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Effort to Eliminate U.S. and Russian Plutonium Gathers Momentum

WASHINGTON, DC – United States and Russian efforts to dispose of excess plutonium are accelerating, with the U.S. MOX construction project now 25 percent complete, according to the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

"I am pleased with the recent progress we are seeing both here and in Russia on our joint effort to reduce surplus plutonium from nuclear weapons and weapons programs," said William Tobey, NNSA's Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation. "It is important that our countries continue to work together on our agreement to dispose of enough plutonium for at least 8,500 nuclear weapons."

As part of a 2000 agreement, the United States and Russia each committed to dispose of at least 34 metric tons (75,000 lbs.) of surplus weapons plutonium. The U.S. Mixed Oxide facility will fabricate U.S-origin plutonium into mixed oxide (MOX) fuel that will be used in commercial nuclear reactors in North Carolina and South Carolina. It will generate enough clean energy to power roughly one million households for 50 years. The MOX facility is scheduled to be operational by 2016.

Since starting construction of the U.S. MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site near Aiken, South Carolina in August of this year, progress has moved forward at a brisk pace. Project safety remains excellent as half a million hours of work have been completed without a lost-time accident. The project involves over 1000 workers, and every construction milestone has been met.

Last month, the United States and Russia agreed on a plan to dispose of 34 metric tons of Russian plutonium that contains the technical and financial components needed to implement the program. Consistent with its national energy strategy, Russia will begin disposing of its plutonium around 2012 at the BN-600 fast reactor, currently operating at the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant. Further disposition will continue at the BN-800 fast reactor, currently under construction at the same site.

"The Russians are moving forward on their plans to dispose of surplus plutonium," continued Tobey. "They are committed to this important nonproliferation goal, and the progress we have shown on our MOX facility shows them that we are committed to it as well."

Tobey said that Congress asked that the MOX project achieve three milestones before proceeding. NNSA has completed all three.

First, there is a solid project baseline, with 90% of the design complete and conservative reserves for any contingencies or escalations. Preconstruction activity was completed under budget and ahead of schedule.

Second, NNSA has added to the mission of the MOX program. For instance, starter fuel could be produced for advanced fast reactors. Tobey added that it was important to note that Secretary Bodman announced in September the planned addition of nine more metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium for the MOX program.

Third, the recent Joint Statement with Russia means that there is now a Russian plutonium disposition plan that is technically and financially credible. The Russians are committed to this plan, because it is consistent with the current Russian energy program.

Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a separately organized agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the United States and abroad.

Media contact(s):
NNSA Public Affairs (202) 586-7371