Mayak Fissile Material Storage Facility – The 1998 Moscow Summit

August 31, 1998

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Russia and the United States are jointly financing the design and construction of a new storage facility at Mayak for fissile material from dismantled Russian nuclear weapons. The facility is expected to house approximately 12,500 dismantled nuclear warheads and 50,000 containers of fissile material,[1] and is designed to withstand an earthquake measuring seven points on the Richter scale.[2,3] The United States is financing its half of the project with monies from the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program.

During START negotiations in 1991, it became apparent that Russia had inadequate storage facilities for the amount of fissile material that was to be removed from nuclear weapons. In response to the problem, on 5 October 1992 the United States signed an agreement with Russia to spend $15 million to design a new storage facility for Russia. That $15 million design contract was awarded to the US Army Corps of Engineers, which then completed a design agreement with a US architecture and engineering firm. This firm was using VNIPIET as a subcontractor. [4,5] The United States later committed another $75 million for the construction and equipping of the facility. The construction of the facility ran into numerous difficulties, however. The original site for the facility was to be at the Siberian Chemical Combine (Tomsk-7), but after Minatom could not aquire the correct construction permits for the Tomsk site, an alternative site at Mayak was chosen.[4] Additionally, the original Russian plans were to store the fissile material containers horizontally, but in 1994 Russia informed the United States of its new intent to store the containers vertically. This caused extensive changes in the facility’s design.[6] Finally, in the fall of 1994, construction began on the foundation of the facility.[4] This first phase of the facility’s foundation clearing and construction was completed in October 1996 by the Russians.[5] In March 1996, the US firm Bechtel won the design and construction contract. Bechtel’s construction of the second phase of the foundation and of the walls was started in October 1996. The facility is expected to be completed by the third quarter of FY 2000. [1] Considerable difficulties in construction persisted through 1996, but according to the DOD, by March 1997 construction was proceeding without delay and was in fact “accelerating.”[8] The United States expects that the storage of fissile material containers at the Mayak facility will begin in 1999.[9]

The United States is also providing funds for the purchase of specific construction equipment and materials, the purchase of specialized equipment like blast doors, and the purchase of more generalized equipment like heating, ventilation, and power systems. Specifically, in October 1995, the CTR program awarded a $2 million contract to a US firm to procure cement, rebar, and insulating materials to be used in the facility’s construction and the program can spend up to $75 million for other equipment.[5] The US is also providing assistance for the training of personnel who will use the new equipment in the storage facility. Additionally, the US Department of Energy has included the Mayak facility in its MPC&A program of enhancing the physical protection, control, and accounting of nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union.

This CTR project is unique in that half of the funding is to come from Russia and half from the United States. According to CTR Director Laura Holgate, the United States does not anticipate spending more than $275 million total for the facility; a figure that was the proposed funding cap of an earlier provision in the House of Representatives. However, the current estimate of funds needed to fulfill the US commitment to the Mayak facility is about $150 million. [9]

[1] Department of Defense, “CTR Update: Russia,” 19 September 1996.
[2] “Contract For Fissile Storage Facility In Russia To Be Awarded In February,” Post-Soviet Nuclear and Defense Monitor, 31 January 1996, p. 4.
[3] Sergey Sergeyev, Novosti newscast, 10 May 1996; in “Nuclear Waste Storage Site Under Construction in Urals,” FBIS-TEN-96-006.

[4] Graham T. Allison, Avoiding Nuclear Anarchy, Cambridge:MIT Press, 1996, p. 106.
[5] “Background Document: The Cooperative Threat Reduction Assistance to Russia”, 16 January 1997, as found on the website of the Stimson Center’s Nuclear Roundtable,
[6] “Russians Fail to Provide Changes in Design of Nuclear Storage Facility,” Post-Soviet Nuclear & Defense Monitor, 14 March 1995, p. 7.
[7] Figures provided by CTR Program Office, U.S. Department of Defense, 2 October 1997.
[8] Franklin C. Miller, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy (Acting), Statement for the Record before the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Senate Armed Services Committee, 5 March 1997.
[9] “Interview: A Look Forward…Cooperative Threat Reduction Director Laura Holgate,” Post-Soviet Nuclear & Defense Monitor, 7 April 1997, p. 9.

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