U.S., Russia venture working toward plutonium destruction

Russia`s Ministry of Atomic Energy (MINATOM) and General Atomics of San Diego, Calif., USA, are the lead players in a joint venture to design helium-cooled reactors capable of destroying plutonium stockpiles while producing electricity.

The helium-cooled reactor type, known as the gas turbine-modular helium reactor (GT-MHR), is expected to become an important energy source in the next century. It was chosen for its safety features and high efficiency, according to General Atomics. The GT-MHR is said to be capable of providing electricity while consuming weapons plutonium. The residual material is impractical for making nuclear weapons.

The design and fuel characteristics ensure that the reactor cannot melt down, according to advocates of the technology.

MINATOM plans to shut down plutonium production reactors at Tomsk and Krasnoyarsk, with weapons material production scheduled to stop once substitute power generation capacity is available. The conversion at Tomsk would include the design and deployment of GT-MHRs. MINATOM and participating Russian institutes and General Atomics, leading a U.S. team, will finance the projects on an equal basis. The venture is expected to employ more than 200 Russian scientists and engineers, working on development of plutonium fuel fabrication technology and conversion to the GT-MHR, along with continuing efforts to obtain U.S. government support in the helium reactor development, design and licensing. General Atomics and the Russian institutes are also collaborating in controlled fusion research.