CTR weighs wet storage option despite proliferation risk

Publish date: July 25, 1998

Written by: Thomas Jandl

Although U.S. policy continues to oppose support for reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, the Cooperative Threat Reduction program seems to make it easier for Russia to circumvent restrictions. The CTR office has recently sent a team to Mayak to evaluate a wet storage option at the reprocessing facility there.

A U.S. official who works with the project told Bellona Web that CTR is likely to go for a wet storage option at Mayak. Wet storage facilitates removal of fuel for reprocessing in comparison to dry storage, where the fuel is much less accessible.

The Russian side has insisted on wet storage at the Mayak reprocessing plant. U.S. officials are hoping for an agreement that no fuel will be reprocessed. At the same time, they are closing their eyes to evidence that Russian policy is already preparing reprocessing in the future. Why else would the Russian side insist on only undamaged fuel of the type of fuel that can be reprocessed at the plant?

For CTR, the issue is spending money. Despite past congressional squabbles, CTR has received funding throughout the years. This year, the House of Representatives and the Senate are almost unanimous in funding the program at almost the full request by the Administration – about $440 million.

When projects stall lack of licenses or due to policy differences, CTR accumulates the appropriated money in unobligated accounts. Budget analysts know that nothing is worse for next year’s budget than left-overs this year. Thus, CTR wants to get the cash rolling.

To avoid delays, CTR now seems to bow to Russian demands. U.S. money could be used to finish construction of the wet storage facility in Mayak and undamaged, reprocessable fuel could be shipped on U.S.-funded trains. The Russian side only has to say it will not reprocess, without having to explain why then it wouldn’t accept the construction of dry storage facilities or the shipment of damaged fuel or fuel types that cannot be reprocessed.

While CTR may prevent a last-minute debate over its Fiscal Year 1999 budget, it could very well cut deeply into support for future years. Said the CTR official: "Could you imagine the headlines in the Washington Post: ‘U.S. taxpayer money funds fissile materials for Iranian atomic bomb.’

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