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Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA)

Overview   Potential Facility Impacts   Current Activities


Purpose and Background

Entry into Force

July 13, 2011


June 4, 2000

Amendment Signed

April 13, 2010


United States and Russia

Official Website (External Link)

The Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA), [long title: Agreement Between the Government of The United States Of America and the Government of The Russian Federation Concerning the Management and Disposition of Plutonium Designated as no Longer Required for Defense Purposes and Related Cooperation] is designed to make arms reductions irreversible by ensuring that the United States and Russia transparently dispose of weapons-grade plutonium from their respective defense programs and, thereby, prevent the plutonium from ever being reused for weapons or any other military purpose.

Under the PMDA the United States and Russia each agreed to dispose of no less than 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium by converting it into fuel for use in civil reactors that produce electricity. Combined, this represents enough material for approximately 17,000 nuclear weapons. The PMDA also provides that additional weapons-grade plutonium declared in excess as arms reductions go forward should be disposed of under the same or comparable transparency terms.

In 2006, Russia announced its nuclear energy strategy. This strategy was incompatible with the 2000 PMDA. In 2007, Russia provided clarification of its preferred approach to the disposition of weapons-grade plutonium. This clarification served as the basis for updating the PMDA via the protocol signed on April 13, 2010 by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The 2010 protocol enables each party to proceed with completing and operating the facilities needed to depose of weapons-grade plutonium. These facilities will use the plutonium to produce electricity for civilian purposes.

In December 2010, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy and the Russian Director General for the State Corporation "Rosatom” issued the Joint Statement on the Results of the Nuclear Energy and Nuclear Security Working Group Meeting, including the intent to create milestones by February 2011 for bringing the PMDA into force. On May 20, 2011, Russia's State Duma ratified the PMDA and its Protocols. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev approved the amendments to the PMDA on June 7, 2011. On July 13, 2011, Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Lavrov exchanged diplomatic notes in Washington, D.C., bringing the PMDA and its Protocols into force.

Weapons-grade plutonium, unlike weapons-grade uranium, cannot be blended with other materials to make it unusable in weapons. However, weapons-grade plutonium can be fabricated into mixed oxide uranium-plutonium (MOX) fuel and irradiated in civil nuclear power reactors to produce electricity. This irradiation results in spent fuel – a form that is not usable for weapons or other military purposes. The protocol also prohibits spent fuel from being changed in the future unless it is subject to agreed international monitoring measures and is used only for civilian purposes.

Both Russia and the United States plan to begin disposition activities by 2018.

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Potential Facility Impacts

Key Verification Measures

To provide confidence that the Parties are disposing of weapons-grade plutonium in accordance with the terms and conditions of the amended PMDA, disposition activities on both sides will be subject to monitoring and on-site inspection. The Parties met in the PMDA Joint Consultative Commission to clarify key elements of the PMDA’s compliance verification regime. Next steps include consulting with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and negotiating an agreement whereby the IAEA will monitor the Party’s disposition activities and conduct on-site inspections to verify compliance with the PMDA.

In August 2010, Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Lavrov submitted a joint request to IAEA Director General Amano for consultation regarding an agreement whereby the IAEA would monitor the Parties’ disposition activities and conduct on-site inspections to verify compliance with the PMDA. As of July 2012, the two countries and the IAEA were making progress on appropriate IAEA verification measures for each country’s disposition program.

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Current Activities

Recent Developments

The United States is expected to provide $400 million in assistance for the disposal of surplus Russian plutonium, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry. Moscow will fund the remaining balance, setting aside an estimated $3.5 billion for the effort. Next, the United States and Russia must reach an agreement on milestones for allocation of the U.S. contribution.

To implement the PMDA in the United States, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is building a Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site (SRS) near Aiken, South Carolina. The facility will provide a capability to disassemble nuclear weapons pits and convert the resulting plutonium into a form suitable to be made into MOX fuel. A Waste Solidification Building will handle the waste resulting from pit disassembly and MOX operations. When operational, the facility will be capable of turning 3.5 metric tons of weapon-grade plutonium into MOX fuel assemblies annually. The facility will be licensed for 20 years, with operations to continue into the 2030s.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is overseeing construction of the facility. It will be a hardened facility, similar to a nuclear reactor. As of June 2012, the MOX facility is scheduled to begin operation in 2016 and is more than 60 percent complete. Since construction began in 2007, more than 19,000 tons of rebar have been installed and over 118,000 cubic yards of concrete have been placed. More than 400,000 feet of process piping and nearly six million feet of electrical cable are currently being installed, while installation of the process tanks is 90 percent complete. Eleven of the sixteen auxiliary buildings needed to support construction and operation of the MOX facility have been finished, including a new electrical substation which was completed in September 2010.

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