United States and Russia sign protocol to plutonium disposition agreement

On April 13, 2010 Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Lavrov signed the Protocol to the 2000 U.S.-Russian Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA). (See earlier report.) According to the State Department press release, the Protocol confirms the earlier agreement reached in 2007 in that it allows Russia to dispose its plutonium in fast reactors, while the United States is allowed to use light water reactors for this purpose.

The Protocol also confirms the earlier U.S. commitment to provide $400 million towards the Russian disposition program. Only $300 million could be spent on construction and development, while the remaining $100 million "would be allocated over the disposition period on a fixed rate per metric ton of confirmed disposed material." Lavrov was quoted as saying that Russia is ready to commit $2.5 billion toward the program.

Both parties expect to begin disposition by 2018. (In 2007 Russia expected that it could begin disposition in the BN-600 reactor "in the 2012 time frame".)

The Protocol also establishes a monitoring and inspection regime that would allow both sides to ensure that the disposition is carried out in accordance with the goals of the Agreement. In particular, the fast reactors that Russia will be using in the program will be required to operate in a burner mode, without breeding additional plutonium. Also, reprocessing of the irradiated fuel would not be allowed until all the excess material has been disposed of.