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Mayak Production Association

  • Location
    Ozersk, Chelyabinsk Oblast
  • Type
    Nuclear-Enrichment
  • Facility Status
    Operational

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Established in 1948 in Chelyabinsk-65 (now known as Ozersk), PO Mayak played an important role in the Soviet nuclear weapons program. The facility was one of the several plants dedicated to producing plutonium and tritium, as well as fabricating highly-enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium warhead components. 1 PO Mayak produced components for the Soviet Union’s first nuclear device, the RSD-1, exploded in August 1949. 2 By the end of the Cold War, five plutonium production reactors, five tritium production reactors, several reprocessing plants, and a plutonium metallurgy plant were in operation at the facility. The radiochemical plant involved in separating weapon-grade plutonium was shut down in 1987, and all production at the eight reactors had been halted by 1991. 3

At present, PO Mayak’s Plant 20 is the only facility that remains involved in fissile component production for Russia’s nuclear weapons program (although Rosatom has contemplated moving plutonium component fabrication to the Siberian Chemical Combine in Seversk). 4 Two of its functioning reactors, Russlan and Lyudmila, are chiefly involved in the production of various isotopes, but they also maintain a tritium production capability. Both of these reactors are also powered by HEU. 5 Additionally, PO Mayak is involved in the storage of HEU and plutonium and the dismantlement of fissile components. 6

PO Mayak’s civilian work involves the separation and storage of a variety of spent fuels (including power reactor fuel, research reactor fuel under the Russian Research Reactor Fuel Return Program, and spent fuel from decommissioned submarines); the purification and conversion to uranium oxide of weapon-grade HEU (under the U.S.-Russia HEU-LEU program); and the production of radioisotopes. 7 A small experimental MOX fuel production facility, which has been in operation since 1993, also produces fuel for the BN-600 fast breeder reactor at Beloyarsk. 8

Over its six decades of processing and storing spent fuel and radioactive waste, PO Mayak has a troubling history of accidents and environmental contamination. Between 1948 and the 1960s, the facility dumped radioactive waste into nearby waters. 9 In 1957, the practice of returning high-level radioactive reprocessing waste to temporary storage tanks resulted in a massive (chemical) explosion, known as the Kyshtym Disaster. 10 The facility has vitrified radioactive waste since the 1980s and it also still retains numerous burial sites for low- and intermediate- level wastes.

PO Mayak has received multi-year funding and assistance from the U.S. and European governments in improving its materials protection, control, and accounting system. 11 Between 1994 and 2003, the United States and Russia also planned and constructed the Fissile Material Storage Facility at Mayak, designed to securely store plutonium and HEU from dismantled nuclear weapons. After the U.S. and Russian governments resolved multiple disagreements on transparency, access, and liability, the facility began accepting fissile materials in 2006. 12

In 2008, PO Mayak began to realize the federal target program “Ensuring Nuclear and Radiation Safety from to 2008 to 2015,” in 2010, the Association began to realize the federal target program “Development of the Nuclear Weapons Complex in Russia from 2007-2015,” but now until to 2020, and in 2011, the Association began to implement the federal target program “Industrial Utilization of Nuclear Ammunition from 2007-2015,” but now until to 2020. 13

Glossary

Nuclear weapon
Nuclear weapon: A device that releases nuclear energy in an explosive manner as the result of nuclear chain reactions involving fission, or fission and fusion, of atomic nuclei. Such weapons are also sometimes referred to as atomic bombs (a fission-based weapon); or boosted fission weapons (a fission-based weapon deriving a slightly higher yield from a small fusion reaction); or hydrogen bombs/thermonuclear weapons (a weapon deriving a significant portion of its energy from fusion reactions).
Plutonium (Pu)
Plutonium (Pu): A transuranic element with atomic number 94, produced when uranium is irradiated in a reactor. It is used primarily in nuclear weapons and, along with uranium, in mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel. Plutonium-239, a fissile isotope, is the most suitable isotope for use in nuclear weapons.
Highly enriched uranium (HEU)
Highly enriched uranium (HEU): Refers to uranium with a concentration of more than 20% of the isotope U-235. Achieved via the process of enrichment. See entry for enriched uranium.
Reprocessing
Reprocessing: The chemical treatment of spent nuclear fuel to separate the remaining usable plutonium and uranium for re-fabrication into fuel, or alternatively, to extract the plutonium for use in nuclear weapons.
Weapons-grade material
Weapons-grade material: Refers to the nuclear materials that are most suitable for the manufacture of nuclear weapons, e.g., uranium (U) enriched to 90 percent U-235 or plutonium (Pu) that is primarily composed of Pu-239 and contains less than 7% Pu-240. Crude nuclear weapons (i.e., improvised nuclear devices), could be fabricated from lower-grade materials.
Fissile material
Fissile material: A type of fissionable material capable of sustaining a chain reaction by undergoing fission upon the absorption of low-energy (or thermal) neutrons. Uranium-235, Plutonium-239, and Uranium-233 are the most prominently discussed fissile materials for peaceful and nuclear weapons purposes.
Isotope
Isotope: Any two or more forms of an element having identical or very closely related chemical properties and the same atomic number (the same number of protons in their nuclei), but different atomic weights or mass numbers (a different number of neutrons in their nuclei). Uranium-238 and uranium-235 are isotopes of uranium.
Dismantlement
Dismantlement: Taking apart a weapon, facility, or other item so that it is no longer functional.
Spent nuclear fuel
Spent nuclear fuel: Irradiated nuclear fuel. Once irradiated, nuclear fuel is highly radioactive and extremely physically hot, necessitating special remote handling. Fuel is considered “self protecting” if it is sufficiently radioactive that those who might seek to divert it would not be able to handle it directly without suffering acute radiation exposure.
Research reactor
Research reactor: Small fission reactors designed to produce neutrons for a variety of purposes, including scientific research, training, and medical isotope production. Unlike commercial power reactors, they are not designed to generate power.
Radioisotope
Radioisotope: An unstable isotope of an element that decays or disintegrates spontaneously, emitting energy (radiation). Approximately 5,000 natural and artificial radioisotopes have been identified. Some radioisotopes, such as Molybdenum-99, are used for medical applications, such as diagnostics. These isotopes are created by the irradiation of targets in research reactors.
Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel
Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel: A type of nuclear fuel used in light water reactors that consists of plutonium blended with uranium (natural, depleted or reprocessed). The MOX process also enables disposition of military plutonium, with the resulting fuel usable for energy generation.
Radioactive waste
Radioactive waste: Materials which are radioactive and for which there is no further use.

Sources

  1. Oleg Bukharin, “Downsizing Russia’s Nuclear Warhead. Production Infrastructure,” The Nonproliferation Review, Spring 2001, pg. 117.
  2. “История в датах” History in Dates, Федеральное государственное унитарное предприятие “Производственное объединение ‘Маяк’” (ФГУП “ПО ‘Маяк’”) Federal State Unified Enterprise “Production Association ‘Mayak’” (FSUE “PA ‘Mayak’”), www.po-mayak.ru.
  3. Pavel Podvig, Consolidating Fissile Materials in Russia’s Nuclear Complex, IPFM research report, May 2009, pg. 8, www.ipfm.org.
  4. Pavel Podvig, Consolidating Fissile Materials in Russia’s Nuclear Complex, IPFM research report, May 2009, pg. 7, www.ipfm.org.
  5. Pavel Podvig, “History of Highly Enriched Uranium Production in Russia,” Science & Global Security, 19:46-67, 2011.
  6. Pavel Podvig, Consolidating Fissile Materials in Russia’s Nuclear Complex, IPFM research report, May 2009, pg. 8, www.fissilematerials.org.
  7. “О предприятии” About the Enterprise, Федеральное государственное унитарное предприятие “Производственное объединение ‘Маяк’” (ФГУП “ПО ‘Маяк’”) Federal State Unified Enterprise “Production Association ‘Mayak’” (FSUE “PA ‘Mayak’”), www.po-mayak.ru.
  8. “Russia’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle,” World Nuclear Association, April 2014, www.world-nuclear.org.
  9. Thomas B. Cochran, Robert S. Norris, and Oleg A. Bukharin, Making the Russian Bomb: From Stalin to Yeltsin (Boulder: Westview Press, 1995), p. 100.
  10. Thomas B. Cochran, Robert S. Norris, and Oleg A. Bukharin, Making the Russian Bomb: From Stalin to Yeltsin (Boulder: Westview Press, 1995), p. 99-114.
  11. Pavel Podvig, “U.S. Assistance in Securing Fissile Materials in Russia,” IPFM Blog, 5 February 2010, www.fissilematerials.org.Pavel Podvig, “Improvements of the MPC&A System at Mayak,” IPFM Blog, 21 January 2010, www.fissilematerials.org.
  12. Pavel Podvig, “Mayak Storage Facility is in Business,” Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces blog, 15 November 2006, www.russianforces.org.
  13. “Отчет по экологической безопасности ФГУП” “Производственное объединение ‘Маяк’” за 2012 год Report on the Ecological Security of the FSUE “Production Association ‘Mayak,’” Государственная корпорация по атомной энергии “Росатом” State Corporation of Atomic Energy, “Rosatom”, 21 August 2013, www.rosatom.ru.

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