The U.K. Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is taking ownership of about 600 kg of separated plutonium that has already been stored in the country. The material is described as "600 kg of material previously owned by a Spanish utility" and "5 kg of material previously owned by a German organisation."

This move continues the practice of United Kingdom's taking ownership of foreign plutonium that is stored on its soil.

In a press release summarizing progress since 2009 on the policies known as the Prague Nuclear Agenda the Obama administration announced that it "unilaterally reduced the U.S. nuclear stockpile by approximately 500 warheads this year [apparently FY2016] and added these weapons to the dismantlement queue." Despite this reduction, no additional fissile material was declared as excess to weapon or military purposes.

The White House factsheet noted that "As of September 2016, the U.S. active stockpile of nuclear warheads consisted of 4,018 warheads." Previous data released by the United States showed that its active stockpile as of September 2015 included 4,571 weapons. The data indicates a reduction of 553 warheads.

As of September 2016, the warhead dismantlement queue has increased to about 2,800 from the "approximately 2,500 warheads retired and in the queue for elimination" as of September 2014 (announced in April 2015).

The press release reports that "from fiscal year 2009 through the end of fiscal year 2016, the U.S. dismantled 2,226 warheads and retired an additional 1,255 weapons." The average warhead dismantlement rate has fallen significantly in this period - the press release notes that "Since September 30, 2013, the United States has dismantled 666 nuclear warheads." This suggests that 1560 warheads were dismantled from 2009 to 2013 and only 666 warheads were dismantled since 2013. In the past, the United States was able to dismantle well over 1,000 warheads per year.

It appears that 258 warheads were dismantled in fiscal year 2016. At the current rate of dismantlement, it will take over a decade to dismantle the 2,800 warheads currently in the queue for elimination.

Among other achievements mentioned in the press release is the "removal of highly enriched uranium and plutonium from more than 50 facilities in 30 countries - more than four metric tons of nuclear material." The document notes that "since 2009, 16 nations and Taiwan - countries from Argentina and Libya to Serbia and Vietnam - have eliminated their holdings of highly enriched uranium and plutonium, making Latin America, Central Europe, and Southeast Asia completely free of these dangerous materials."

The Japanese government formally decided to scrap the Monju prototype reactor. Spent fuel from the reactor will be removed by 2022 and the dismantlement is expected to be completed by 2047. The dismantlement is estimated to cost about ¥375 billion ($3.2 billion). A recent estimate suggested that restarting the reactor would take about eight years and ¥540 billion (about $4.82 billion) to operate.

The 350-MWe Monju prototype fast-neutron reactor was operational for only very brief period. It reached criticality in 1994 and was connected to the grid in August 1995, but was shut down four months later by a fire caused by leakage of its molten sodium coolant. It was restarted again 15 years later, in May 2010, but was shut down again three months later by a refueling accident. In November 2015, Japan's Nuclear Regulatory Authority announced that the current operator of the reactor, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, is unfit for purpose when it discovered a number of problems during a safety inspection.

However, the shutdown of the Monju reactor does not seem to affect Japan's plan to invest in fast neutron reactor or the policy regarding reprocessing of the spent fuel of its light-water reactors.

Martin Forwood

If nuclear power has been labelled an extraordinarily expensive way of boiling a kettle, then Evaporator D--known to the workforce as the 'Big Kettle'--must be breaking all records. Initially costed at £90 million in 2007 (then US$185 million) and due to come into operation in 2010-2011, the cost has increased eight-fold to £740M (now US$920M) by September 2015. With a still 'challenging' operational date penciled in as 2017-2018, and with updated figures yet to be disclosed, the sky is clearly the limit for Evaporator D.

Sellafield's Evaporator D story might bear some serious lessons for the upcoming evaporator replacement planned for the French La Hague reprocessing plant (see Evaporator corrosion at La Hague threatens future reprocessing - Time for a strategy rethink?). La Hague operator AREVA NC's replacement strategy looks strikingly similar to the largely failed approach implemented at Sellafield (see also Nuclear Intelligence Weekly, 2 December 2016).


The RT-1 reprocessing plant at the Mayak Production Association in Ozersk received the first shipment of spent fuel of VVER-1000 reactor. According to the press-release issued by the company, the spent fuel shipment from the Rostov nuclear power plant was delivered to Mayak on 16 December 2016.

In June 2016, Mayak announced that reprocessing of the VVER-1000 fuel will allow the plant to reach its nominal capacity of 400 tons/year. Historically, the RT-1 plan was reprocessing about 100-130 tons of fuel annually.

In a statement made at the International Conference on Nuclear Security in Vienna, U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz announced that "the United States is beginning consultations with the IAEA to monitor the dilution and packaging of up to six metric tons of surplus plutonium at the Savannah River Site (SRS) in Aiken, South Carolina."

The material in question is part of the U.S. plutonium stock that was designated excess for military purposes. In addition to the 6 MT of non-pit plutonium covered by the current initiative, it also includes 34 MT of pit plutonium that was to be disposed as part of the U.S.-Russian Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA) as well as 7.1 MT of pit plutonium for which a disposition path is not yet assigned. The Department of Energy announced its intent to dispose of the 6 MT of non-pit plutonium in January 2016 (a formal record of decision was published in April 2016).

It appears that the United States will invite the IAEA to monitor the activities at the Savannah River Site, which include "blending the plutonium oxide with an adulterant, packaging the diluted materials in secure canisters, and preparing the canisters for permanent disposal in a geologic repository." The initiative does not seem to cover subsequent placing of the canisters in the WIPP geologic repository. [UPDATE 12/10/2016: U.S. officials indicated that the Unites States will be open to IAEA monitoring of the emplacement of plutonium to WIPP.]

The statement also does not say if the IAEA monitoring will be applied to the 34 MT of plutonium that was covered by PMDA. In 2010, the United States and Russia informed the IAEA of their intent to develop verification measures with respect to their disposition programs, but this arrangement is now in question after the United States indicated its intent to change the disposition method and Russia suspended the agreement in October 2016. It is likely that if PMDA is terminated, the United States will extend the transparency measures of the current initiative to the 34 MT of the plutonium as well. The statement make an implicit commitment to do so, as it states that "the total amount of surplus plutonium for which the United States has committed to verifiably eliminate to 40 metric tons."

Note that the Savannah River Site has already packaged some plutonium and prepared it for shipment to WIPP. Since this process began before the 2016 decision regarding surplus plutonium, it is not included in the 6 MT covered by the new initiative. As of the end of 2014, WIPP accepted 5.7 MT of plutonium.

The government of Japan estimates that it would take at least eight years to restart the Monju fast neutron reactor, should the decision is made to do so. According to this estimate, the cost of operating the reactor until the end of its life would reach ¥540 billion (about $4.82 billion). The estimate comes from the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum report, released in November 2016 (in Japanese).

Most of the cost, ¥320 billion, would be associated with operation and maintenance of the reactor (¥20 billion a year, assuming that the reactor operates for 16 years). ¥20 billion is allocated to the design of modifications required to comply with new safety rules, and ¥130 billion - to construction work.

An earlier estimate suggested that operating the Monju reactor for ten years would cost ¥600 billion. The cost of decommissioning the reactor was estimated to be ¥300 billion.

The reactor was shut down after a refueling accident in August 2010.

U.S. Department of Energy announced an agreement to sell depleted uranium to Global Laser Enrichment (GLE). According to the DoE press-release, the uranium will be supplied over a period of 40 years and will be used to "produce natural uranium which is used for production of fuel for civil nuclear reactors." It was reported that the deal includes the rights to re-enrich 300,000 tonnes of tails, producing around 100,000 tonnes of "natural-grade" uranium.

Global Laser Enrichment will build a new enrichment plant, Paducah Laser Enrichment Facility (PLEF), in Paducah, Kentucky next to the DoE site that hosted old gaseous diffusion enrichment plant (that plant was closed in 2013). The PLEF plant will use the laser enrichment technology known as Silex. In 2012 GLE obtained an NRC license to construct and operate an enrichment facility in Wilmington, NC. That license allows GLE to enrich uranium to 8% U-235. In 2014, it indicated its intent to submit an application for construction of the facility in Paducah. However, GLE told the industry press that it "has made no formal decision to proceed with licensing or construction of the facility."

Laser enrichment of uranium has raised proliferation concerns. For a detailed analysis of the physical principles and operationalization of uranium isotope separation through laser excitation and preferential condensation repression of uranium-235 hexafluoride which may be the basis for the SILEX (Separation of Isotopes by Laser Excitation) system used by Global Laser Enrichment - see Ryan Snyder, "A Proliferation Assessment of Third Generation Laser Uranium Enrichment Technology," Science & Global Security 24, no. 2 (2016): pp. 68-91.