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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Plutonium Reactors to Be Shut by 2010

Russia's last three plutonium-producing atomic reactors will be shut down by 2010 as part of a $728 million program funded mostly by the United States, the Federal Atomic Energy Agency said Monday.

The announcement came a day before Russia was due to start building a coal-fired power station at Zheleznogorsk, in the Krasnoyarsk region, that will replace the town's plutonium-producing reactor, one of the three.

As part of a drive to stem the proliferation risk from plutonium, a high-grade element easily adapted for military use, the U.S. government has agreed to invest in facilities to replace the energy lost from closing the reactors, the agency said in a statement.

The announcement of the reactors' closure comes nearly nine years after the two countries signed an agreement to halt the production of weapons-grade plutonium worldwide.

"This is a step towards realizing the 1997 agreement," a spokesman for the agency said Monday.

On Tuesday, officials from the Federal Atomic Energy Agency and the U.S. Energy Department are expected to attend a ceremony to mark the start of construction of the $443 million coal-powered plant in Zheleznogorsk.

The rest of the U.S. money, $285 million, will be put toward the expansion of an existing Severskaya coal power station in the Tomsk region by 2008, where the other two plutonium-producing reactors are to be closed down, the agency said.

"There have been a lot of problems and delays with the Krasnoyarsk project because of funding issues, so this is a great event that fits in the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership," said nonproliferation expert Rose Gottenmoeller, who heads the Carnegie Moscow Center. The partnership is a U.S. initiative to bring nuclear countries together to cooperate on atomic reactor construction and safety, and irradiated fuel disposal.

Though using uranium as fuel, plutonium reactors produce weapons-grade plutonium that can be used for nuclear arms. One reactor produces 1.2 tons of plutonium per year, Gottenmoeller said.

"For the U.S., this is a good investment" from an energy and safety standpoint, she said.

Under the 1997 agreement, Russia's last three plutonium-producing reactors were supposed to be converted to civilian use by 2000. Russia had already shut down 10 plutonium-producing reactors before 1997.

It was eventually decided that converting the reactors would prove too costly, and that it was better to close them.

Since 1997, the two countries have worked on a number of initiatives to safeguard nuclear fuel, including an agreement to cut plutonium stockpiles by 30 tons each.

"Now it will be important for the Russians to demonstrate that they will take responsibility for such projects, including financial responsibility," Gottenmoeller said. Russia made a step in this direction earlier this year by pledging to spend $2 billion on dismantling its nuclear submarines and destroying chemical weapon stocks, she said.