Russia - Plutonium Investigation n°12/13

Plutonium Separation

There are three main plants, the oldest at Chelyabinsk-65, in the Urals, where the Mayak Production Association is located; at Tomsk-7 and at Krasnoyarsk-26, both in Siberia. The Mayak complex started in 1948, producing plutonium for the Soviet atomic bomb program. In 1977, the RT-1 reprocessing plant for handling VVER-440, BN-350 & -800 fast reactor fuel was commissioned. There have been several recorded serious radiological accidents at Mayak, including a very severe explosion on 29 September 1957 in a high activity storage tank for reprocessing waste. The local Techa River and Lake Karachay are significantly contaminated with plutonium wastes, which have spread their contamination to vegetation, animal and human tissue over an extensive area in the region. The second plant is at the Krasnoyarsk Mining Chemical Combine, which was opened in 1950, to produce and process plutonium. In October 1998 Minatom's deputy minister Valentin Ivanov announced that after more than a decade of planning at Krasnoyarsk-26, the second full scale reprocessing plant for VVER-1000 spent fuel, RT-2, had been cancelled for economic and technical reasons. Instead the Mayak complex would be modified to cope with the VVER-1000 fuel. A spent fuel store - opened in 1985 - still operates at the Krasnoyarsk-26 site. There is evidence of radioactive contamination of the Yenisey river. At Krasnoyarsk, as at Tomsk-7, the pumping of radioactive wastes underground has been a routine practice.

The third plant, the Tomsk-7 Siberian Chemical Combine, was opened in 1953, again primarily for the weapons program. Significant radioactive contamination has also occurred, but data is not as accessible as for the Urals plants. There are said to be fifty storage facilities on the Tomk-7 site. An accident is reported to have occurred in a tank in the reprocessing plant in April 1993, when plutonium and high activity wastes were released to the environment.

There are concerned citizen groups at each of the three regions. The Movement for Nuclear safety in Chelyabinsk, the Ecological Initiative in Tomsk and the Krasnoyarsk Kray Ecological movement - along with the nationwide Socio-Ecological Union - have all raised concerns over environment and public health, as well as safety of plutonium management.

In March 1998 the Center for Nuclear Ecology and Energy Policy in Moscow joined with US groups, the Center for Safe Energy in California, and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service in Washington, DC. to collaborate on opposition to the development of MOX plutonium fuels fabrication plants in Russia, as part of a plutonium management strategy.

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