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Panel on Non-Government Perspectives on Plutonium Disposition



Paul Leventhal, President

Nuclear Control Institute

presented to

Fifth Annual International Policy Forum

On Management and Disposition of Nuclear Weapons Materials

Bethesda, Maryland

March 24, 1998


• Overview of Present Situation

-- No agreement with Russia in place.

-- No funding for MOX disposition in Russia.

-- Big regulatory hurdles for MOX disposition in the U.S.

-- No bureaucratic/industrial support for vitrification in Russia or U.S.

-- Outlook is for plutonium disposition going nowhere fast.

• MOX is Not in Interest of Nuclear Utilities in U.S. or Russia

-- Domenici and CSIS proposals are in the interest of vendors and laboratories, not utilities.

-- How many American nuclear utility executives are sorry today that the plutonium industry was killed off in the 1970s and 1980s?

-- Unwise for DOE and prospective utility participants in MOX program to assume the regulatory process for MOX licensing will be a simple one, or that there will be no significant hazards associated with introduction of MOX into existing U.S. commercial reactors.

-- MOX fuel adds costs and risks to utilities and stimulates public opposition to nuclear power.

-- Subsidies to utilities for using MOX will be insufficient to overcome these liabilities.

-- Vendors and laboratories will be hurt if MOX hastens the demise of nuclear power

                        (that is, kills the utility goose that lays the golden egg).

• Present Stalemate is Not in National Security Interest of U.S. or Russia

-- Disarmament is stalled: plutonium remains in pits.

-- "Loose-nukes" worries in Russia are aggravated.

-- If MOX fabrication begins but a bottleneck develops because of safety problems and prohibitive costs at Russian reactors, then the spent fuel standard could not be met in either nation (assuming MOX use must proceed in parallel)---and the risks of MOX processing would go unmitigated.

• Finding Common Ground

-- It is in the interest of U.S. and Russia, of nuclear proponents and opponents, to make some progress.

-- Conversion of pits into unclassified, intermediate form is non-controversial, inexpensive, technically feasible and neutral as to final disposition.

-- Also, vitrification of residues too costly to purify could proceed.

-- Given the number of warheads remaining, neither side would be disadvantaged strategically.

-- Thus, conversion of pits and vitrification of residues could even proceed unilaterally in absence of U.S.-Russian agreement; the other side will likely follow suit.

-- Safe and secure storage, IAEA safeguards, and bilateral verification, are clear benefits.

-- Disposal options then could be pursued in less politically charged, more economically realistic, context.

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