 2005. Therefore, DOE needed to 
review the adequacy of its nuclear infrastructure to meet NASA's 
demands for Pu-238-fueled RPSs.
    Partially in response to this on-going need for Pu-238, DOE 
evaluated potential enhancements to its nuclear infrastructure that 
would allow it to meet its responsibilities under the Atomic Energy Act 
of 1954 for the foreseeable future in the NI PEIS (DOE/EIS-0310), which 
was issued on December 15, 2000 (65 FR 78484). The NI PEIS evaluated 
the potential environmental impacts that could result from 
implementation of reasonable alternatives and options that were 
considered for enhancement of DOE's nuclear infrastructure. After 
considering the potential environmental impacts, costs, public 
comments, nonproliferation issues, and programmatic factors, DOE 
selected the Preferred Alternative identified in the Final NI PEIS 
(Alternative 2, Option 7) to reestablish domestic production of Pu-238 
to support U.S. space exploration and national security missions. For 
this purpose, the Advanced Test Reactor (ATR) in Idaho and the High 
Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) at ORNL in Tennessee were to be used to 
irradiate neptunium-237 (Np-237) targets; this use would not interfere 
with the primary missions of ATR and HFIR. The Radiochemical 
Engineering Development Center (REDC) at ORNL was selected for 
fabricating targets and isolating Pu-238 from the irradiated targets to 
produce up to five kilograms of Pu-238 per year. The decision also 
allowed for continued purchase of Pu-238 from Russia to meet near-term 
space mission requirements while reestablishing domestic production 
capabilities. The NI PEIS ROD was published on January 26, 2001 (66 FR 
    In the ROD, DOE had decided to transport Np-237, after conversion 
to neptunium oxide (NpO2), from SRS to REDC at ORNL for 
target fabrication. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack, DOE 
required additional security and safeguards for special nuclear 
materials (SNMs). Np-237 is considered an SNM. REDC did not meet 
requirements for storage of SNMs and it would have required costly 
upgrades to qualify for safe, secure storage of NpO2. Two 
alternative locations which met the requirements for safe storage of 
NpO2 were identified, one at each of the DOE's Oak Ridge and 
Idaho sites. DOE prepared an SA (DOE/EIS-0310-SA-01) for the proposed 
change of storage location of NpO2 from REDC to the Y-12 
National Security Complex at the Oak Ridge site and/or Argonne National 
Laboratory-West (renamed Materials and Fuels Complex [MFC]) at the INL 
site in Idaho to determine whether a supplement to the NI PEIS would be 
necessary. DOE determined that no additional NEPA documentation was 
necessary and amended its ROD (69 FR 50180, August 13, 2004) to change 
the NpO2 storage location from REDC to the MFC at INL. 
Consistent with this decision, NpO2 for use as target 
material for production of Pu-238 has been transported from SRS to INL 
and is now stored at MFC.

Proposed Consolidation

    By the end of fiscal year 2004, DOE had taken no other action or 
incurred any expenses to implement the NI PEIS ROD related to 
production of Pu-238. On November 16, 2004, DOE published a Notice of 
Intent to Prepare Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed 
Consolidation of Nuclear Operations Related to Production of 
Radioisotope Power Systems (69 FR 67139). At the time, DOE's ongoing 
and planned-to-be-established RPS-related production operations were 
located at three DOE sites in Idaho, New Mexico, and Tennessee, 
requiring the transport of radioactive material that could be avoided 
by consolidation of these activities at a single, highly secure DOE 
site. The proposed consolidation of these operations, which included 
production, purification, and encapsulation of Pu-238, would be 
consistent with DOE's approach on consolidating nuclear materials to 
enhance security of nuclear materials and reduce risks associated with 
their transport. The existing and planned operations related to RPS 
production in November 2004 were as follows: Np-237, used in 
preparation of targets as the feed material for Pu-238 production, was 
to be transported from SRS to INL for storage per amendment to the NI 
PEIS ROD (the shipment is now complete and Np-237 is currently stored 
at INL); the production capability was planned to be established at 
ORNL according to the NI PEIS ROD where the targets would be fabricated 
in REDC, irradiated at ATR in Idaho (supplemented by HFIR in Oak Ridge) 
and then processed in REDC to recover Pu-238; Pu-238 was then to have 
been transported to LANL; Pu-238 was to be purified and encapsulated at 
LANL and transported to INL; and RPS assembly and test operations were 
to be conducted as ongoing operations at INL in existing facilities.
    Under the preferred alternative identified in the Draft 
Consolidation EIS (DOE/EIS-0373), DOE proposed to consolidate all 
activities related to RPS production within the secure area at INL. New 
construction for the Pu-238 production, purification, and encapsulation 
part of the infrastructure was proposed due to the very limited 
capability of existing facilities in the secure area. No new 
construction was required for the assembly and test operations that 
were already being located in the secure area at INL. The consolidation 
of the RPS production infrastructure would have included the following 
activities: (1) Np-237 would be stored at the INL as already decided; 
(2) Pu-238 production capability (including Np-237 target fabrication 
and processing) would be established at INL with ATR serving as the 
primary irradiation facility, and HFIR would be used only as a back-up 
facility if necessary; (3) Pu-238 operations carried out at LANL would 
be transferred to INL and (4) the existing facility, the Space and 
Security Power Systems Facility, at INL would continue to be 
established and maintained for RPS assembly and test operations as 
already planned. DOE proposed to use existing facilities for the 
production of Pu-238 during the time period required for the new 
facilities at INL to become operational. This period between 2007 and 
2011 was referred to in the Consolidation EIS as the ``bridge'' period. 
The Notice of Availability for

[[Page 1850]]

the Draft Consolidation EIS was published on July 1, 2005 (70 FR 
    In response to public comments, DOE explored other locations and 
facilities for the ``bridge'' alternative, in addition to those 
analyzed in the Draft Consolidation EIS. While review of other 
reasonable alternatives at DOE sites was in progress, it became evident 
that refurbishment of existing facilities to make them suitable for the 
bridge period would not be cost effective. In addition, the escalating 
cost estimate of proposed new construction at INL did not favor the 
proposed consolidation. Therefore, DOE postponed issuance of the Final 
Consolidation EIS while the program reanalyzed its approach to Pu-238 
production, with or without consolidation. On the basis of this 
reanalysis, DOE now believes that consolidation is no longer a 
reasonable alternative due to very high cost of refurbishment of 
facilities for the bridge period and for proposed new construction at 
the consolidation site. Therefore, the Consolidation EIS is hereby 

Next Steps

    In order to restart Pu-238 production, implementation of the 
decision made in the NI PEIS ROD offers the optimum approach. Since the 
NI PEIS ROD was issued nearly 12 years ago, DOE will prepare an SA in 
accordance with DOE's NEPA Implementing Procedures at 10 CFR 1021.314 
prior to implementing that decision. There are no changes to the 
proposed action as analyzed in the NI PEIS. If there are significant 
new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns, 
DOE will prepare a supplemental EIS in accordance with 10 CFR 1021.314 
and the Council on Environmental Quality Regulations at 40 CFR 1502.9. 
Otherwise, DOE may determine that the 2001 decision can be implemented 
without further NEPA documentation. DOE's determination will be 
announced in the Federal Register and the SA and the determination will 
be available to the public and posted on the DOE NEPA Web site. Copies 
of the determination and SA will be provided upon written request and 
will be available for inspection in the appropriate DOE public reading 
room(s) or other appropriate location(s) for a reasonable period of 

    Issued in Washington, DC, on January 2, 2013.
Peter B. Lyons,
Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy.
[FR Doc. 2013-00239 Filed 1-8-13; 8:45 am]