Information on the Cost of Plutonium Needed To Operate the Clinch River Breeder Reactor for Its 5-Year Demonstration

Gao ID: EMD-82-128 September 17, 1982

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reported on the cost of supplying the plutonium needed to fuel the Clinch River Breeder Reactor for its planned 5-year demonstration scheduled to run from 1989 through 1993.

GAO stated that the Department of Energy (DOE) needs about 6.2 million grams of plutonium for fuel fabrication during the 5-year demonstration. The only existing domestic source of plutonium is the DOE defense programs. Currently, DOE breeder officials plan to use plutonium from this source to fuel the Clinch River reactor. However, according to DOE defense program officials, national defense needs could have an impact on their capability to supply the necessary plutonium. GAO found that, depending upon whether the plutonium comes from existing stockpiles or is produced in the future, its value could range from $23 to over $200 per gram. However, DOE officials emphasized that an equivalent amount of plutonium is expected to be returned to defense programs from the plutonium produced in the Clinch River project. Because of plans to replace the plutonium, DOE officials believe that the only cost to the Government for providing the plutonium from defense programs will be the cost of reprocessing the reactor's spent fuel to return it to the defense programs. They estimate that such reprocessing would cost between $90 and $120 million. Finally, DOE officials are also exploring two other potential future sources of plutonium for reactor fuel: (1) reprocessed spent fuel from commercial nuclear powerplants; and (2) foreign sources.

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