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Established in 1953 in Krasnoyarsk-26 (currently Zheleznogorsk), the Mining and Chemical Combine (GKhK) played an important role in the Soviet nuclear weapons program. The facility was the third plutonium production facility and hosted a number of underground facilities, including three plutonium production reactors, a reprocessing plant, and material storage facilities. 1
Since Rosatom consolidated its weapons-related activities, GKhK is no longer formally involved in the production of nuclear warheads. Its last plutonium production reactor was shut down in 2010. 2 Its radiochemical plant reprocessed the remnants of this reactor’s fuel in 2012, thereby officially ending weapons-grade material production in Russia (this material is stored in a U.S.-monitored facility). 3 Studies suggest that, despite the halt of all weapons-related production activities, GKhK retains a facility for the storage of weapons-usable fissile materials. 4
GKhK’s current activities include the storage of spent fuel (both “wet” and “dry”), and work related to the startup of a commercial mixed oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication facility. A new “dry” storage facility for spent fuel from RBMK-1000 and VVER-1000 reactors, with an initial capacity of 8,000 tons, was commissioned in 2012. 5 The MOX fuel fabrication facility is expected to start production of MOX granules and pelletized MOX fuel assemblies for the BN-800 (and possibly fast reactors) in 2013. In addition, a pilot demonstration center for reprocessing technologies is under construction, and a reprocessing plant is also planned at the site. 6
The facility cooperates with foreign partners. GKhK participated in the U.S. Department of Energy’s material protection, control, and accounting efforts, and also worked with the government of Canada on physical protection. GKhK also cooperates with France‘s Areva and stores spent fuel from Bulgaria and Ukraine. 7
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Pavel Podvig, “Consolidating Fissile Materials in Russia's Nuclear Complex,” IPFM research report, May 2009, pg. 12, www.ipfm.org.
- Pavel Podvig, “Russia No Longer Produces Weapon Materials,” IPFM blog, 15 April 2010, fissilematerials.org.
- Pavel Podvig, “Russia to Complete Separation of Weapon Grade Plutonium,” IPFM blog, 6 March 2012, fissilematerials.org.
- Pavel Podvig, “Consolidating Fissile Materials in Russia's Nuclear Complex,” IPFM research report, May 2009, pg. 13, www.ipfm.org.
- Pavel Podvig, “Russia Commissions Dry Storage Facility in Zheleznogorsk,” IPFM blog, 18 January 2012, fissilematerials.org.
- “Russia's Nuclear Fuel Cycle,” World Nuclear Association, August 2012, www.world-nuclear.org.
- “Деятельность - Международное сотрудничество” [Activities - International Cooperation], Федеральное государственное унитарное предприятие (ФГУП) Горно-химический комбинат (ГХК) [Federal State Unitary Enterprise (FSUE) Mining and Chemical Combine (GKhK)], www.sibghk.ru.