Developing a Nuclear Material Control and Accounting System in Russia

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When considering the requirements for a global nuclear material accounting system, Russia’s experience in developing its domestic system deserves special attention for four reasons: First, Russia’s nuclear complex includes all of the types of nuclear facilities and nuclear material handling procedures that would be subject to a global system. Second, Russia has significant experience transitioning from an outdated system to a modern one. Third, Russia has operated its nuclear complex in a financially constrained environment and has relied in part on international assistance. Finally, the Russian nuclear complex is managed by many agencies with their own agendas, priorities, and visions of nuclear material accounting. This experience with an interagency environment may be a model for other countries.

As a major nuclear power—in both military and civilian applications—Russia possesses all possible types of nuclear facilities, including all types of nuclear reactors, a complete range of fuel cycle facilities, storage sites, and several types of nuclear ships. Russia also possesses a wide variety of nuclear materials, including all types of uranium and various isotopic compositions of plutonium. These materials exist in both items and bulk accounting forms, as well is in a number of physical forms including metals, oxides, solutions, and salts. These materials are subject to a broad range of operations–at both the industrial scale and in smaller quantities for research purposes. Russia is also heavily involved in the domestic and international trade of nuclear materials. This results in a significant volume of nuclear materials transport—to include changes in ownership and in control and accounting requirements and systems.

Russia began transitioning from its Soviet-era nuclear material accounting systems in the early 1990s. The Soviet Union was home to a comprehensive nuclear industry and nuclear materials accounting system. Thus, a modern system based on new standards had to be introduced into an operating nuclear complex. This process has confronted many challenges, in part because of the major cultural change that it required. After nearly 20 years of evolving the Russian system, some important issues remain unresolved.