Nuclear disarmament took a big step forward on Monday, when the U.S. and Russia announced a new agreement on disposition of surplus plutonium. Each country had previously agreed to dispose of 34 metric tons of surplus weapons-grade plutonium by using it in mixed-oxide (plutonium-uranium) fuel, also known as MOX, but there were disagreements on how to do it. Monday's agreement notes that the U.S. will use the plutonium in light-water reactors, whereas Russia will use it in fast-spectrum reactors. The distinction may seem slight, but it had been a significant point of contention. The agreement clears the way for removing a significant amount of weapons-grade material.
You might think that such news would meet with hearty and uniform approbation, but it did not, particularly at the Union of Concerned Scientists. This time, their "concern" is about the BN-600 and BN-800 reactors that the Russians plan to use. As reported by Newsday,
Ed Lyman, nuclear weapons expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said
use of the relatively small BN600 reactor "will put Russian plutonium
disposition on the slow track" because the reactor can burn only about
three-tenths of a ton of plutonium a year, and the larger [BN-800] reactor has
yet to be built.
Lyman said "this is a total retreat from the original concept" which
would have disposed of the plutonium in larger light-water reactors, an option
the Russian[s] rejected.
It should be noted that "has yet to be built" is misleading. Construction of the BN-800 began in 2002, and its scheduled completion date precedes the scheduled date for the U.S. to begin production of commercial MOX fuel batches.
More notable is that the complaint comes from Ed Lyman. In 2004, he sang a very different song to an Atomic Safety and Licensing Board as he used the flimsiest of evidence in an attempt to block the use of MOX in U.S. light-water reactors. Does he want to see plutonium destroyed, or doesn't he?
It makes you wonder whether the "C" in "UCS" really stands for "contrary".