A suspended international nuclear nonproliferation agreement has once again brought Russian attention to defense nuclear activity at Savannah River Site.
The beleaguered Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at SRS was caught in the cross-hairs of the Obama Administration in 2016 when the National Nuclear Security Administration moved to permanently nix the project. That decision caught the attention of the Russian government, which suspended the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement.
In an announcement earlier this week, the Russian Foreign Ministry said it would revive the agreement if the U.S. stuck to the original disposal method for weapons grade plutonium – MOX.
“The Russian side is ready to consider the possibility of reactivation of the PMDA if the U.S. side eliminates the causes that led to a radical change of conditions,” the statement said.
President Trump spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a Tuesday call, but according to the White House website, the nonproliferation agreement was not among topics they spoke about.
The agreement was originally signed in 2000, and set MOX design and construction into motion. The agreement between the two nuclear superpowers designated 34 metric tons of weapons grade plutonium in each nation that would be permanently demilitarized.
The bilateral arrangement said each nation would use a MOX method to process the material so that it could be used as fuel in commercial nuclear power plants.
The U.S. officially moved away from MOX in 2016 when the Department of Energy announced a preferred alternative, dilute and dispose. Dilute and dispose, also known as downblending, is a process where SRS grinds plutonium into a powder and mixes it with inert material. The containers will then be shipped for internment at the Waste Isolation Power Plant in New Mexico. The agreement was suspended by the Russians in September.
MOX construction is currently funded at what industry experts and SRS Watch Founder and nuclear watchdog Tom Clements calls baseline levels that barely keep the project moving. In this week’s appropriations bill, Congress decreased funding by $5 million compared to last year . It is unclear how the Trump Administration will fund MOX next year .
Current expectations for the project that is years beyond deadline and billions of dollars over budget place the finish line in 2029 by the contractor’s estimates. The National Nuclear Security Administration says the project is only about one-third complete and would take until 2048 to get online.
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