Russia - Plutonium Investigation n°12/13

Spent Fuel and Plutonium

Although definitive figures are difficult to verify, it is reported that the current annual spent fuel arisings from Russia's 29 reactor units are roughly 790 MTHM. Similarly it is difficult to obtain definitive figures for plutonium creation in the power production reactors now operated by REA. The JPRS authors say that about 30 tonnes of reactor grade (in Russian parlance, 'energy grade') plutonium had been produced in the RBMK channel-type reactors as of the end of 1992; and that over the entire lifetime of these reactors about 175 tonnes of plutonium created in these reactors will have accumulated. They also estimate that the VVER reactors would have created about 18 tonnes of plutonium up to the time of publication in early 1993. They conclude that up to that point about 80 tonnes of fuel grade plutonium had been created in power generating commercial scale reactors.

At the end of 1998 Minatom made public its desire to raise funds to support the construction of the plutonium breeder based on the BN-800 design at Mayak, following the decision by the nuclear regulator Gosatomnadzor to issue a construction license for the two-unit plant in November 1998. Limited site preparation for the Urals breeder project has been underway since the 1980s.

The U.S. Department of Energy under a contract with Amarillo National Resource Center for Plutonium is jointly working with the Russian Institute of Physics and Power Engineering on technical ways to develop the BN-800.

The JPRS authors suggest that the 100 tonnes of plutonium of all grades available for fuel use is the energy equivalent of "roughly the six-month volume of coal extracted in the former USSR on the 1980 level." It has also been argued by Minatom that the BN-800 at Mayak would use cooling water from one of the reservoirs built on the Techa river to keep radioactivity in sediments, by this to increase evaporation, which in turn is expected to lower the water level from the reservoir and prevent it from overflowing the dam, which separates a cascade of reservoirs from the cleaner part of Techa.

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