On 13 October, in an interview with Russian and Indian news agencies leading up to his visit to the BRICs summit in Goa, President Putin of Russia outlined areas of nuclear cooperation with India. Along with building nuclear power reactors, President Putin announced that
Technological cooperation in the field of uranium enrichment is being established.
No further details were given by either Russia or India, but the two countries had signed on 24 December 2015 a "Programme of Action Agreed Between The Department of Atomic Energy of India And The Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation "Rosatom" for Localization of Manufacturing in India for Russian-Designed Nuclear Reactor Units." India plans to have 12 Russian-supplied reactors, of which up to eight reactors may be in the Kudankulam area.
It is not known if the 2015 Programme of Action mentions uranium enrichment. In March 2016, India's government told parliament that it "covers localisation in India for major equipment and spares as well as fuel assemblies for future Russian-designed reactors in India". Mr. Putin's comments seemed to suggest that along with nuclear reactor and fuel assembly technology transfer, Russia may be planning to supply India with uranium enrichment technology. This could be in the form of a centrifuge plant to provide low enriched uranium for fuel assembly fabrication in India for the Russian supplied reactors. Indeed, in 2010, Sergei Kiriyenko, the chief of Rosatom announced that "We plan to set up joint facilities for enrichment and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel in India ... In China we already have such facility."
Russia previously has built centrifuge enrichment plants in China with a total capacity of 1.5 million SWU, which are Chinese operated.
It is possible that Russian transfer of enrichment technology to India, which is not a party to the NPT, would not be compatible with June 2015 Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines.
These guidelines on special controls on sensitive exports state that
- Suppliers should exercise a policy of restraint in the transfer of sensitive facilities,
equipment, technology and material usable for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, especially in cases when a State has on its territory entities that are the object of active NSG Guidelines Part 2 denial notifications from more than one NSG Participating Government.
(a) In the context of this policy, suppliers should not authorize the transfer of enrichment
and reprocessing facilities, and equipment and technology therefore if the recipient
does not meet, at least, all of the following criteria:
(i) Is a Party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and is in
full compliance with its obligations under the Treaty;
According to reports in the Indian press, India's first indigenously built nuclear-powered submarine, INS Arihant, was commissioned into service in August 2016. The submarine was in sea trials since December 2014. The 83 MW pressurized-water reactor that powers the submarine, is using HEU with enrichment of about 30% in its fuel. The reactor first went critical in August 2013.
In two decisions published today, the Russian government suspended the U.S.-Russian agreement on cooperation in nuclear- and energy-related research and terminated the Implementing Agreement between Rosatom and the Department of Energy on conversion of research reactors.
The cooperation agreement was signed in September 2013 and was intended to stimulate new cooperation projects. It included an annex that regulated questions of intellectual property and a list of organizations and facilities that may be used to conduct cooperative activities. The letter that accompanied the government decree explains the decision to suspend the agreement rather than terminate it:
Under this approach, the international legal framework of cooperation with the United States will be preserved. Russia will preserve the possibility of resuming cooperation under the Agreement when that is justified by the general context of relations with the United States.
The importance of this decision is difficult to estimate, since the role of the suspended agreement was not entirely clear. The legal framework for most cooperation projects was provided by other agreements - the Cooperative Threat Reduction umbrella agreement until 2013 and after 2013 - by a bilateral U.S-Russian protocol to the 2003 Framework Agreement on a Multilateral Nuclear Environmental Programme in the Russian Federation (MNEPR) after 2013.
The terminated Implementing Agreement was governed by the terms of the MNERP protocol since 2013. The agreement, signed on 7 December 2010, covered reactor conversion feasibility studies as well as work on development and testing of new fuels. It included cost-sharing provisions, with the United States covering the cost of fuel development and qualification and Russia supporting fuel fabrication. In 2014, the work under the agreement resulted in Russia's completing conversion of the Argus reactor at the Kurchatov Institute.
In justifying the termination of the reactor conversion agreement, the Russian government said that the work under the agreement has been largely completed and that no new projects under the agreement are being planned. It also referred to the U.S. decision to suspend cooperation that was made in April 2014.
Formally, the MNERP agreement and the bilateral protocol, which remain in force, could continue to support cooperation projects. However, Russia informed the United States at the last meeting of the joint working group, which took place in December 2014, that it intends to end all cooperation and gradually phase out joint projects in all areas in 2015. The decision to terminate the reactor conversion agreement simply codified the end of the program that happened in 2014.
In a decree published today (PDF, English translation), President Putin of Russia suspended implementation of the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PDF) that was signed by the United States and Russia in April 2010. In the agreement, the two states made a commitment to eliminate 34 tons of weapon-grade plutonium each.
The decree justifies the suspension of the agreement by the "fundamental change of the circumstances, an emerging threat to strategic stability that resulted from unfriendly actions of the United States toward the Russian Federation" and the "inability" of the United States to fulfill its plutonium disposition obligations. Also, the decree refers to "the need to undertake urgent measures to protect security of the Russian Federation."
Importantly, the decree states that the plutonium that was to be eliminated under PMDA "is not used for the purposes of manufacturing nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, or for research, development, design, or tests that are related to such devices, or for any other military purposes."
The mechanism of suspending implementation of the agreement chosen by Russia is not entirely clear. The agreement itself does not seem to have a termination or withdrawal mechanism. The presidential decree refers to the Russian law on international treaties and suggests that the suspension will enter into force 120 days after the Russian government notifies the U.S. administration to suspend implementation of the agreement.
The United States has, indeed, encountered significant problems with implementing its original plutonium disposition plan. U.S. administration suspended construction of the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility and plans to terminate it. This decision, supported by many experts, has met some resistance in Congress, where supporters of the U.S. MOX program pointed at Russia's concerns about the change of plans, publicly expressed by president Putin in April 2016, as a justification for continuing with the MOX route. The Obama administration and many U.S. experts were optimistic about the prospects of reaching an agreement with Russia that would accommodate any changes in the U.S. plutonium disposition program, but others were skeptical.
It is important to emphasize that Russia is likely to continue its plutonium disposition program that it created for the purposes of PMDA. However, it would be free not to implement certain elements of the agreement that deal with transparency and accountability.
On 22 September 2016, a draft text for a UN General Assembly resolution to start talks in 2017 on a nuclear weapons ban treaty was circulated by Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa. A vote in the General Assembly First Committee, which is responsible for disarmament, global challenges and threats to peace that affect the international community, is expected in late October, with a full UN General Assembly vote expected in early December.
On September 19, 2016 the town of Ozersk, Russia, which is the home of the Mayak Plant, held public hearings on the planned shipment of spent fuel of VVR-K reactor from Kazakhstan. The hearings, covered in a news story by Bellona, considered the environmental impact assessment of the project.
According to the documents, Russia is planning to transfer the spent fuel in three shipments, which will include 153 fuel assemblies of the VVR-Ts type originally contained uranium enriched to 36% (126 with five fuel elements and 27 with three fuel elements) as well as 123 fuel assemblies of the VVR-KN type, with 19.7% enriched uranium. The total amount of the fuel prepared for transfer is said to be 504 kg. The VVR-KN fuel assembly was developed in Russia specifically for conversion of the VVR-K reactor to LEU. The first test of the fuel began in 2012 and the reactor conversion was completed in 2016.
Based on the data published by the fuel manufacturer, the Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrates Plant, fresh VVR-Ts fuel assemblies contain 109 g and 83 g of U-235 in 5- and 3-element assemblies respectively. Each fresh VVR-K assembly contains 245 g of U-235. Accordingly, the shipment will include about 43 kg of irradiated 36% HEU and about 153 kg of 19.7% LEU (by the initial uranium-235 content).
The fuel will be transported from Almaty to Koltsovo, Ekaterinburg by air and then to the Mayak Plant by a truck. Radioactive waste will be returned to Kazakhstan. Previous shipment of spent VVR-K fuel from Kazakhstan to Mayak was announced in January 2015.
The Department of Energy submitted an application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (XSNM3777) requesting a license to export 3.0 kg of highly enriched uranium (2.8 kg of uranium-235, maximum enrichment of 93.35%) to Canada. The license request is part of a contingency plan that would be activated only if the NRU reactor has to resume operations to respond to an "extended global shortage of the medical isotope Molybdenum-99." Unless then, no HEU would be transported to Canada.
In February 2015, the Government of Canada announced that the NRU reactor will operate until March 2018. The reactor will not be producing Mo-99 after 31 October 2016, but will remain on hot standby ready to resume production if necessary. (This plan was addressed in the recent National Academies report on Mo-99.)
The most recent export license for supply of 8.1 kg of HEU to Canada, XSNM3761, was requested in 2011 and granted in June 2015.
At the IAEA General Conference in Vienna U.S. Secretary of Energy announced removal of 61 kg of HEU in spent fuel from the Maria research reactor located at the National Center for Nuclear Research, Otwock-Świerk in Poland. The fuel in 17 TUK-19 containers was delivered to the Gdansk airport. It was then airlifted to "a secure facility in Russia," most likely to the Mayak Plant, where it will be reprocessed.
The reactor was reported to be converted to LEU in 2012 but HEU fuel remained in the active zone until now. Previous batch of spent fuel was shipped to Russia in September 2014.
With the removal of the last batch of HEU fuel, Poland has been declared HEU free. it became the 32nd country plus Taiwan that had all HEU removed. The Maria reactor, however, will continue to use HEU for production of medical isotopes.
As part of its plutonium disposition program, the United States has been sending some material to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico. The repository, which opened in 1999, suspended operations after an accident in February 2014. During that time, WIPP accepted about 5.7 MT of plutonium in various forms. The graph and the table below provide data on the amount of plutonium emplaced in WIPP in 1999-2014. The table is based on the official information that the Department of Energy released to researchers.
This post contains a summary of INFCIRC/549 reports by the countries that submit annual civilian plutonium declarations that reflect the status of civilian plutonium stocks as of 31 December 2015.
Japan (INFCIRC/549/Add.1-19) reported having 10.7 tons of plutonium in the country and 37.1 tonnes abroad (the 2014 numbers were 10.8 and 37.0 tons respectively). In July 2016 Japan also released a more detailed internal version of this report, "The Status of Plutonium Management in Japan".
Germany (INFCIRC/549/Add.2-19) reported 1.8 tons of separated plutonium in the country (2.1 tons in 2014). Germany does not report separated plutonium outside of the country.
Belgium (INFCIRC/549/Add.3-15) declared "less than 50 kg" of separated plutonium in all categories. It is likely that all material belongs to foreign bodies (900 kg was reported in this category in 2014).
Switzerland (INFCIRC/549/Add.4-20) declared "less than 50 kg" of separated plutonium "held elsewhere" (no change from 2014).
France - hasn't submitted its report yet.
The United States - hasn't submitted its report yet.
China (INFCIRC/549/Add.7-15) reported 25.4 kg of separated plutonium (no change from 2014).
The United Kingdom - hasn't submitted its report yet.
Russia (INFCIRC/549/Add.9-18) reported 55.4 tons of civilian plutonium. This includes 53.1 tons of material in storage, 1.5 tons of plutonium in unirradiated MOX and 0.8 tons of plutonium stored elsewhere. The numbers in 2014 were 52, 0.3 and 1.3 tons respectively for the total of 53.6 tons
I addition to reporting plutonium stocks, some countries also submit data on their civilian HEU:
Germany reported 0.3 tonnes of HEU in research reactor fuel, 0.93 tonnes of HEU in irradiated research reactor fuel, and 0.03 tonnes in the category "HEU held elsewhere." The numbers have not changed since 2014.