Third quarter of 2000

MINATOM minister clears up some outstanding confusions

Threatens collapse of agreement if Western funding is not forthcoming

WISE-Paris, 21 September 2000
By David Lowry

[Posted 22/09/2000]

Valentin B. Ivanov, Russia's first deputy minister for atomic energy told the Uranium Institute annual meeting on 31 August 2000 that the reason the Russians had refused to include immobilization in the final bilateral agreement on US-Russia Plutonium dispostion - signed by Russian Prime Minister Kasyanov in August and US Vice President Gore on 1st September - was a fundamental disgreement between theAmerican & Russian negotiators over the quantities of military grade plutonium that exist in theRussian stockpile. The sticking point is over the status of 'dirty' plutonium scrap at military nuclear processing plants, especially Krasnoyarsk -26 (Zhelengorsk) in central Siberia.

He repeated the MINATOM position that immobilization is only a "protection" policy, not one that eliminates plutonium. Meantime, Norman Fletcher, Project Manager for Russian Nuclear Power Technologies at the US Department of Energy's Office of Fissile Materials Disposition in the National Nuclear Security Administration, told the 7th annual International Nuclear Materials Policy Forum held in Washinngton DC on 5-8 September 2000 that technology development for glass and ceramic disposal forms is underway at "several Russian institutes",and that "engineering feasibility studies " are being conducted at two industrial sites.

Minister Ivanov said in London that 25 t of the 34 t plutinium committed by Russia under the bilateral accord would be "clean metal", and the remaining 9 t in oxide form. He said the military plutonium would be blended with plutonium of civil origin, and no reprocessing of MOX fuel made under the deal would be allowed to be reprocessed.

The MOX fuel would be irradiated to a burnup level of "no less than 20,000 MWd/t".

Many steps in the agreement, especially costs, remain to be sorted out in detail, but at present he said the plan was to re-tool the Scientific Research Institute of Atomic Reactors (RIAR) at Dimitrovgrad to enable the fabrication of 'vibrocompacted' plutonium fuel for the BN-600 fast reactor by January 2002.

The minister made clear that the agreement stipulates that "The Russian Federation may suspend implementation of the Agreement if sources of funds are not defined to clarify problems for further status of the Agreement."

Some delegates to the Uranium Institute conference declared this was effectively a "Blackmail Clause."

One proposed solution to the funding difficulties set out by Minister Ivanov was the sale of Russian fabricated MOX back to western nuclear utilities, via the auspices of a specially created international leasing company. He told questioners in press briefing that such a company would be attractive to governments because it would save taxpayers money for Finance ministries. He said military-origin plutonium would only ever be exported from Russia in the form of MOX fuel assemblies. Russia would offer as part of such a deal to take back the irradiated MOX for "indefinite storage".

In response to a question as to why the Tomsk-7 military plutonium production reactors at Seversk continued to create more military plutonium despite the existing surplus, he told Plutonium Investigation that the difficulty was that the scientific research cities of Tomsk and also Zhelengorsk needed heat and power, and the military production reactors were their only way to do this. He added that the Russian fuel manufacturing program for existing nuclear plants needed the reprocessed uranium (REPU) from the fuel irradiated in Tomsk-7 and Krasnoyarsk, but conceded this was a logically inconsistent situation

On liability difficulties, he confirmed the position revealed in July by Plutonium Investigation, after a meeting with US chief plutonium disposition negotiator, Dr Michael Guhin, that the unresolved issue would still "take some time" to sort out.

He criticised the German government for delaying support for the export of the MOX fabrication technology at the redundant Siemens MOX plant at Hanau, although he admitted that MINATOM itself had initially hesitated over the proposal to import the German technology. And he said MINATOM believed that the Canadian Government was "moving too slowly" in resolving public protest at plans to import test plutonim fuel pins made in Russia, for experimental irradiation in CANDU reactors.

  • US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson and French CEA chairman Colombani signed a new nuclear R&D agreement during the IAEA's 44th annual conference in Vienna, 18 September 2000. It will cover the sharing of Research facilities and 'accelerator transmutation of waste.' ATW includes so-called pyroprocessing, being developed by the Argonne National Research Laboratory, Illinois, and at RIIA in Dimitrovgrad.

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