The Manhattan Project Resources

U.S. Department of Energy

HSS Office of Classification

Office of History and Heritage Resources

Plutonium: The First 50 Years

1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

As part of the Secretary of Energy's Openness Initiative, the Department of Energy [note 1] (DOE) is committed to informing the public about United States Government plutonium production, acquisition, and utilization from the beginning of these activities. The focus of this report is on the historical plutonium acquisitions and removals that have resulted in the September 30, 1994 plutonium inventory. It satisfies Secretary O'Leary's commitment made at the June 27, 1994, Openness Press Conference to declassify and release additional information about plutonium.

The report contains important newly declassified information regarding the U.S. production, acquisition, and removals of plutonium. This new information, when combined with previously declassified data, has allowed the DOE to issue, for the first time, a truly comprehensive report on the total DOE plutonium inventory.

At the December 7, 1993, Openness Press Conference, the DOE declassified the plutonium inventories at eight locations totaling 33.5 metric tons (MT [note 2]). This report declassifies the remainder of the DOE plutonium inventory. Newly declassified in this report is the quantity of plutonium at the Pantex Site, near Amarillo, Texas, and in the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile of 66.1 MT, which, when added to the previously released inventory of 33.5 MT, yields a total plutonium inventory of 99.5 MT [note 3].

This report will document the sources which built up the plutonium inventory as well as the transactions which have removed plutonium from that inventory.

From 1944 to September 1994, the U.S. Government produced and acquired a total of 111.4 metric tons of plutonium. During the same period of time, 12.0 MT of plutonium were removed resulting in an actual inventory of 99.5 MT [note 4] as of September 30, 1994.

This report identifies four sources that add plutonium to the DOE/DoD inventory, and seven types of transactions which remove plutonium from the DOE/DoD inventory (Figure 1).

  • Sources of plutonium acquisitions are: plutonium produced in government production reactors; plutonium produced in government nonproduction reactors; plutonium acquired from U.S. civilian industry; and plutonium acquired from foreign countries.
  • Transactions which remove plutonium are: plutonium expended in wartime and nuclear tests; plutonium inventory differences; plutonium to waste (normal operating losses); plutonium expended in fission and transmutation; plutonium lost to decay and other removals; plutonium transferred to U.S. civilian industry; and plutonium transferred to foreign countries.

This report also discusses the nuclear material control and accountability system which records all nuclear material transactions, compares records with inventory and calculates material balances, and analyzes differences to verify that nuclear materials are in quantities as reported.

Typically, the number of transactions used to track the production, movement, and removal of the DOE plutonium from the inventory numbers in the hundreds of thousands per year. Many of these records currently exist only in summary form, particularly for the period prior to 1969 when the Atomic Energy Commission's (AEC) nuclear materials accounting system was first automated.

The international security environment has been shaped by recent events, most notably the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union. This has facilitated the current Administration's reconsideration of Government classification policies.

The philosophy behind declassification and release of information continues to be very dynamic. Recognizing that openness is essential to public accountability and trust, the DOE is continuing to take aggressive steps to declassify and inform the public about the Department's past and present activities where it does not jeopardize the U.S. national security or aid worldwide nuclear proliferation.

The DOE believes that this report will aid in discussions of plutonium storage, safety, and security with stakeholders as well as encourage other nations to declassify and release similar data. These data will also be available for formulating policies with respect to disposition of excess nuclear materials.

The information in this report is based on the evaluation of available records. The information contained in this report may be updated or revised in the future should additional or more detailed data become available.

2. INTRODUCTION

The breakup of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War has allowed the U.S. to reconsider its classification and declassification policies and practices. The release of this report is a result of new declassification initiatives, President Clinton's goal for greater openness in government, and commitments made by Secretary of Energy O'Leary at the June 27, 1994, Openness Press Conference.

This report covers the first 50 years of DOE plutonium activities, from the beginning of plutonium production by the Manhattan Engineer District in 1944 through September 1994. The report contains important newly declassified information regarding the U.S. production, acquisition, and removals of plutonium. This new information, when combined with previously declassified data, has allowed the DOE to issue, for the first time, a truly comprehensive report on the total DOE/DoD plutonium inventory.

The DOE believes that this report will aid in discussions of plutonium storage, safety, and security with stakeholders as well as encourage other nations to declassify and release similar data. These data will also be available for formulating policies with respect to disposition of excess nuclear materials.

Almost all of the information that was used to create this report came from the Nuclear Materials Management and Safeguards System (NMMSS). It is the official U.S. nuclear materials accounting system and is used to track U.S. nuclear material inventories, maintain compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and support International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. When NMMSS data were not available, historical reports and memoranda were used.

This report attempts to strike a balance between national security and openness. The philosophy of declassification and release of information has evolved dramatically over time. In the 1940's, almost every aspect of U.S. atomic energy programs was classified. Following World War II, an effort was made to remove many of the classification constraints covering information on nuclear chemistry, metallurgy and physics, and initial declassification efforts were begun in the areas of nuclear weapons, tests, reactors, materials production, and weapon design and utilization data.

Recognizing that openness is essential to public accountability and trust, the DOE is taking aggressive steps to declassify as much information as possible about the Department's past and present activities without jeopardizing the U.S. national security or aiding world wide nuclear proliferation.

The Department implements a comprehensive review for each and every declassification action including coordination with other agencies. The information is reviewed for its national security significance, including concern for nuclear weapons proliferation, terrorism, and foreign policy considerations. It is clear that some information requires continued classification under law, treaty, and regulations in the interest of nuclear nonproliferation and national security.

The release of this report does not threaten U.S. national security, run counter to our nuclear nonproliferation policy, or undermine the nuclear deterrent of the U.S.

3. MATERIAL CONTROL AND ACCOUNTABILITY

3.1 SAFEGUARDS EVOLUTION

From the beginning of the nuclear program in the 1940's through 1954, the U.S. nuclear effort was primarily military in character. During this period, all special nuclear material [note 5] was U.S. Government property and, with minor exceptions, held by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), AEC contractors operating government facilities, and the Department of Defense (DoD). Physical security systems and operations and security clearances for authorized personnel, coupled with stringent material control measures, were the principal means of protecting special nuclear material.

Nuclear materials accounting records, inventory procedures and reports were maintained as a matter of prudent management practice to verify that no material had been diverted or stolen. However, the controls were limited by the accuracy of the measurement techniques. Over time, improved nuclear material identification and measurement techniques were developed and standardized to support the growing U.S. nuclear program. Even with these improved measurement techniques, the measurement of nuclear material continued to include a significant degree of uncertainty.

President Eisenhower announced his Atoms for Peace Program in 1953 for providing technology and nuclear material with other nations, including nuclear materials for research and power reactor programs. The Atomic Energy Act of 1946 was amended in 1954 to allow civilian peaceful use, though not ownership, of special nuclear material and to allow U.S. assistance to foreign countries developing peaceful nuclear programs.

The AEC chose not to impose its pre-1954 safeguards systems on private (licensed) industry. However, physical security measures continued to be practiced to protect classified materials and technology at licensed facilities. The AEC concluded that licensee contractual financial responsibility for special nuclear material loss or degradation, and the severe criminal penalties provided by the Atomic Energy Act, adequately protected the national interest from the standpoint of material theft or diversion.

In the mid-1960's, a further amendment to the Atomic Energy Act permitted private ownership of special nuclear material. The potential nuclear proliferation problem and problematic experiences with licensees led the AEC to conclude that steps should be taken to place more positive requirements on the licensees for the safeguarding of special nuclear material in their possession. Consequently, regulations were issued in 1967 to establish specific material control and accounting procedures for licensees.

The following year, the regulatory office in the AEC assumed sole responsibility to oversee materials safeguards applicable to private industry. In response to the increase in international trade in nuclear material, the AEC issued regulations regarding nuclear material physical protection requirements for licensees to protect against terrorist and other threats. This regulatory office formed the foundation for the present Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which became an independent agency in 1975. When the NRC was formed in 1975, nuclear material control and accountability of government-owned materials at non-licensed facilities was transferred to ERDA, and subsequently to DOE.

3.2 SAFEGUARDS TODAY

Nuclear material safeguards at contractor-operated DOE facilities are applied through an integrated system designed to prevent, deter, detect, or respond to attempts at unauthorized possession or use of nuclear materials. The safeguards system contains the following elements:

  • Physical Protection to inhibit unauthorized, forceful or surreptitious attempts to gain entry to facilities possessing special nuclear material and to prevent its removal.
    • Perimeter intrusion detection systems, entry and exit controls, vaults, alarms, containment, concealment and trained protection forces
  • Personnel Security Procedures to help assure that unauthorized acts involving nuclear material do not occur. These procedures serve to deter insiders from diverting, stealing and sabotaging nuclear materials.
    • Security clearances and human reliability programs
    • Security training and awareness
  • Material Control to detect or deter theft or diversion of special nuclear material by positively controlling access to and utilization of special nuclear material.
    • Material surveillance
    • Internal control procedures
    • Verification of material characteristics
      • Material custody
      • Seals and tags
  • Material Accountability to record all material transactions, to compare records with inventory and calculate material balances, and analyze differences to verify that nuclear materials are in quantities as reported and in authorized locations. The materials accounting procedures are also used to detect and verify process holdup in facilities to ensure effectiveness of physical protection practices. In addition, these procedures help determine levels of protection appropriate for nuclear materials inventories.
    • Measurements
    • Physical inventories
    • Records and reports
    • Audits
    • Inventory and shipper-receiver difference evaluation and analysis
  • Administrative Controls to assure the above elements are effectively described, implemented, and operated to satisfy safeguards criteria and requirements. These controls also include checks-and-balances to maintain separation of responsibilities between operations and safeguards personnel.

3.3 SAFEGUARDS SYSTEM OPERATION

Physical protection along with material control and accountability and human reliability procedures combine to provide effective material safeguards. Precise and accurate inventory measurement records and statistical evaluation procedures provide independent verification that the physical protection and material control procedures have been effective. If statistical analysis indicates any anomalies, a detailed investigation is conducted to resolve the differences. By law, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is immediately informed if there is any evidence of theft, diversion, or sabotage of nuclear material.

Superimposed on this integrated safeguards system, which is implemented by the DOE contractor responsible for the materials, is a governmental oversight management system designed to review and verify that the DOE contractors are meeting their materials safeguards responsibilities. The responsible DOE field office and Headquarters conduct ongoing surveys and technical audits of their contractors to assure effective contractor procedures and performance. Inventory differences are carefully analyzed during these surveys and audits are made to verify and validate the contractor explanations.

Headquarters staff also conduct independent assessments of the total system capabilities and of the performance of field offices and the contractors in effectively safeguarding nuclear materials. Inventory differences and their explanations are again reviewed during these activities. Finally, independent Congressional reviews are performed by the General Accounting Office (GAO) and are normally focused on specific topical areas such as materials tracking.

Federal law provides for fines and criminal penalties for conspiracies or attempts to steal special nuclear material. Rewards are authorized for information leading to successful prosecution of anyone involved in a conspiracy to steal, divert, or illegally possess special nuclear material. To date, no incident involving these laws has occurred.

3.4 INTERNATIONAL SAFEGUARDS AND FOREIGN TRANSFERS

International nuclear cooperation was first offered by Present Eisenhower in 1953 through the Atoms for Peace Program. The 1954 amendments to the Atomic Energy Act (AEA) legally enabled nuclear cooperation for peaceful purposes. In 1957, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was established to promote peaceful nuclear energy and control nuclear material. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) entered into force in 1970 and further provided support for international technical cooperation and "fullscope safeguards" by the IAEA. Passage of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978 (NNPA) increased requirements for controlling exported U.S. material. Most recently, indefinite extension of the NPT continued to strengthen support for technical cooperation and "fullscope safeguards."

The AEA and the NNPA require that nuclear material exported from the U.S. under agreements for peaceful nuclear cooperation be subject to safeguards and physical protection measures. Agreements for peaceful nuclear cooperation are reviewed by Congress before they can be brought into force. The U.S. relies on the IAEA to apply international safeguards and conducts a program of reciprocal visits and exchanges of information on physical protections.

According to the terms of the AEA, the NNPA, and bilateral agreements for peaceful nuclear cooperation, exported U.S.-origin nuclear material is subject to international safeguards applied by the IAEA. Further, Article III (2) of the NPT and IAEA safeguards agreements with countries party to the NPT require IAEA safeguards on all nuclear material in the country, including any U.S.-origin material. For non-NPT countries, IAEA safeguards are limited to nuclear material transferred under bilateral agreements. In the case of European Union countries, safeguards are also applied by the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) under a "partnership" arrangement with the IAEA. However, U.S. agreements for cooperation also contain provisions for "fallback" safeguards to be applied by the U.S. in the event the IAEA is unable to implement safeguards. Starting in 1961, safeguards inspection rights in U.S. nuclear cooperation agreements began to be implemented by the IAEA. A firm policy was thereafter adopted of transferring safeguards implementation to the IAEA as new agreements were negotiated or old agreements were renewed.

IAEA safeguards consist of a three-tiered system. Individual facilities are required to maintain accurate and comprehensive records of nuclear material inventory including receipts, processing, and shipments. Such information, down to gram quantities, is provided to national authorities, which in turn provide inventory reports to the IAEA. The IAEA conducts on-site inspections to verify information provided by the state, and to ensure that nuclear material has not been diverted or nuclear facilities have not been used for unreported production of nuclear materials. The frequency of IAEA inspections at a given facility is determined by the type and quantity of nuclear material present. Material posing the highest proliferation risk is subject to the most frequent inspections. In particular, facilities processing plutonium are inspected most frequently. Facilities with a large amount of plutonium generally are subject to a full-time IAEA inspector presence. For countries having small amounts of plutonium, for example for use as neutron sources to calibrate nondestructive assay instruments, IAEA inspections are much less frequent, taking into account inspection costs and need to make an annual statement of inspection goal attainment.

IAEA safeguards measures include verification of facility design information, including through visual observation; examination of records; sample-taking and measurement of nuclear material through destructive and non-destructive techniques; use of video and other surveillance equipment, as well as in-situ, unattended measurement systems, and application of seals to ensure "continuity of knowledge" during the periods of time when IAEA inspectors are not present.

The IAEA reports conclusions of its verification activities in the annual Safeguards Implementation Report, with a summary contained in the IAEA Annual Report. To date, the IAEA has concluded each year that there has been no diversion of nuclear materials safeguarded by the IAEA in countries containing U.S.-origin nuclear material.

In addition to IAEA safeguards, U.S. law (Atomic Energy Act as amended and the NNPA) and agreements for cooperation require that adequate physical protection measures be applied to exported U.S.-origin nuclear material. A determination of the adequacy of the physical protection measures to be applied to exported nuclear material is a condition for the export license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Since 1974, the Department of Energy, in cooperation with the Departments of State and Defense, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, has implemented a program of reciprocal visits and exchanges of information on physical protection. These visits help assure that U.S. exported materials are protected at the level called for in international guidelines issued by the IAEA in "The Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials" (INFCIRC/225/Rev. 3). Since this program began, U.S. experts led by the Department of Energy have made 76 trips to 46 countries, 39 countries with U.S.-origin plutonium, to exchange information with foreign national authorities and review physical protection measures at facilities with U.S. -origin nuclear material. The factors used to determine which countries to visit include the type and total quantity of U.S.-origin nuclear material; current threat of theft or sabotage; an impending export license application; and date of the last U.S. visit.


Table of Contents
Next Section