Putin intimidates with plutonium: the danger of Russia's threats

Author : Viktor Savinok

Source : 112 Ukraine

This is another step of the Kremlin aimed at revision of reducing strategic potentials regime
10:33, 5 October 2016

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After announcing the suspension of the Agreement with the United States for disposal of surplus plutonium, official Moscow has continued "torpedoing" of American initiatives in the field of nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, which was launched yet in 2013.

However, this step is not a threat to the position of the American side, but rather the ambitions of the official Kremlin.

Agreement between the Government of the Russian Federation and the United States for disposal of plutonium, declared as not necessary for defense purposes, was signed in August 2000. According to the agreement, the sides pledged to recycle, that is make unuseful for military purposes, about 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium (for each side).

During the Cold War, the parties have accumulated large stockpiles of this material, which in the nuclear race suspension and reduction of strategic weapons were unnecessary.

Moreover, plutonium is nuclear material that has significant biological hazard, firstly, because of the high radioactivity, and secondly, because of the possibility of accumulation in the body, and thirdly, because of the long half-life.

Related: Russia suspended implementation of agreement on plutonium disposal

The agreement, in particular, prescribed that for disposal of plutonium parties resort to the creation of facilities for production of MOX fuel. This type of fuel means nuclear fuel containing oxides of two or more nuclear materials.

In this case, it is the uranium-plutonium fuel. Its use is beneficial because it allows you to save natural uranium, and save the cost of services for its enrichment.

The agreement also establishes a schedule and implementation of steps to create MOX fuel production in signatory states.

In particular, in 2004, Russia undertook to transfer its own reactor, "fast breeder" BN-600, located in Sverdlovsk region, for this type of fuel. US, in turn, would complete the construction of plants for fabricating MOX fuel in 2006.

Related: UK citizen tries to carry radioactive clock from Kyiv to London

However, as the site of the Russian Foreign Ministry, the agreement was ratified only in 2011. In addition, in 2006 and 2010, the agreement has undergone revisions under which weapons-grade plutonium disposal was to begin no later than 2018.

In 2014, Russian party in the person of state corporation "Rosatom" managed to complete the commissioning area producing MOX fuel on "Mining and Chemical Combine" in the Krasnoyarsk Territory.

However, the production of this type of fuel is not just about recycling of plutonium, but "closure" of the nuclear fuel cycle by reprocessing fuel used in thermal-neutron reactor - water-moderated VVER and water-graphite RBMK operating in Russia.

Russia is also trying to introduce this type of fuel for VVER reactor plants, but these steps are experimental. For now newly built reactor BN-800 Beloyarsk NPP is loaded at 5% MOX fuel.

Russia believes the version of "firing" weapons-grade plutonium in nuclear reactors of various types is the only acceptable way of its utilization.

Related: Man tried to smuggle 250 kg of radioactive metal from Chornobyl

It should be noted that in this case the production was created based on the existing infrastructure, while in the United States Works of fabricating MOX fuel was built, in fact, "from scratch" in the Savannah River. Project costs showed a steady upward trend.

Such a scenario is unlikely to suit the Obama administration with a view to trying to balance government spending. Therefore, the "red team" of experts at the US Department of Energy that had to deal with plutonium and problems began in its recommendations increasingly gravitate toward the option "immobilization" of plutonium weapons.

Related: Ukraine to supply Russia raw uranium in late 2016

"Immobilization" in this case means bringing the substance into unusable state due to the disposal in deep geological formations, along with other radioactive waste (RW). For the American side that option was more acceptable because, according to the calculations of experts, it would cost approximately $ 7.9 billion.

On the other hand, it should be noted that none of the world countries has experience in building deep storage of radioactive waste. Sweden and Finland tried to put a similar project, as well as the US in Rocky Mountains. However, none of these attempts has not yet been recognized as successful.

The Russian side believes that, taking the option of "immobilizing," the United States violated the basic principles of the Treaty.

Related: If Ukraine hadn't got rid of uranium stocks, eastern conflict would get worse, - Barack Obama

First, the Agreement defines the term "immobilization" which, in principle, meet the intentions of the American side. Second, under Article 3 of the Agreement the parties may agree on another method of disposal weapons plutonium, which is not provided directly in the text of the Agreement.

Accordingly, claims of the Russian side are explained rather by unwillingness to compromise than real concerns about the use of plutonium for military purposes.

This is another step in a series of official actions of the Kremlin aimed at revision of reducing strategic potentials regime.

However, this action should not be considered a watershed event because Russian side has made much radical steps, having decided, among other things, in 2014 the abolition of the principle of "abandonment of the application of the first nuclear strike."

Related: Australia to sign agreement on uranium supplies to Ukraine

Including the fact that although Russia terminated the Agreement, the Russian side is unlikely to stop the MOX fuel program in commercial operation, because the development of Russian nuclear fuel complex, which now feels underuse of capacity, depends on these prospects.

Moreover, any country that has the capacity related to the full nuclear fuel cycle could theoretically turn out armed plutonium.

In Russia it is technologically possible because it continues using reactor facilities "Chernobyl" water-graphite RBMK. This type of reactor is essentially a "civilian" adaptation of industrial reactors used for production of weapons plutonium.

However, Russia may suspend use the Agreement as a cause for termination of the participation of American experts in the inspection of its nuclear facilities industry or charges of industrial espionage.

On the other hand, the Agreement might be used by those forces in American politics that favor the modernization of nuclear missile potential.

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