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Russia’s hazardous nuclear reprocessing program

From Plutonium to Power, Spiegal Online 09/07/2012 Russia To Produce Electricity with Former Nukes By Kerstin Brandt Russia is planning to destroy plutonium used in thousands of soon to be decommissioned nuclear warheads by using it as fuel in a special new atomic power plant. The reactor is set to begin operating in one year, but time pressures and a vulnerable cooling system make the project a risky one. 

A billboard with a picture of smiling children heralds the arrival of a new nuclear age. “Zarechny — Our Nuclear City” is the sign that greets drivers entering this town 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of the Russian city of Yekaterinburg along a country road through a wooded landscape….. Russia is proud of Beloyarsk. The plant’s third unit is a “fast reactor,” a reactor type that’s similar to the infamous “fast breeder reactor.”…..

Now a fourth unit is being built in Beloyarsk, also a fast reactor. It’s a facility with global political significance: Beloyarsk 4 is being built in the service of global peace. On July 13, 2011, a treaty between Russia and the United States came into effect, one that US President Barack Obama praised as a step toward making the world “safer and more secure.” Under the Plutonium Management and Disposition Treaty, the two nuclear superpowers resolved to destroy 68 metric tons of plutonium, enough to fill 17,000 nuclear warheads. Obama declared that the plutonium could be used to generate power for people in both countries.

Russia’s plan for disposing of its share of the plutonium involves a fast reactor, a variation on the fast breeder reactor design but without a breeding blanket.

This Is Going to Lead to Problems’

The Obama administration, on the other hand, prefers to fulfill its side of the disarmament treaty with a more time-tested method: The US share of 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium will be used in traditional nuclear power plants. At the same time, though, the US will contribute at least $300 million (€240 million) to the construction of the new disarmament reactor at Beloyarsk.

“This is going to lead to problems!” says Yevgeny (name changed), who is involved in the construction of the new Beloyarsk reactor. “You shouldn’t build a nuclear reactor under time pressure, and certainly not such a complicated one!”

“A fast reactor is not your standard power plant,” he continues indignantly. “All it takes is one sloppily welded seam, and that’s that!” The reactor will be cooled not with water, but with liquid sodium, a liquid metal that ignites the moment it comes into contact with the air ……    .

September 10, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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