US Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham and Russian Minister of Atomic Energy Aleksandr Rumyantsev recently signed agreements that will facilitate the shutdown of three Russian nuclear reactors that currently produce weapons-grade plutonium.
The reactors, located in the ‘closed’ cities of Seversk and Zheleznogorsk in Siberia, are the last three reactors in Russia that produce plutonium for military purposes. They also provide heat and electricity to Seversk and Zheleznogorsk.
The Implementing Agreement details the rights and responsibilities of each country regarding US assistance for the construction and refurbishment of fossil fuel plants that will replace the nuclear plants.
In Seversk, an existing fossil fuel plant will be modernised. In Zheleznogorsk, the construction of a new facility will be required. The Russian Federation will be responsible for the shutdown and decommissioning of the three existing nuclear reactors, although they will continue to operate until the fossil-replacement plants are completed.
The reactors are said to have approximately 15 years of remaining life and, as a group, could generate an additional 25 metric tons of plutonium, the equivalent of approximately one additional nuclear weapon per day.