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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Canada to Aid Disarmament By Burning MOX Plutonium




OTTAWA -- The Canadian government plans to fly in a small test amount of Russian plutonium to burn in a nuclear reactor, with the goal of eventually helping Russia with its disarmament program.


Plans for the test have been blasted by environmentalists, while government ministers have trumpeted the benefits of turning swords into ploughshares.


"These tests demonstrate Canada's commitment to nuclear disarmament," Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy said in a statement Friday.


The original plan was to ship the fuel by sea, then by road to the Chalk River nuclear laboratories in eastern Ontario. But that plan was dropped in the face of opposition from communities en route.


The idea now is to fly the plutonium unannounced to a military base in Ontario or Quebec, then take it by helicopter to Chalk River, where it would be burned along with U.S. plutonium.


The Russian material will come in the form of mixed oxide, or MOX, fuel, which is less than 5 percent plutonium oxide and the rest uranium oxide. There will be only 14.5 kilograms of MOX, including 530 grams of plutonium.


Canadian officials said the MOX will have been turned into a ceramic, which cannot spill, ignite or burn except at very high temperatures. It will be encased in a sealed metal rod and transported in internationally approved containers that go through tests similar to those for aircraft flight recorders.


Eventually, Canada may burn Russian MOX fuel in larger quantities, but Natural Resources Minister Ralph Goodale said this would require extensive regulatory approval first.


Russia has some 50 tons of weapons-grade plutonium identified as excess, and the United States has 34 tons. The test will compare the two countries' fuel, but Goodale said U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson had said Washington would take care of its own plutonium.