Russian President Vladimir Putin again cast South Carolina into the limelight of international politics last week when he spoke publicly about Savannah River Site’s Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, or MOX.
Putin spoke at the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi, Russia, last week and accused the United States of violating an international nuclear non-proliferation agreement. He said by attempting to move away from the agreement and from the MOX facility, the U.S. violated the spirit and letter of the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement.
MOX is currently under construction at SRS, and two consecutive American presidential administrations have publicly sought to shutter the project. Both President Donald Trump and his predecessor requested funding to shut down MOX to pursue an alternative method. That effectively removed the U.S. from compliance with the international nuclear weapons agreement.
Last October, Putin suspended the agreement. Signed in 2000, the PMDA designated 34 metric tons of each nation’s weapons-grade plutonium for permanent removal from military use.
“We suspended the plutonium disposition agreement because the American side is not doing anything. They did not even warn us that they were violating this treaty. We learned it from the Congressional budget bill,” Putin said, according to the Kremlin’s English translation.
The MOX facility is designed to mix the plutonium with natural uranium to be used as fuel in commercial nuclear reactors.
However, in 2014, President Barack Obama's administration started down an alternate path. In 2016, the Department of Energy officially decided to pursue a dilute and dispose method. In his remarks, Putin said the dilute and dispose method means the plutonium could later be retrieved and used for military purposes.
The dilute and dispose method takes small amounts of plutonium and grinds it into a fine powder. That powder is then placed into a can that contains larger amounts of inert material. The canister is shaken until the plutonium is spread throughout the mixture and is then sent to New Mexico to be buried at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.
Putin said U.S. inspectors were allowed into Russian nuclear facilities without prior notice, but said Russian inspectors were not given the same access to the United States.
Putin said, “It was humiliating when we let you into our nuclear enterprises, hoping the U.S. would reciprocate. But expecting that was stupid.”
International nuclear organizations have confirmed that Russia followed the agreement, constructing a nuclear power plant and generating electricity with once-weapons-grade plutonium. In 2010, Russia opted to change the type of reactor it used, and the U.S. committed again to MOX.
In 2018, the National Defense Authorization Act is expected to continue funding MOX construction at about $340 million for the year. The Senate and House versions of the bill allot similar funding, and differences will be ironed out in the joint conference committee hearings soon.