Mayak plant to increase Cobalt-60 export

Publish date: April 30, 2001

Written by: Rashid Alimov

Mayak plant plans to double isotope export to fund manufacturing of nuclear weapon components.

Mayak plant has a conversion program to produce isotopes for civil purposes, Mayak deputy director for reactor-isotope production, Valery Asnovsky said in an interview with local weekly PrO Mayak.

Mayak is one of the few producer of cobalt-60 isotope in Russia. More than 90% of the isotope is being exported, bringing in the much-desired cash, Asnovsky said.

In the year 2000 Ministry of Defence held a session on prospects of radioisotope industry. One of the Mayak departments had prepared documents for the discussion, mentioning Russia’s keeping only 25% of the world isotope market, while producing enough cobalt-60. Minatom was given a task of providing about 40% of the cobalt-60 market. Other isotopes were also mentioned.

Reactors of the factory no. 23 may increase cobalt-60 manufacturing by 1.5 to 2 times in comparison to today’s rates, Asnovsky said. In order to boost the production, Ludmila reactor is planned for repair. Ludmila has power of 1,000 MW and is also used for production of tritium and various other isotopes of military application, including 238Pu. Another reactor, Ruslan, went into operation some time between the end of 1948 and 1951, and was active until about 1980. Towards the end of the 1980s, it was rebuilt to a light water reactor with a capacity of 1,000 MW. Ruslan is used to produce tritium for the Soviet hydrogen bombs and specific isotopes such as 238Pu along with civilian products.

But productivity is limited by the need to make the components for nuclear weapon in the same reactors. “If we could push up isotope sales 2 times, we could do without the state subsidy for the defence product,” Asnovsky said.

Besides cobalt-60, Mayak produces other radioactive isotopes, e.g. tritium, helium-3 (at the factory no. 156), and molybdenum. Molybdenum has been produced in Obninsk, but now one reactor there is being shut down, and another set under repair, Asnovsky said.

Asnovsky mentioned Mayak’s contract with Leningrad NPP: “they will sell us cobalt, and we’ll sell it further.” In August 2000 Leningrad NPP was granted Ministry for Trade licence for exporting isotopes based on cobalt-60. That was the first licence in Russia’s nuclear industry, permitting a NPP to carry out export independently.

Radioactive isotope 60Co is used mainly in medicine as a sterilizer.