Category Archives: non-proliferatie

Francois Hollande visit to finalize deadline for 6 nuclear reactors

The Times of India | Indrani Bagchi | Jan 23, 2016

NEW DELHI: India and France are expected to announce a roadmap and deadline for construction of six new nuclear reactors by French company Areva when President Francois Hollande meets Narendra Modi for bilateral discussions on Monday.

India has also decided to move away from the Russian model of building two reactors at a time and will steam ahead with all six reactors simultaneously.

This is important in a number of ways — it will enable “Make in India” projects to utilize economies of scale and be profitable from the companies’ point of view. For suppliers, investing in the technology and production systems for six reactors rather than two makes better sense.

Until now, India has followed the Kudankulam procedure of going two at a time. That would make it more difficult for companies intending to be suppliers and manufacturing in India. Second, it will be an enivironment friendly step, a commitment made during COP21.

Hollande’s visit is more in the nature of reaffirming the strength of the bilateral relationship, with no big agreements in the pipeline. The headlines may be occupied by an intergovernmental agreement on the Rafale fighter aircraft, which continues to go through last-minute negotiations. India and France recently held their first maritime dialogue, indicating this area would see a lot of discussions during the visit.

Paris and Pathankot terror attacks will also come up for discussions, with the two countries in the crosshairs of Islamist terror. Both countries will intensify their discussions and cooperation on counterterrorism.

One of the less-appreciated aspects about French presence in India has been the fact that almost all of its top companies have a robust presence here, not something that can be said about India’s other G7 partners. Some new B2B agreements are likely to be inked during the visit.

On the nuclear power front, India has stepped on the gas regarding the timeline for completeing nuclear projects with France. The delays have been attributed to two reasons — first, NPCIL’s over-cautiousness about stepping into uncharted waters, and second, the fact that Areva was bought over by EDF, the French electricity facility. The reorganization as a result of the merger is ongoing and expected to continue for a while

Meanwhile, L&T which signed an MOU with Areva last April is in the process of revamping its premier manufacturing facility in Hazira to be able to produce nuclear equipment in collaboration with Areva.

Kalibr: Savior of INF Treaty?

FAS | Hans M. Kristensen | December 14, 2015

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With a series of highly advertised sea- and air-launched cruise missile attacks against targets in Syria, the Russian government has demonstrated that it doesn’t have a military need for the controversial ground-launched cruise missile that the United States has accused Russia of developing and test-launching in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.

Moreover, President Vladimir Putin has now publicly confirmed (what everyone suspected) that the sea- and air-launched cruise missiles can deliver both conventional and nuclear warheads and, therefore, can hold the same targets at risk. (Click here to download the Russian Ministry of Defense’s drawing providing the Kalibr capabilities.)

The United States has publicly accused Russia of violating the INF treaty by developing, producing, and test-launching a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) to a distance of 500 kilometers (310 miles) or more. The U.S. government has not publicly identified the missile, which has allowed the Russian government to “play dumb” and pretend it doesn’t know what the U.S. government is talking about.

The lack of specificity has also allowed widespread speculations in the news media and on private web sites (this included) about which missile is the culprit.

As a result, U.S. government officials have now started to be a little more explicit about what the Russian missile is not. Instead, it is described as a new “state-of-the-art” ground-launched cruise missile that has been developed, produced, test-launched – but not yet deployed.

Whether or not one believes the U.S. accusation or the Russian denial, the latest cruise missile attacks in Syria demonstrate that there is no military need for Russia to develop a ground-launched cruise missile. The Kalibr SLCM finally gives Russia a long-range conventional SLCM similar to the Tomahawk SLCM the U.S. navy has been deploying since the 1980s.

What The INF Violation Is Not

Although the U.S. government has yet to publicly identify the GLCM by name, it has gradually responded to speculations about what it might be by providing more and more details about what the GLCM is not. Recently two senior U.S. officials privately explained about the INF violation that:

  • it is not the R-500 cruise missile (Iskander-K);
  • it is not the RS-26 road-mobile ballistic missile;
  • it is not a sea-launched cruise missile test-launched from a ground launcher;
  • it is not an air-launched cruise missile test-launched from a ground launcher;
  • it is not a technical mistake;
  • it is not one or two test slips;
  • it is in development but has not yet been deployed.

Rose Gottemoeller, the U.S. under secretary of state for and international security, said in response to a question at the Brookings Institution in December 2014: “It is a ground-launched cruise missile. It is neither of the systems that you raised. It’s not the Iskander. It is not the other one, X-100. Is that what it is? Yeah, I’ve seen some of those reflections in the press and it’s not that one.” [The question was in fact about the X-101, sometimes used as a designation for the air-launched Kh-101, a conventional missile that also exists in a nuclear version known as the Kh-102.]

The explicit ruling out of the Iskander as an INF violation is important because numerous news media and private web sites over the past several years have claimed that the ballistic missile (SS-26; Iskander-M) has a range of 500 km (310 miles), possibly more. Such a range would be a violation of the INF. In contrast, the U.S. National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) has consistently listed the range as 300 km (186 miles). Likewise, the cruise missile known as Iskander-K (apparently the R-500) has also been widely rumored to have a range that violates the INF, some saying 2,000 km (1,243 miles) and some even up to 5,000 kilometers (3,107 miles). But Gottemoeller’s statement seems to undercut such rumors.

Gottemoeller told Congress in December 2015 that “we had no information or indication as of 2008 that the Russian Federation was violating the treaty. That information emerged in 2011.” And she repeated that “this it is not a technicality, a one off event, or a case of mistaken identity,” such as a SLCM launched from land.

Instead, U.S. officials have begun to be more explicit about the GLCM, saying that it involves “a state-of-the-art ground-launched cruise missile that Russia has tested at ranges capable of threatening most of [the] European continent and out allies in Northeast Asia” (emphasis added). Apparently, the “state-of-the-art” phrase is intended to underscore that the missile is new and not something else mistaken for a GLCM.

Some believe the GLCM may be the 9M729 missile, and unidentified U.S. government sources say the missile is designated SSC-X-8 by the U.S. Intelligence Community.

Forget GLCM: Kalibr SLCM Can Do The Job

Whatever the GLCM is, the Russian cruise missile attacks on Syria over the past two months demonstrate that the Russian military doesn’t need the GLCM. Instead, existing sea- and air-launched cruise missiles can hold at risk the same targets. U.S. intelligence officials say the GLCM has been test-launched to about the same range as the Kalibr SLCM.

Following the launch from the Kilo-II class submarine in the Mediterranean Sea on December 9, Putin publicly confirmed that the Kalibr SLCM (as well as the Kh-101 ALCM) is nuclear-capable. “Both the Calibre [sic] missiles and the Kh-101 [sic] rockets can be equipped either with conventional or special nuclear warheads.” (The Kh-101 is the conventional version of the new air-launched cruise missile, which is called Kh-102 when equipped with a nuclear warhead.)

The conventional Kalibr version used in Syria appears to have a range of up to 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles). It is possible, but unknown, that the nuclear version has a longer range, possibly more than 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles). The existing nuclear land-attack sea-launched cruise missile (SS-N-21) has a range of more than 2,800 kilometers (the same as the old AS-15 air-launched cruise missile).

The Russian navy is planning to deploy the Kalibr widely on ships and submarines in all its five fleets: the Northern Fleet on the Kola Peninsula; the Baltic Sea Fleet in Kaliningrad and Saint Petersburg; the Black Sea Fleet bases in Sevastopol and Novorossiysk; the Caspian Sea Fleet in Makhachkala; and the Pacific Fleet bases in Vladivostok and Petropavlovsk.

The Russian navy is already bragging about the Kalibr. After the Kalibr strike from the Caspian Sea, Vice Admiral Viktor Bursuk, the Russian navy’s deputy Commander-in-Chief, warned NATO: “The range of these missiles allows us to say that ships operating from the Black Sea will be able to engage targets located quite a long distance away, a circumstance which has come as an unpleasant surprise to counties that are members of the NATO block.”

With a range of 2,000 kilometers the Russian navy could target facilities in all European NATO countries without even leaving port (except Spain and Portugal), most of the Middle East, as well as Japan, South Korea, and northeast China including Beijing (see map below).

Kalibr-range

Click on image to see full-size version.

As a result of the capabilities provided by the Kalibr and other new conventional cruise missiles, we will probably see many of Russia’s old Soviet-era nuclear sea-launched cruise missiles retiring over the next decade.

The nuclear Kalibr land-attack version will probably be used to equip select attack submarines such as the Severodvinsk (Yasen) class, similar to the existing nuclear land-attack cruise missile (SS-N-21), which is carried by the Akula, Sierra, and Victor-III attack submarines, but not other submarines or surface ships.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Now that Russia has demonstrated the capability of its new sea- and air-launched conventional long-range cruise missiles – and announced that they can also carry nuclear warheads – it has demonstrated that there is no military need for a long-range ground-launched cruise missile as well.

This provides Russia with an opportunity to remove confusion about its compliance with the INF treaty by scrapping the illegal and unnecessary ground-launched cruise missile project.

Doing so would save money at home and begin the slow and long process of repairing international relations.

Moreover, Russia’s widespread and growing deployment of new conventional long-range land-attack and anti-ship cruise missiles raises questions about the need for the Russian navy to continue to deploy nuclear cruise missiles. Russia’s existing five nuclear sea-launched cruise missiles (SS-N-9, SS-N-12, SS-N-19, SS-N-21 and SS-N-22) were all developed at a time when long-range conventional missiles were non-existent or inadequate.

Those days are gone, as demonstrated by the recent cruise missile attacks, and Russia should now follow the U.S. example from 2011 when it scrapped its nuclear Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile. Doing so would reduce excess types and numbers of nuclear weapons.

Background:

This publication was made possible by a grant from the New Land Foundation and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

Opponents of U.S. nuclear bomb ‘glorification’ park seek Japanese support

The Asahi Shimbun | Masato Tainaka | December 17, 2015

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Visitors to the B reactor at the Hanford facility listen to an explanation of the work once done at the site. (Masato Tainaka)

Residents who fell sick living near the facility that produced plutonium for the Nagasaki atomic bomb are seeking Japanese support for a campaign against an attraction in the United States that they say “glorifies” nuclear weapons.

The move by the group called Consequences of Radiation Exposure (CORE) follows the U.S. government’s establishment on Nov. 10 of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park at three sites related to the development of the first atomic bombs used by the United States.

One of those sites is in Hanford, Washington state, which in 1945 produced the plutonium for the world’s first nuclear test in Alamogordo, New Mexico, as well as in the bomb detonated over Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945.

“The intended purpose of this new park was to glorify the science behind the atomic bomb,” said Trisha Pritikin, 65, a founding member of CORE and a lawyer whose father worked as an engineer at the Hanford facility. “We are fighting an uphill battle.”

One of CORE’s objectives is to collect donations to build a new museum in Seattle to focus on the negative consequences of the nuclear weapons development program and nuclear energy.

Tom Bailie, 68, a farmer near Hanford and CORE member, said: “Humans cannot co-exist with nuclear weapons or nuclear power plants. I want to build a museum with the people of Japan who are well aware of that.”

CORE is comprised of people living near the Hanford site, like Bailie, who fell sick over the years, likely due to the radiation emitted from the facility.

Bailie has suffered from various health problems since childhood. At 18, he was diagnosed as being infertile. Family members have also died of cancer.

He has previously spoken to the media about what he calls “the death mile” near his home where there has been a high incidence of miscarriage, deformed babies, cancer and leukemia.

Bailie also appeared in the 2003 Japanese movie “Hibakusha–At the End of the World” about the survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as Iraqi victims of depleted uranium shells, directed by Hitomi Kamanaka.

After World War II, the Hanford facility produced enough weapons-grade plutonium for about 7,000 bombs the same size as the one dropped on Nagasaki.

In 1986, the U.S. Energy Department released 19,000 pages of confidential documents in response to a freedom-of-information request made by local residents.

According to the documents, an experiment called “Green-run” at the Hanford site in December 1949 intentionally emitted 740 terabecquerels of radioactive xenon-133 and 287 terabecquerels of iodine-131. One tera is 1 trillion bequerels.

The area around the Hanford site was also contaminated with various radioactive elements during the Cold War. Work to decontaminate the site continued from 1989 after the facility shut down, but 177 underground tanks store large volumes of highly radioactive waste liquids that have not been processed at all.

Those residents living near the facility call themselves “downwinders” because they developed cancer and thyroid problems likely caused by wind-borne radioactive elements from the Hanford site.

Pritikin’s parents both died of thyroid cancer and she herself suffers from headaches and gastrointestinal and thyroid problems. She said radiation from the Hanford site “killed him (my father), my mom, and, maybe, eventually me.”

Since 1990, about 5,000 individuals, including many downwinders, have filed lawsuits against the companies contracted with the Department of Energy. Pritikin was one of those litigants, but courts never acknowledged a causal relationship between radiation and health problems. Many of the plaintiffs died before a verdict was even handed down.

The B reactor at Hanford that produced the plutonium used in the Nagasaki bomb has already been opened as a museum to the public. It will likely become the main attraction for the national historical park that officials want to be complete in around 2020, with the other Manhattan Project sites in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

The display at the Hanford B reactor now highlights the scientific achievements that gave birth to the nuclear age.

However, Norma Field, professor emeritus of East Asian studies at the University of Chicago who is also a CORE director, said other sides of the story should also be told.

“The history of the Manhattan Project cannot be passed off as a history of triumph. It is a history of widespread, continued suffering on the part of U.S. citizens,” Field said.

“Hibakusha seeing themselves as part of a global history of exploitation and suffering through the CORE project would be an immense contribution.”

By MASATO TAINAKA/ Staff Writer

India, Japan reach agreement on nuclear cooperation

WNN | 14 December 2015

After many years of negotiations, India and Japan have signed a memorandum on cooperating in nuclear energy. However, certain technical and legal issues must be resolved before a final agreement can be signed.

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi and the Prime Minister of Japan, Mr. Shinzo Abe at the signing ceremony, in New Delhi on December 12, 2015.

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi and the Prime Minister of Japan, Mr. Shinzo Abe at the signing ceremony, in New Delhi on December 12, 2015.

The memorandum – outlining broad areas for cooperation – was signed on 12 December in Delhi by Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.

Negotiations between the two countries for a civil nuclear deal began in 2010. However, those talks were suspended after the March 2011 accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant. During a May 2013 meeting by Abe and India’s then-prime minister Manmohan Singh, the two leaders said that negotiations had resumed.

Speaking at a press conference after the signing, Modi said: “The memorandum we signed on civil nuclear energy cooperation is more than just an agreement for commerce and clean energy.” He said, “It is a shining symbol of a new level of mutual confidence and strategic partnership in the cause of a peaceful and secure world.”

Modi added, “I know the significance of this decision for Japan. And I assure you that India deeply respects that decision and will honour our shared commitments.”

In a statement, Abe noted that the final agreement on cooperation “will be signed after the technical details are finalised, including those related to the necessary internal procedures”.

The signing of such an accord would enable India to import Japanese nuclear technology and services.

The two prime ministers also affirmed their commitment to work toward India becoming a full member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

India was largely excluded from international trade in nuclear plant and materials for over three decades because of its position outside the comprehensive safeguards regime of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Special agreements ended its isolation in 2009 and the country may now engage in nuclear trade with those countries with which it has since signed cooperation agreements: Australia, Canada, France, Kazakhstan, Russia, the UK and the USA. Foreign technology and fuel are expected to boost India’s nuclear power plans considerably.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News

The new nuclear arms race

The Washington Post | Katrina vanden Heuvel | December 15, 2015

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Former secretary of defense William Perry testifies on Capitol Hill in 2007. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

On a frigid day in February 1994, William Perry was sworn in as President Bill Clinton’s secretary of defense. Perry would take over at the Pentagon during one of the most fluid times in geopolitical history — between the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. During his time in office, Perry was one of the architects of a strategy he called “preventive defense,” the goal of which was to reduce global threats rather than just contain them. The greatest threat of all was nuclear, as fears spread about such weapons falling into rogue hands.

Two decades later, Perry has written a new book, “My Journey at the Nuclear Brink,” in which he offers a dire warning: “Far from continuing the nuclear disarmament that has been underway for the last two decades, we are starting a new nuclear arms race.”

This is not hyperbole. The United States and Russia are acting with increasing belligerence toward each other while actively pursuing monstrous weapons. As Joe Cirincione described in the Huffington Post, the Pentagon plans to spend $1 trillion over 30 years on “an entire new generation of nuclear bombs, bombers, missiles and submarines,” including a dozen submarines carrying more than 1,000 warheads, capable of decimating any country anywhere. In the meantime, President Obama has ordered 200 new nuclear bombs deployed in Europe.

Russia has been at least as aggressive. As Cirincione described, Russian state media recently revealed plans for a new kind of a weapon — a hydrogen bomb torpedo — that can traverse 6,000 miles of ocean just as a missile would in the sky. On impact, the bomb would create a “radioactive tsunami,” designed to kill millions along a country’s coast.

This escalation has been a long time coming, and the U.S. owns much of the blame for the way it has accelerated. During the Clinton administration, the United States pushed hard to expand NATO, breaking a critical promise to Russia not to threaten its sphere of influence. Perry, who played a lead role in this effort, has since acknowledged its folly. “That was the first move down the slippery slope,” he said at an event hosted by the Defense Writers’ Group. “It’s as much our fault as it is the fault of the Russians, at least originally. And it began when I was secretary.”

During the George W. Bush administration, there were more missteps, especially the U.S. walking away from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, causing irreparable harm to the countries’ fragile relationship. And during the Obama administration, the president seems to have gone out of his way to denigrate Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, publicly describing him as “like a bored child in the back of the classroom.” The Obama administration sent arms into Ukraine, reminiscent of Cold War proxy wars that the United States fought on nearly every continent. This time, the game is even more dangerous, playing out on Russia’s border instead of thousands of miles away. And though we are more than a quarter century removed from the fall of the Berlin Wall, the United States still has nuclear weapons pointed at Russia on hair-trigger alert, sending a daily signal of aggression.

As Perry noted, one of the great dangers of nuclear proliferation is accidental war. This is not paranoia. In May 2013, the Air Force suspended 17 officers from controlling nuclear weapons after an inspection found a “breakdown in overall discipline.” Seven months later, an Air Force general who oversaw bases with 450 ICBM missiles was fired for what The Washington Post described as a “drunken Moscow bender.” The next month, 34 nuclear officers were caught cheating on their proficiency exams. According to ABC News, investigators learned about the scandal during “another investigation that has already implicated 11 junior officers in using illegal recreational drugs.”

But the increased tension between the U.S. and Russia will have dire global consequences even if neither side launches a weapon. Defeating the Islamic State is likely impossible without Russia as part of a broad coalition. Not only does Russia bring advanced military capabilities and general resources to the fight, it also brings intelligence, diplomatic and political ties in the Middle East that the United States simply does not have. And beyond the fight against the Islamic State, there are a number of vital geopolitical issues where a partnership with Russia can be profoundly powerful. Without Russia, the United States would never have reached a nuclear deal with Iran. Without Russia, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would still have chemical weapons.

“In a strange turn of history,” Obama said during a 2009 speech in Prague, “the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack as gone up.” In yet a stranger turn of history, it is the United States that is contributing to the increased risk of both. Whether Hillary Clinton would follow a similar path remains to be seen. On the campaign trail in 2015, the former secretary of state’s comments have not been encouraging. The day after Russia started bombing Islamic State targets in Syria, for example, she called for a no-fly zone, a policy that would not just risk confrontation with the Russians, it would require it.

In that same speech in Prague, Obama criticized those who viewed nuclear proliferation as an inevitability. “Such fatalism is a deadly adversary,” he said, “for if we believe that the spread of nuclear weapons is inevitable, then in some way we are admitting to ourselves that the use of nuclear weapons is inevitable.” In his final year in office, may he remember his own words. And in the years to come, may we all.

Rauf and Kelley on the PMD Report and the IAEA Intel Problem

Arms Control Law | Dan Joyner | December 16, 2015

Tariq Rauf and Bob Kelley’s new SIPRI report providing an analysis of the IAEA PMD report is a must read.  The two former IAEA insiders give a rigorous and critical review of the technical findings of the IAEA in both the original 2011 PMD report, and now in the final 2015 PMD report. You won’t find this kind of serious and independent review from the normal DC think tank crowd.

Rauf and Kelley further give some overall critical observations about culture and and administrative paradigm clashes in the IAEA, and then particularly focus on a problem that I and others have pointed to as well over the years – the increased recent reliance by the IAEA secretariat on intelligence information provided to it by third party member states.  Here’s their conclusion and recommendations:

A structural weakness of the IAEA is that there is no transparent process for the supply of intelligence information and confirmation of its authenticity. The usual process is for the Member State(s) to provide the intelligence information either in documentation or electronic form to a special assistant in the Director General’s office and/or to the Deputy Director General for Safeguards, alternatively to give a closed briefing in its embassy/mission. The IAEA then deals with the information as described in an earlier section above. There is no established process to share such information with the accused State or with the BoG. In 1993, however, the IAEA Secretariat was allowed by the US to show classified satellite imagery provided by the US to the Board in a technical briefing. To the authors’ knowledge this modality has not been repeated.
The supply and use of intelligence information is a sensitive yet complex issue as noted in the excerpt from an IAEA BoG Governor cited in an earlier section above. The IAEA cannot serve as a feedback loop to intelligence agencies on the veracity of information provided by them through safeguards inspections and assessments. Nor can or should the IAEA rely on such information without confirming its authenticity. This obviously leaves the IAEA in a difficult position as is clearly evidenced by the Iran PMD file where the Agency seems to have been caught short.
Recommendations
The authors recommend that the BoG put in place a methodology for the acceptance and use of intelligence information drawing from the practices of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). In these two organizations, allegations of non-compliance can be raised by any State Party which provides its information to the Director General, who in turn shares it with the Executive Council. The Executive Council is convened; the Accuser State puts forward its case on allegations of non-compliance or suspicious activities in another State along with supporting information/evidence. The Accused State has the opportunity to present its defence. Following deliberations, the Executive Council can stop a challenge inspection in the case of the OPCW or authorize an on-site inspection in the case of the CTBTO. Such a practice could serve the IAEA well – the Accuser State to provide information to the IAEA Director General, who then shares it with the BoG, the Board convenes to examine the in formation presented by both the Accuser and Accused States and then to decide on the way forward preferably on the basis of consensus but by a vote if necessary. In fact, the JCPOA contains a somewhat similar provision for the Joint Commission in paragraph 36 on dispute resolution, and as noted previously in 1993, the IAEA Secretariat presented satellite imagery on DPRK from the U.S. to the Board of Governors.
It is essential that the IAEA BoG expeditiously comes up with a mechanism governing the provision and handling of intelligence information to the IAEA Secretariat. There is great potential for misuse of such information and of suborning the independence of the Agency in the absence of such a mechanism, as abundantly demonstrated by the cases of Iraq, Iran and Syria in recent time.
In my view this is first class analysis. Not only clearly identifying an important problem, but also providing an eminently workable solution that is already in practice in similarly situated and mandated arms control organizations.  I truly hope that the IAEA BOG will take heed of this report and institute the changes Rauf and Kelley propose.

Russian BN-800 fast breeder reactor connected to grid

IPFM Blog | Shaun Burnie (with Mycle Schneider) | December 15, 2015

Thirty-one years after construction start, the BN-800 Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR) at Zarechnyy, in the Sverdlovsk region of Russia, was connected to the grid on December 10, 2015 at 21:21 (19:21 MSK). In the beginning the reactor will be operating at about 35 percent of its power. According to the IAEA, the BN-800 has a nominal net capacity of 789 MWe. The reactor first reached criticality in June 2014.

The extremely long construction time is no exception. Russia has connected only four reactors to its power grid over the past ten years (including the BN-800) and the average construction time was just under 30 years.

The BN-800 is eventually to be fueled with surplus weapons grade plutonium manufactured into plutonium-uranium Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel, produced at the MOX fabrication plant in Zheleznogorsk, which produced first fuel in September 2015. However, BN-800’s initial core is a combination of MOX fuel with pellets supplied by the Mayak Plant, Chelyabinsk region and vibro-packed MOX from the Research Institute of Atomic Reactors (NIIAR, Dimitrovgrad, Ulyanovsk region). Of the total of 576 fuel assemblies in the initial core, 102 are fuel assemblies with high-enriched uranium.

A full MOX core with reactor-grade plutonium would contain 2,710 kg, while the use of weapons-grade plutonium would limit the quantity to 2,215 kg.

The Russian FBR program has limited experience with plutonium based MOX fuel. Due to a combination of cost and safety issues, most of the fuel used in the BN-350 and BN-600 reactors has been based on uranium with enrichment from 17% to 26%. Some experience with plutonium fuel was acquired in the experimental BOR-60 reactor and in a few experimental fuel assemblies in BN-350 and BN-600.

Under the United States-Russia Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA), signed in 2000, each nation agreed to dispose of at least 34 tons of surplus weapons-grade plutonium. The original plan by Russia to fabricate MOX fuel and use it in light water reactors was amended with an additional protocol to the PMDA, signed in 2010, whereby the 34 tons of plutonium would be “burned” in fast reactors. The change reflected the long-standing commitment in Russia to a nuclear power program based on “closed nuclear fuel cycle”, including reprocessing and FBRs. However, earlier Russian plans in the 1980’s to construct five BN-800s in the Ural region failed to materialize. Its current plans to scale up FBR deployment to 14 GWe by 2030 and 34 GWe of capacity by 2050 no not seem realistic. Plans for the next stage in fast reactor development, the BN-1200, scheduled to be operational by 2025, have been postponed due to doubts over its economic viability. As part of its “Breakthrough” program, Rosatom is also working on another FBR design, Brest-300. Preparation for the construction of the pilot unit, Brest-OD-300, are underway in Seversk (formerly Tomsk-7).

As a fast neutron reactor, the BN-800 will be capable of breeding additional plutonium, which is one reason Article VI of the PMDA Agreement imposes a ban on spent fuel and breeder blanket reprocessing during the disposition process until disposition of plutonium covered by the PMDA is complete. However, before that time, Russia can reprocess up to 30 percent of the fuel discharged by the BN-800, provided that it was made with plutonium other than disposition plutonium.