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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Environmentalists Question Safety of Plutonium Fuel Plan

A government plan to convert weapons-grade plutonium into fuel rods would increase the danger of major accidents at the country's nuclear power plants, environmentalists said Monday.

President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Bill Clinton signed an agreement earlier this month requiring each side to dispose of 34 tons of plutonium, a radioactive metal considered one of the most poisonous substances on Earth.

The United States will convert 24.5 tons of its total stockpile into fuel and immobilize the rest by mixing it with liquid glass. The Russians will convert all 34 tons it has into fuel.

Officials from the Nuclear Power Ministry say the plutonium should be used for the good of the nation rather than thrown away.

Environmental groups say the Russian government plans to use the material unsafely by loading plutonium fuel into reactors that were designed for fuel of a different type.

"Putting [plutonium] fuel into reactors that were not meant for it could lead to catastrophic consequences," said Vladimir Slivyak, co-chairman of the anti-nuclear campaign of the Socio-Ecological Union, a national environmental group.

Government officials say new reactors will be built or the existing ones remodeled to accommodate plutonium fuel. The agreement with the United States sets a deadline of 2007 for each side to begin operating new facilities for converting plutonium into fuel rods.

"Nobody suggests that plutonium would be loaded into existing reactors," said Nuclear Power Ministry spokesman Vitaly Nasonov.

The country's civilian and miltary nuclear industries have appallingly bad safety records.

The explosion and fire at the Soviet-built Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine sent a radioactive cloud over much of Europe, becoming the worst nuclear disaster ever.

Nearly 1,200 glitches and safety violations have been registered at Russia's nine nuclear power plants during the past decade, Slivyak said Monday.