Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov signed the accord in
The new agreement is a protocol to a 2000 pact, known as the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA), that commits each side to the disposition of at least 34 metric tons of surplus weapons plutonium. The combined 68 metric tons of plutonium is “enough material for approximately 17,000 nuclear weapons,” the Department of State said in a document released in conjunction with the signing.
Under the earlier version of the plan,
A main issue, as the State Department document put it, was that “the Russian program set forth in 2000 proved incompatible with Russia’s nuclear energy strategy and was, thus, not financially viable.”
The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2011 budget request, which was released Feb. 1, said the two sides had “completed negotiations” on the protocol and expected to sign the new document “in early 2010.” (See ACT, March 2010.)
The administration requested $113 million for fissile material disposition in
The switch to fast-neutron reactors has drawn criticism from some nonproliferation specialists because such reactors, unlike LWRs, can produce more plutonium than they consume. The protocol includes “certain nonproliferation conditions,” as the State Department described them, that are designed to minimize the potential nonproliferation drawbacks of using fast-neutron reactors.
Another significant change from the original PMDA is that the protocol caps total
In his remarks at the signing ceremony, Lavrov said the Russian government would spend about $2.5 billion on the effort.
Under the original plan, the
Spending, Nonproliferation Rules
The protocol specifies that “up to $300 million” of the $400 million can be spent on “development and construction activities.” That money can be spent “beginning as early as 2010 and continuing thereafter,” the document says. “Not less than $100 million” is to be spent after disposition actually begins; expenditures are to be “based on a fixed rate per metric ton” of disposition, according to the protocol.
That funding is intended to serve as an “incentive,” the
Under the protocol, the $300 million sum can be used for a wide variety of activities, including those “associated with the development, construction, and modification of facilities for fabricating MOX fuel and long-term storage of spent plutonium fuel” and “development of a system for monitoring and inspections.”
The funding also can be used for certain types of work on the two fast-neutron reactors in which
U.S. negotiators made clear to their Russian counterparts that the U.S. government was “not in a position of helping [the Russians] build their own reactors,” but it would help them redesign the BN-800 core so that it has a breeding ratio of less than one, the U.S. official said.
A breeding ratio of less than one means that the reactor is operating as a plutonium “burner,” consuming more plutonium than it produces, rather than as a breeder.
The protocol continues the restriction from the original PMDA that spent fuel containing the weapons plutonium cannot be reprocessed until after the disposition mission is completed. However, unlike the original PMDA, the protocol does provide for some reprocessing of other materials that may be irradiated in reactors used for disposition.
It says that “uranium assemblies that have been irradiated in the BN-600” can be reprocessed “if this does not result in the accumulation of new separated weapon-grade plutonium by itself or in combination with other materials.” The
Under another new provision, “up to thirty (30) percent of the assemblies with fuel containing plutonium prior to irradiation that have been irradiated in the BN-800” can be reprocessed if the reprocessing is “for purposes of implementing research and development programs for technologies for closing the nuclear fuel cycle” in Russia and the United States. However, the protocol specifies that the exception applies only if “such assemblies do not contain disposition plutonium and such reprocessing does not result in the accumulation of new separated weapon-grade plutonium by itself or in combination with other materials.”
Reduced Disposition Rate
Under the protocol, each side “shall take all reasonable steps” to be able “to achieve a disposition rate of no less than 1.3 metric tons per year of disposition plutonium within as short a time as possible.” That figure represents a drop from the target disposition rate of 2 metric tons per year in the 2000 PMDA. The rate had to be reduced because the combined disposition capacity of the BN-600 and BN-800 is lower than that of the several LWRs that were to be used under the earlier agreement, the
An NNSA press release at the time of the November 2007 preliminary agreement said the Russian reactors could dispose of “approximately 1.5 metric tons of Russian weapon plutonium per year.” That figure, the
The protocol adds that if ongoing work on a different kind of reactor, a gas-cooled high-temperature reactor, is successful, there could be “additional possibilities for increasing the disposition rate in the
According to the protocol, disposition in the BN-600 and the BN-800 “is targeted to begin in 2018.” The 2007 NNSA press release had said disposition in the BN-600 would begin in the “2012 timeframe” and in the BN-800 “soon thereafter.”
The U.S. official said the protocol uses the 2018 date “for symmetry reasons” because that is when U.S. reactors are supposed to start irradiating MOX fuel made from U.S. weapons plutonium, but an earlier start for the Russians is “not precluded.”
Once disposition starts, it probably will take 20 to 25 years to handle the 34 metric tons, the
With regard to monitoring and inspections, the protocol says that Russia and the United States “shall begin consultations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at an early date and undertake all other necessary steps to conclude appropriate agreements with the IAEA to allow it to implement verification measures with respect to each Party’s disposition program.”
In the April 21 interview, the
The target date for completing the verification provisions is “as early as possible next year” while entry into force is expected later this year, he said. The agreement will come into force when the two sides exchange diplomatic notes after each side has completed its “national procedures,” the protocol says.
Because it is an executive agreement, the protocol does not require congressional approval, although the administration must provide a formal notification to Congress, the