As Linton Brooks mentioned today, the United States and Russia resolved the legal issues that held back construction of MOX fabrication facilities. A groundbreaking ceremony was held in South Carolina on October 15th. The idea is that the MOX fabrication facilities will help get rid of 34 tonnes of weapon-grade plutonium that Russia and the United States declared excess for their national security needs (68 tonnes total).
It’s been a long story and Russia has never been really enthusiastic about the deal – it always wanted to keep plutonium for its breeder program. However, as it turned out it is the United States that is eager to keep the MOX program going. It went ahead with the U.S. part of the deal with full understanding that Russia may not follow and in any event the United States will eventually have to pay for the Russian facility.
The original program was driven by the idea that we need to get rid of as much plutonium as possible, so it could not make its way to nuclear warheads. But this task is not as urgent as it was thought to be in the early 1990s. 34 tonnes is a relatively small fraction of overall stocks of weapon-grade plutonium (about 125-150 tonnes on each side). The program has ended up being just a boost (and a subsidy) to the nuclear industry. Money would be better spent on making sure that all plutonium is safe an secure. Turning it into MOX would do little to help that.
(Originally posted on the 2005 Carnegie Non-Proliferation Conference web site)