11-10-02 Russian weapons-grade plutonium to be shipped to Western Europe
A plan quietly being pursued by nuclear industry interests to produce plutonium fuel from surplus Russian military plutonium poses a host of environmental and proliferation problems and must be rejected, according to Greenpeace International.
The "Western Option" plan is being pushed by a little known organization, which calls itself the Nuclear Disarmament Forum AG (NDF). It proposes to build a plant to produce plutonium fuel or mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX) in Russia, ship the fuel from Murmansk via the Norwegian Sea to nuclear reactors in Western Europe and transport the irradiated nuclear waste spent fuel back to Siberia where it would be stored awaiting either reprocessing the plutonium or final geologic disposal. The plan will be promoted at a ceremony in the Swiss City of Zug, on October 12th.
"This proposal combines the worst of two bad ideas being touted by the nuclear industry: construction of a plutonium fuel factory in Russia and shipment of the fuel, from which weapons grade plutonium can be easily removed. It presents an unacceptable proliferation risk; the plutonium should instead be treated as nuclear waste." said Tom Clements, Greenpeace International nuclear campaigner.
The project drafted by NDF brings together two controversial issues now being discussed internationally: what to do with surplus military plutonium which is now a liability in the United States and Russia and the idea to take spent nuclear reactor fuel from around the world to Russia for dumping.
Nuclear utilities in Germany, Belgium and Switzerland, as well Sweden and Spain have been proposed by NDF as likely clients for the Russian plutonium MOX fuel. Western nuclear industry involved in advising the NDF proposal include Swedish nuclear company Vattenfall, German utility RWE and GNS.
"This project highlights the extent to which the nuclear industry are willing to violate national legislation in the pursuit of money. It even calculates how many years it will take to change current Russian legislation to allow final disposal of radioactive waste," said Vladimir Tchouprov nuclear campaigner with Greenpeace Russia speaking at Press Conference in Brussels. "The "Western Option" lay's out in detail one way in which the nuclear industry will try to solve their radwaste problem by dumping it in Russia. They must and will be stopped," said Tchouprov.
The "Western Option" is being presented as a way to "dispose" of plutonium declared surplus in the U.S.-Russia plutonium disposition agreement of September 1, 2000. Both countries agreed to dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium withdrawn from military stocks. Of the two options available, MOX or immobilization of plutonium with high level nuclear waste, the MOX option was selected by the Russian and U.S. Governments, following heavy lobbying from the nuclear industry.
The agreement would have to be modified to allow for shipment of weapons MOX from Russia to Western Europe, and would face political difficulties along the Nordic shipping route, along land transport routes in Western Europe and in countries with reactors receiving the Russian MOX. The plutonium disposition programs in both countries face also major technical, political and financial hurdles. Greenpeace supports the alternative to MOX which is the immobilization of plutonium as a waste.
Russia's goal is to establish an entire commercial plutonium infrastructure including a new reprocessing plant, a MOX fuel plant and international nuclear dump site. The entire program will have to be paid for by either the U.S., the G-8 countries, or other donors such as Belgium and Switzerland.