Ed Lyman and Frank Von Hippel: Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott of South Carolina have interpreted remarks by Russian president Putin on the 2000 U.S.-Russian Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA) as requiring that the United States continue with the costly MOX project in South Carolina. President Putin objected to the less costly dilute and dispose approach proposed by the Obama Administration because the plutonium could be recovered and “converted into weapons-grade plutonium again.” RT reported a Rosatom spokesman explaining, “The only way to irreversibly turn plutonium into a material not usable in a nuclear weapon is by changing its isotope composition. Any chemical method is reversible.” This position has little technical merit, because the plutonium that will be produced by Russia’s disposal approach, irradiation in its BN-800 plutonium breeder reactor, may not be weapon-grade but it will be weapon-usable. Furthermore, Russia, unlike the United States, intends to separate the plutonium in the irradiated BN-800 fuel and the weapon-grade plutonium produced in the plutonium-breeding blankets around the BN-800 core so that it can be reused, which will also make it susceptible again to diversion by non-state groups. If need be, Russia’s insistence that the isotopics of U.S. excess weapon-grade plutonium be degraded could be dealt with at a much lower cost than through irradiation in MOX.
International Panel on Fissile Materials 15th April 2016 read more »