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Top diplomat reveals advantages of Russia’s plutonium disposal method

October 19, 2016, 18:15 UTC+3 OSCOW
According to Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, the Russian method is less costly and more environmentally-friendly
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©  Ilya Yakovlev/ITAR-TASS

MOSCOW, October 19. /TASS/. The disposal of weapons-grade plutonium by its incineration in nuclear reactors as a method chosen by Russia is less costly and more environmentally-friendly than the option the United States is ready to use, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said on Wednesday.

"The expenses on plutonium storage are excessively high even amid generally high costs associated with the functioning of the nuclear industry," he said.

"The point is that this metal is chemically toxic. It is dangerous for handling as a fissile material and a certain source of radiation. Besides, it is chemically active and its handling requires the most complex procedures," the deputy foreign minister said.

Overall, the talk is about 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium, the Russian diplomat said.

"This is the quantity, which is not required for the reliable fulfillment of tasks in the sphere of military atom," he noted.

"This aspect was multiply checked," he added.

Failure to fulfil promises

As of today, the cost of the US facility for the disposal of weapons-grade plutonium has reached $12 billion whereas the construction of the Russian compound using different technology has been considerably less costly, Ryabkov said.

"We consider these costs to be justified," the Russian deputy foreign minister said.

"Moreover, the experience of implementing this agreement has showed that the Americans from the very beginning didn’t behave like partners as regards their promises to give us financial assistance. It was clear already by the mid-2000s that there would be no real support in this sphere. I consider as positive that taking into account this aspect as well, we went along the path of using this entire situation in the interests of making a technological breakthrough to fully close the nuclear fuel cycle," the Russian deputy foreign minister said.

Environmental problems

"In the process of discussing various options of plutonium disposal, aside from its irradiation in reactors, a method was considered to vitrify and bury it in solid form in salt strata, which would considerably complicate the use of the material as the breakout potential," the Russian diplomat said.

"But then the Americans formulated actually unilaterally, owing to the reasons possibly linked with lobbyism and partly related to financial considerations, the option for themselves to possibly dilute and bury plutonium in certain storage tanks - in containers, in casks," the Russian diplomat said.

"A final, official decision is still absent but this is quite a different story. It raises differently the issue of the breakout potential," Ryabkov said.

"If we speak about the environmental aspect, then such burial in such storage capacities is fraught with the loss of air tightness, corrosion and leaks. We drew the US attention to this and this aspect is also a cause for concern. We believe that from the viewpoint of the environment, the method chosen by us is optimal, including because a fast neutron reactor radically reduces the volumes of highly radioactive waste remaining in this production process. Ideally, it will disappear altogether and will be processed directly in the reactor but this is already the next technological stage," the Russian deputy foreign minister said.

Technological breakthrough and jobs

The creation of an installation in Russia for producing the uranium-plutonium mixed oxide fuel has been a major technological achievement, Ryabkov said.

According to the Russian diplomat, this facility, which can produce up to 400 fuel assemblies used in the BN-800 reactor at the Beloyarsk Nuclear Power Plant, has been brought to about its half-capacity.

"This is the most serious technological achievement," the Russian deputy foreign minister said.

"From the viewpoint of staying at the forefront of technology and the provision of jobs, this is generally an advantageous project for us. It can’t be said that it isn’t costly but it is reasonable and by many times less costly than the US project," the Russian deputy foreign minister said.

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