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U.S.-GERMAN COOPERATION IN THE ELIMINATION OF EXCESS WEAPONS PLUTONIUM
4.3.3. A Small MOX Fabrication Facility
Given the uncertainties of building a large MOX facility in Russia, the Russian-German feasibility study recommended German assistance to build a small pilot plant in Russia, in order to demonstrate the application of the technology in the Russian environment.3
The main goal of this effort would be to gain practical experience and to have a feasibility study with experiments under safeguards. The project would give the Russians experience with international safeguards, test the suitability of the VVER-1000s, and to explore the transport problems. This should be done in parallel to other activities. The timetable for planning, building and operating a small and eventually a large MOX facility is so long that substantial time would elapse before the Russian plutonium could be in a safer condition. For this reason, safe and secure interim storage is of primary importance.
The Steering Committee supports the Russian-German feasibility study ’s recommendation, with the provision that this should be complemented by the fabrication of some MOX samples (by European or Russian fuel fabrication facilities) to be burned in a VVER-1000 in order to accelerate decisions on MOX use in the Russian reactors. This option also should include collaborative work between appropriate German and Russian institutes and industries to analyze the VVER-1000s to determine what modifications would be necessary to use potential full MOX cores, as the Russian-German study also recommended. The latter activities must be linked with appropriate safeguards.
4.3.4. A Small Pilot Vitrification Facility
The Russians are almost certain to reject vitrification for the disposition of weapons plutonium, since they are determined not to “throw away ” the energy value of the plutonium. The Steering Committee therefore does not recommend efforts to establish a major vitrification facility for WPu in Russia or in Europe at this time. But since this is one of the two principal disposition options under consideration in the United States, the Committee believes the option should be left open.
In addition to the plutonium that will be withdrawn from warheads, there is also a substantial amount of residual WPu (e.g., non-metal scrap and waste plutonium) in Russia that is not readily suitable for conversion to MOX but nevertheless constitutes a proliferation risk. The Steering Committee therefore recommends the development and construction of a small vitrification facility in Russia that could be used for these residues as a pilot project. A facility with a capacity of approximately 40 kg of glass per day, which would be equivalent to a daily throughput of 0.4 kg of plutonium, would be an appropriate size.
This project would be a supplement to any “big solution.” The Russians will need to develop vitrification or similar technology in any case for disposal of their civilian HLW. An advantage of this idea is that it would offer the Russians experience with the non-Russian vitrification technology and its associated safeguards, and might reduce Russian opposition to vitrification. The level of acceptance in the German and U.S. public should be high.