Russia launches commercial MOX fuel fabrication facility

On 28 September 2015 Russia formally launched a commercial MOX fuel fabrication facility at the Mining and Chemical Combine (MCC) in Zheleznogorsk. The production line will fabricate MOX fuel for the BN-800 reactor at the Beloyarsk Nuclear Power Station. The reactor reached criticality in June 2014. It is expected to be reaching full power and connecting to the grid in the summer of 2016. According to Rosatom, the construction of the MOX plant, which reportedly took 2.5 years (it began in 2011), cost about "little over $200 million, or 9.6 billion rubles."

The plant produced its first MOX fuel assemblies in 2014 - reportedly in two batches, 10 kg and 20 kg. It plans to manufacture 24 assemblies by the end of 2015 and expects to reach the capacity of 200 assemblies in 2016 and 400 - in 2017. This should provide enough fuel for the first reloads of the BN-800 reactor.

At the startup, BN-800 reactor operates with an active zone that contains three types of fuel assemblies. Of the total of 576, a third (about 180) are HEU-based assemblies, about 100 vibro-packed MOX and the rest - pellet-based MOX. The MOX assemblies for the first load were produced at NIIAR in Dimitrovgrad. The plant at Zheleznogorsk will be producing pellet-based fuel.

There is no official information as to whether the plant will use weapon-grade plutonium, which Russia committed to eliminate under the PMDA agreement with the United States, but Rosatom officials indicated that the facility was built to process weapon-grade material and that the use of reactor-grade plutonium is unlikely, at least in the short term. At the same time, speaking at the opening ceremony, the head of Rosatom, Sergey Kiriyenko, said that the plant can work with "any isotopic composition, any plutonium."