Energy From the Bomb: Russia to Produce Electricity With Former Nukes
Russia is proud of Beloyarsk. The plant’s third unit is a “fast reactor,” a reactor type that’s similar to the infamous “fast breeder reactor.” Following various spectacular breakdowns, nearly every country on Earth considers this technology barely controllable. Yet this small 600-megawatt reactor in the woods of the Urals has been generating power for 32 years, and has done so largely without event. It’s currently the only commercial fast reactor online at full capacity anywhere in the world.
Now a fourth unit is being built in Beloyarsk, also a fast reactor. It’s a facility with global political significance: Beloyarsk 4 is being built in the service of global peace. On July 13, 2011, a treaty between Russia and the United States came into effect, one that US President Barack Obama praised as a step toward making the world “safer and more secure.” Under the Plutonium Management and Disposition Treaty, the two nuclear superpowers resolved to destroy 68 metric tons of plutonium, enough to fill 17,000 nuclear warheads. Obama declared that the plutonium could be used to generate power for people in both countires.
Russia’s plan for disposing of its share of the plutonium involves a fast reactor, a variation on the fast breeder reactor design but without a breeding blanket. That alteration gives the power station the capability to destroy plutonium.
Operating this sort of fast reactor with weapons-grade plutonium, though, is a risk no one have has ever taken yet, but this is the plan stipulated in the Russian-American treaty, also known as the 123 Agreement.