Russia ends plutonium output at key weapons plant

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has closed down the final reactor of a plutonium production plant on Thursday as part of a deal with the United States to cut the risk of atomic materials from Cold-War-era bomb feeding nuclear proliferation.

The reactor known as ADE-5 was founded by Soviet leader Josef Stalin at a secret Serbian plant to produce plutonium for the Soviet weapons program 43 years ago.

“The ADE-5 reactor was finally stopped today and from this moment the Siberian Chemical Combine has ceased turning out weapons grade material,” said a spokeswoman for the plant in the closed city of Seversk, formerly known as Tomsk-7.

“From now on the combine will move to exclusively peaceful activities,” the spokeswoman said by telephone.

Russia and the United States, concerned at the danger of weapons grade materials being illegally channeled off and sold on the world black market, agreed in March 2003 to shut down Russia’s three remaining plutonium-producing reactors.

After the end of the Cold War, weapons-grade plutonium was no longer needed for Russia’s nuclear weapons program.

But the reactors at the plant were kept running to provide heat and electricity for the local community, and the U.S. Department of Energy has estimated the plant produced enough plutonium every week for several nuclear bombs.

The unwanted plutonium was stored at the plant, prompting environmental groups to raise questions about its security. Russia says its nuclear plants are properly guarded.

The U.S is funding an electricity and heat plant to replace a plutonium plant near the closed city of Zheleznogorsk, formerly Krasnoyarsk-26. The plant at Zheleznogorsk, which would be Russia’s last, is scheduled to be shut down by late 2010.

Plants that supplied material for nuclear weapons were among the best-kept secrets in the Soviet Union. Known only by code names, they were closely guarded and not even shown on maps.

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