Case study

Global Threat Reduction Programme: Shut down of Soviet plutonium-producing reactor at Aktau

A study of the programme's role in decommissioning the plutonium-producing reactor at Aktau in Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan was a Soviet prototype sodium-cooled fast breeder reactor that operated between 1973 and 1999. Because of its potential to produce weapons-grade plutonium, a key non-proliferation aim has been to reach an irreversible stage in the decommissioning of the reactor. This was achieved in 2009 with the completion of the passivation of residual sodium in the coolant circuits.

In November 2010, working with the US Department of Energy and Kazakhstan, the (Global Threat Reduction Programme) GTRP completed the transfer of ten tons of highly enriched uranium and three tons of plutonium (enough material for 775 nuclear weapons) to safe and secure storage under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards at the former Soviet nuclear weapons test site at Semipalatinsk in North East Kazakhstan.

The focus is now on dealing with other radioactive and chemically hazardous materials, including the large inventory of liquid metal coolant. GTRP’s assistance at Aktau has made use of the UK’s own experience in the ongoing decommissioning of the fast reactors at Dounreay, Scotland.The UK will wind up its technical support at Aktau, including the completion of radiological surveys to confirm that no fissile material has been left behind, over the course of 2011.