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Russia's continued operation of three plutonium production reactors poses a serious proliferation threat. The Department of Energy's (DOE) Elimination of Weapons-Grade Plutonium Production program seeks to facilitate the reactors' closure by building or refurbishing replacement fossil fuel plants. This report (1) describes DOE's efforts to manage and implement the program, (2) assesses the challenges DOE faces in achieving its goal of shutting down the reactors, and (3) identifies DOE's current expenditures and projected program costs.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Energy To help achieve important U.S. nonproliferation objectives, the Secretary of Energy and the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration should continue efforts to reduce the amount of plutonium produced by the reactors as an interim measure before they are permanently shut down. Specifically, the Secretary and the Administrator should continue to pursue the option of extending summer outage periods at the reactors as a way to realize the immediate nonproliferation benefits of reduced plutonium production in Russia.
Closed - Implemented
In a letter to GAO on September 13, 2004, DOE indicated that it concurred with this recommendation and was seeking clarification from Russian representatives regarding access issues at the three plutonium production reactors. DOE has taken action to implement this recommendation, though Russia has not taken action to extend the summer outage period. On February 1, 2008, DOE reported that the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom) Director informed the Secretary of Energy that the operation of two weapons-grade plutonium production reactors in Seversk, Siberia are now operating at half power, significantly reducing its plutonium production. NNSA helped start up a boiler and steam turbine generator at the partially completed Seversk fossil fuel plant in December 2007. This allowed the reactors, which not only produced plutonium during the Cold War, but also powered the town, to operate under an alternating mode, enabling one reactor to shutdown while the other is running. DOE also reported that the two plutonium reactors are ahead of schedule for complete shutdown and are planned to cease operation before the December 2008 deadline.
Department of Energy To increase the chances for program success by clarifying the existing reactor shutdown agreement, the Secretary of Energy, working with the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration and Secretary of State, should reach agreement with Russia on the steps that must be taken to permanently shut down the reactors and the specific requirements that must be met to complete the replacement fossil fuel plants.
Closed - Implemented
In a letter to GAO on September 13, 2004, DOE indicated that it concurred with this recommendation and was working with the Russian reactor design agent to conduct a technical and economic study of shutdown requirements for the three reactors. According to DOE, the study will tie completion of these requirements to milestones in the fossil fuel plant construction projects. The study was initiated in summer 2004. Copies of these reactor shutdown plans were provided to GAO on April 28, 2005. See accomplishment report GAO-05-1367A.
Department of Energy To increase the chances for program success by clarifying the existing reactor shutdown agreement, the Secretary of Energy, working with the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration and Secretary of State, should identify any additional costs that may surface as a result of refining the scope of work associated with shutting down the reactors and completing the replacement fossil fuel plants and revise cost and schedule estimates for the program accordingly.
Closed - Implemented
In a letter to GAO on September 13, 2004, DOE indicated that it concurred with this recommendation and was working with the Russian reactor design agent to conduct a technical and economic study of shutdown requirements for the three reactors. According to DOE, the study will tie completion of these requirements to milestones in the fossil fuel plant construction projects. The study was initiated in summer 2004. Copies of these reactor shutdown plans were provided to GAO on April 28, 2005. In these plans, DOE detailed refinements to its project cost estimates that address our recommendation. See accomplishment report GAO-05-2029A.
Department of Energy To increase the chances for program success by clarifying the existing reactor shutdown agreement, the Secretary of Energy, working with the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration and Secretary of State, should amend the March 2003 reactor shutdown agreement as soon as practicable to accurately reflect DOE's more realistic shutdown dates for Russia's three plutonium production reactors.
Closed - Implemented
In a follow-up communication with GAO, State officials indicated that they and the Russian side agreed to proceed with a revision to the Plutonium Production Reactor Agreement (PPRA) through exchange of diplomatic notes rather than a full re-negotiation of the agreement. As of April 2008, the diplomatic notes had been exchanged, but were awaiting formal government approval by the Russian government. In the meantime, however, according to State officials, implementation of the PPRA has proceeded smoothly, and the Russians have announced that they will shut down the two reactors in Seversk early, the first one in April 2008 and the second one in June.
Department of Energy To maximize the benefits of related U.S. nonproliferation efforts, the Secretary of Energy and the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration should create a specific plan and take steps to formally coordinate DOE's program to assist Russia's closure of the three plutonium production reactors with the department's efforts to find jobs for displaced Russian nuclear workers through the Russian Transition Initiatives. Such a plan should be coordinated with Russia and should include strategies for obtaining assistance from other countries in finding employment for these workers.
Closed - Implemented
On April 28, 2005, DOE provided GAO with a copy of its Coordination Working Group Workforce Transition Action Plan, which details steps taken to formally coordinate the activities of the department's program to shut down three plutonium production reactors in Russia with its program to employ displaced Russian nuclear workers. See accomplishment report GAO-05-1361A.
Department of Energy To maximize the benefits of related U.S. nonproliferation efforts, the Secretary of Energy and the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration should take the lead in developing a comprehensive plan that focuses on integrating U.S. efforts to employ Russian nuclear workers in the cities of Seversk and Zheleznogorsk. The plan should be developed in conjunction with the Secretary of State. Such a plan should consider ways to better ensure that future projects funded by DOE and the Department of State in Seversk and Zheleznogorsk are clearly focused on finding jobs for Russian workers who will be displaced once the plutonium production reactors and related facilities are closed.
Closed - Implemented
On April 28, 2005, DOE provided GAO with a copy of its Coordination Working Group Workforce Transition Action Plan, which details steps taken to address this recommendation. Additionally, DOE provided information regarding coordination of this effort with the Department of State and possible international contributors. See accomplishment report GAO-05-2028A.
Department of Energy To help defray the escalating costs of DOE's program to shut down Russia's plutonium production reactors, the Secretary of Energy and the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration should consider seeking financial support from Russia to construct the replacement fossil fuel plants. To the extent possible, these contributions should not be limited to in-kind contributions such as building materials, labor, or the value of land.
Closed - Implemented
In June 2004, DOE requested that Russia revisit its cost estimates for the Seversk and Zheleznogorsk replacement fossil fuel plant projects. The Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency sent letters to DOE on June 21, 2004, and August 4, 2004, indicating that Russia had identified engineering changes at both sites that will reduce the capital cost of constructing the plants at Seversk and Zheleznogorsk by $42 million and $44.1 million, respectively. However, these figures do not include cost savings based on reduced overhead, labor, program management, and associated costs. DOE program officials estimated the total cost savings to the project, based on Russia's actions, to be $281 million. GAO has taken a financial accomplishment in the amount of $241.5 million, which is the net present value of this accomplishment for fiscal years 2004 through 2008 (see accomplishment report GAO-04-3216A).
Department of Energy To address concerns about large carryover balances of program funding, the Secretary of Energy and the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration should monitor funding requirements to ensure that funds are obligated in a timely manner.
Closed - Implemented
DOE indicated in a April 28, 2005, letter to GAO that due to the accelerated construction schedule at the Seversk power plant the program now does not have a large carry over balance. DOE has taken steps to implement this recommendation.
Department of Energy To address concerns about large carryover balances of program funding, the Secretary of Energy and the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration should determine whether future funding requirements need to be reduced in light of the slow rate of spending to date on the program.
Closed - Implemented
DOE indicated in a April 28, 2005, letter to GAO that steps had been taken to address this recommendation. Due to the accelerated construction schedule at the Seversk power plant, DOE has adjusted its budget request accordingly.

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