Military Review

Waste Warheads

Nuclear weapon based on plutonium separated from spent fuel is a myth

A modern nuclear warhead (YABZ) contains a central plutonium part (pit) made in the form of a metal sphere and contains, over 90, a percent of the fissioning Pu-239 isotope (weapon grade plutonium) as an integral element.

For the production of such material, the two superpowers used specially created water-graphite reactors during the Cold War years - weapons plutonium accumulators. In the USA, 14 of such installations was built, in the USSR - 13. By 1993, all American plutonium reactors were shut down, but three of their counterparts continued to operate in Russia (two in Seversk, Tomsk Oblast and one in Zheleznogorsk, Krasnoyarsk Krai), which annually produced about 1,5 tons of weapons-grade plutonium sufficient to manufacture 300 nuclear warheads. It was not possible to stop these reactors, since in parallel with the production of plutonium they served as a source of heat and electricity for the corresponding Siberian regions, and there was no one-time replacement for them. Due to the fact that the defense order for weapons-grade plutonium was canceled at that time due to overproduction (there are no official data on this score, however, according to some Western experts, in the USSR over 40 tons of weapons-grade plutonium were accumulated over the 100 years) work "at the warehouse."

Waste Warheads

In 2003, an agreement was signed between the Russian Federation and the United States on the provision of American assistance in the construction of replacement energy facilities, ensuring the production of equivalent amounts of heat and electricity in the event of the closure of the three remaining Russian plutonium reactors. Two US companies were involved in this work, the total amount of contracts was 460 million dollars.

In 2008, the reconstruction of the coal-fired CHP plant in Seversk was completed and at the same time two plutonium reactors were decommissioned. In Zheleznogorsk, the reactor was shut down at 2010 after completing the construction of a new coal-fired power plant.

It is assumed that the weapons-grade plutonium accumulated in the special warehouses of the two cities will later be used to manufacture mixed uranium-plutonium (MOX) fuel for burning in Russian fast-neutron power reactors in accordance with the Russian-American agreement.

It should be noted that among the characteristic features of plutonium producing reactors is the use of natural uranium as fuel rather than uranium enriched in contrast to power reactors (natural uranium contains the 99,3 percentage of the non-dividing isotope U-238, which is transformed into weapon-grade plutonium under the influence of the nuclear reaction and only the 0,7 percentage of the fissioning isotope U-235).

It is fundamentally important that the fuel campaign of such reactors does not exceed two to three months (as opposed to the three to four years characteristic of NPP power reactors). This condition is connected with the need to limit the volume (no more than 10 percent) of the Pu-240 isotope "harmful" for a nuclear warhead that is simultaneously accumulated in the fuel.

The negative properties of this isotope include the probability of spontaneous (spontaneous) neutron radiation (which is fraught with uncontrolled launching of the chain fission reaction and reduction of the calculated explosion power), a large specific heat release (the need for arresting which inevitably leads to weight and size parameters of the special product) also a high level of radioactivity (this significantly complicates the process of production and long-term storage of YABZ).

For comparison, it is interesting to cite the following figures: if the ratio of Pu-239 and Pu-240 isotopes in a reactor that produces plutonium is nine to one, in the case of an NPP power reactor, the Pu-240 content can reach 25 percentages in the overall composition of the reactor plutonium. At the same time, in both types of reactors, the amount of plutonium produced amounts to about one percent of the mass of fresh fuel loaded (the typical mass of the annual load for power reactors is 20 – 30 tons).

In 1962, in the United States, as an experiment, a nuclear explosive device with a power of 20 kilotons based on plutonium isolated from spent nuclear reactor SNF (reactor grade plutonium) was designed, manufactured and tested. As follows from the data on the results of the experiment officially published in 1977, in this case it wasn’t actually a nuclear warhead, because to overcome the above negative properties of the Pu-240 isotope, developers had to resort to such technical tricks that made it possible to achieve 20 kilotons only for the account of transforming the YABZ into a primitive nuclear explosive device, unsuitable for use.

In this regard, it cannot be denied that “intruders” may, in principle, try to repeat this experiment using SNF from a power reactor at their disposal, but this possibility seems unlikely for two reasons. First of all, to carry out this kind of work requires an exceptionally high level of professionalism of the developers, who are unlikely to have “home-builders”. And secondly, to isolate plutonium, it is necessary to design and build a plant for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, which is difficult to accomplish covertly and also very costly. For example, the construction of a civilian spent fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkas-mura (Japan) took 15 years and cost more than 20 billions of dollars.

Considering the above, we can conclude that the fears expressed by some foreign and Russian experts and broadcast through the media that nuclear power, especially in the context of large-scale plans for the construction of nuclear power plants in some developing countries, may pose a real threat to the non-proliferation regime. grounds.

A good example of this is the construction of Bushehr NPP in Iran. At the first stage of work on the part of the American leadership, there were calls for Russia to break the relevant contract with reference to the fact that, they say, there is a risk that Iranians will not illegally extract plutonium from the spent nuclear fuel of a nuclear power reactor. Somewhat later, such fears disappeared, including for the reasons stated above, and also taking into account the fact that an agreement was reached with Iran on returning SNF to Russia from Bushehr NPP during the entire life cycle of the plant.
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  1. self-propelled
    self-propelled 10 December 2015 17: 07
    Nuclear weapons based on plutonium extracted from spent fuel - a myth

    but the "dirty bomb" is real.
    for most "hyperactive fighters for justice", nuclear weapons are an unattainable ultimate dream (obtaining weapons-grade plutonium is a costly and troublesome undertaking). but obtaining radioactive materials for a "dirty bomb" is far from being a problem at the present time (which is quite sad ...)
    1. Tanya Ya
      Tanya Ya 10 December 2015 17: 19
      To make it, the plant needs to be built.
      1. self-propelled
        self-propelled 10 December 2015 17: 52
        Quote: Tanya-Ya
        To make it, the plant needs to be built.

        in a sense?
        to make a "dirty bomb" you need desire, money and access to radioactive isotopes ... + a fanatic with more or less powerful explosives (or, at the limit, as a fanatic's ultimate dreams, - a small plane with explosives (for a larger area of ​​infection)). no factories, factories, etc. are needed. so that the population of some territories was amazed, and the rest of the inhabitants of the planet fell into hysteria ...
        at present, it does not take much effort to panic the population (as an example, it is enough to deprive residents of megalopolises of electricity for a long time (and, as a derivative, leave them without communication, heat, etc.)
        so, in principle, you don't need to have radioactive materials in your arsenal to make a big kaku. it is enough to have access (directly or through "acquaintances") to some objects (by the way, which, if guarded, are several orders of magnitude worse than objects with radioactive elements at their disposal) vital for a city
  2. Andrey Yuryevich
    Andrey Yuryevich 10 December 2015 17: 11
    the article will be of interest to people who, at least in the slightest degree, have studied physics, "Angry partisan" - to your garden! wink for the rest, especially the USE students, this is "an untranslatable pun, using local, idiomatic expressions" ... reviews will be like: "niasilil-mnoga bukaff". yes
  3. Vanya Ivanov
    Vanya Ivanov 10 December 2015 17: 11
    it is understandable, only this does not prevent you from making a dirty bomb, but it is in some ways more dangerous than the standard one. if weapons-grade plutonium decays quite quickly, then nuclear waste dispersed over the city will make it unusable for hundreds of years.
    the same Iran can cram nuclear waste into the s-300 missile and shy away from Israel. I am sure that such an opportunity warms up in the heart of Iranians
    1. GRAY
      GRAY 10 December 2015 17: 36
      Quote: Vanya Ivanov
      if weapons-grade plutonium decays quite quickly, then nuclear waste dispersed over the city will make it unusable for hundreds of years.
  4. Gormenghast
    Gormenghast 10 December 2015 17: 13
    Plutonium accumulated and enriched uranium stolen USA by agreement of Chernomyrdin-Gore.

    The conclusion of the RF State Duma Commission: "The agreement on the supply of uranium to America is made in the interests of the United States and causes damage to Russia's national security. After this transaction, no more than 10% of the weapons-grade uranium reserves accumulated since the late forties will remain in Russia. Damage to the Russian economy will be 8 trillion dollars"
    1. clidon
      clidon 10 December 2015 23: 00
      Plutonium has nothing to do with it. It was not sold in the US. HEU-LEU for which the surplus of weapons-grade uranium (500 tons out of more than 1000 cash, as here 10%) was sold in the United States in the form of fuel - they did not cause any damage to the economy - the uranium was sold at a quite market "fuel" price.
      1. Captain nemo
        Captain nemo 11 December 2015 03: 46
        Quote: clidon
        the uranium was sold at a quite market "fuel" price.

        A year ago, Karaulov with specialists in this area on Channel 5 said that Yeltsin sold Uranus to them very cheaply.
        1. clidon
          clidon 11 December 2015 08: 41
          It (the price of 1 kg of fuel uranium) includes the cost of producing natural uranium in the amount necessary to produce one kilogram of fuel uranium with enrichment of 4,5%, the cost of processing this amount into uranium hexofluoride, and the cost of enrichment. Suppose that the concentration of uranium U235 in the residues (tails) after enrichment is 0,2%. Therefore, for the production of 1 kg of fuel uranium with an enrichment of 4,5%, it is necessary to initially have 8,6 kg of natural uranium. Its price in the world market, according to OCDE, is about $ 40 per kg. The cost of converting uranium to uranium hexofluoride UF-6 is estimated at about $ 8 per kg. Therefore, to obtain the initial product from which one kilogram of fuel uranium can be obtained by enrichment, it is necessary to spend about 413 dollars. The enrichment process will require 7,6 units of separation work totaling $ 836 ($ 7,6 x $ 110 / SWU). Thus, the average price of one kg of fuel uranium in the world market is about $ 1250, and the total transaction value should be at $ 12,5 billion.Director of the Center for the Study of Disarmament, Energy and Ecology at MIPT A.S. Dyakov

          In reality, more was received - about 17 billion dollars (from inflation and an increase in the cost of uranium in the market. The Russian budget received about 13 billion dollars.
        2. Lexa-149
          Lexa-149 17 December 2015 11: 39
          Borya the drunk could sell for a box of whiskey. He could drink the remnants of his homeland for a "spit" ...
  5. GRAY
    GRAY 10 December 2015 17: 29
    Ukrainian scientists have found that if an American or European fuel assembly is inserted into a Soviet reactor, very interesting processes begin. Red lights blink, everything is boiling, heat is being generated, transformers are flying to the open air, and the current is shitting like crazy! As a result, the efficiency and, most importantly, the cheapness of nuclear energy increases significantly, as does the point of the chief power engineer, who closely follows this intriguing process.
  6. Dezinto
    Dezinto 10 December 2015 17: 32
    Yes, of course, for such an idea a plant is needed. ! And when the satellites are overhead .... it’s difficult to build a plant in secret.
    1. self-propelled
      self-propelled 10 December 2015 18: 23
      Quote: DEZINTO
      Yes, of course, for such an idea a plant is needed. ! And when the satellites are overhead .... it’s difficult to build a plant in secret.

      I repeat, but still, why build a plant? to make a nuclear bomb? it is VERY EXPENSIVE (both in terms of construction, and in terms of attracting specialists for such work). it’s much easier and CHEAPER to acquire materials with radioactive isotopes, and the very fact of the existence of such materials terrorize the whole world
  7. A-Sim
    A-Sim 10 December 2015 17: 37
    Life shows that technology does not stand still. What will be possible in 5 years? and after 10?
  8. Vadim12
    Vadim12 10 December 2015 17: 38
    This is for whom the author translates Russian names into English? Or decided to show off knowledge in English?
  9. Anisim1977
    Anisim1977 10 December 2015 18: 01
    In vain, the author looks askance at Iran - now in Ukraine there is complete anarchy and a very, very much spent SNF.
    And while this territory is in the very center of Europe. For a long time there is time to end the mess - yes, enlightened Europe and uncles because of a large puddle against.
    And with regards to other countries - so in Pakistan there is nuclear weapons, and he will give a hundred points ahead to any country where it is planned to build a nuclear power plant. The author does not believe - let him go to Pakistan as a tourist.
  10. chunga-changa
    chunga-changa 10 December 2015 19: 45
    If the rectors are closed, what will we make warheads of?
    Just don't talk about the "warehouse", weapons-grade plutonium was processed and exported to America from 1993 to 2013, that is, even three years after the last reactor was closed. There is nothing in the "warehouse" except for the evacuation plan in case of fire.
    1. clidon
      clidon 10 December 2015 23: 05
      Weapons-grade plutonium has never been exported to the United States. Only uranium (U235) was sold (in the form of fuel). We have more than 100 tons of stockpiled plutonium, and so far they do not know what to do with it. 33 tons are going to be destroyed in the form of MOX fuel for breeder reactors.
  11. Fidel
    Fidel 10 December 2015 22: 18
    Nuclear strike.
    I think this is correct.
    Otherwise, then why do we need nuclear weapons?
    So. not much, a dozen kilotons.
    Pure tactics.
    And what is WAXX !!!
    I am for. TIME !!!