The governments of Russia, France and Germany signed an agreement on co-operation in the field of peaceful usage of plutonium retrieved from Russian nuclear warheads. The agreement describes comprehensively research steps towards creation of mixed oxide- (MOX) fuel reactors.
The agreement, signed on June 2 by Russia, France and Germany focuses on utilisation of plutonium as a fuel for nuclear power plants. The plutonium stocks in Russia range from 140 to 160 tons, according to different estimates. The material derives from dismantled Russian nuclear warheads as well as from the three military reactors still in operation in Tomsk and Krasnoyarsk, which generate weapons-grade plutonium. The reactors are to be shut down by the year 2000, to satisfy a governmental agreement between Russia and the U.S. signed last year.
From the Russian side, responsibility would rest with the Ministry for Atomic Energy (Minatom). On the Western side German Siemens and French Cogema will be the main partners.
The agreement covers the research part of the MOX-project. It studies plutonium conversion into MOX-fuel, designing of prototype installations for these purposes, and the possible usage of the fuel in Russian reactors.
The research will concentrate on loading VVER-1000 and BN-600 reactors with MOX-fuel. The agreement also covers a feasibility study about use of MOX-fuel in VVER-1000 reactors that are presently in operation, assuming that reactor cores would be loaded with 30% of MOX-fuel. Future designs of VVER reactors would be adjusted to operate on MOX-fuel as well. In addition, a number of prototype MOX-fuel assemblies will be fabricated to be testes in VVER-1000 reactors. The BN-part funds a study about the possibility to use MOX-fuel in fast breeder BN-600 reactors, currently in operation at Beloyarsk nuclear power plant.
In addition to the research, the parties reached a framework agreement on building a plant in Russia capable of converting 1300 kilograms of plutonium to MOX-fuel per year. The estimated price for the project is around 1,2 billion USD.
Although not mentioned in the agreement, Minatom is working hard on resuming construction of a BN-800 fast breeder reactor at Beloyarsk nuclear power plant located in Sverdlovsk county. Construction work on the BN-800 FBR started in 1987. In 1990, the Sverdlovsk county Deputies’ Council suspended the construction after discovering safety faults in the reactor design. In July last year, the government of Sverdlovsk county declared their intention to complete the plant with a price tag of 1,1 billion USD. According to Russian daily Russkiy Telegraph, nuclear companies from Great Britain, Japan and Canada have expressed their interest in participating in the project.