Takes Step to Ease U.S. Fears on Plutonium Use
New York Times, February 7, 2000
By Judith Miller
a major agreement aimed at safeguarding nuclear fuel that could be used
to make weapons, Russia has promised to stop making plutonium out of
fuel from its civilian power reactors as part of a $100 million joint
research and aid package from the United States, Clinton administration
and Russian officials say.
the administration has several collaborative programs that enhance the
safety and security of plutonium produced by Russia's military, this
is the Energy Department's first major attempt to secure Russia's huge
civilian stockpile of plutonium, from which 3,000 nuclear weapons could
a bold initiative to reduce a 30-ton plutonium threat from Russia's
civilian nuclear sector," Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson said in
a telephone interview. His department is to make public Russia's moratorium
on plutonium reprocessing today when it unveils its budget for the next
officials and arms control experts were particularly pleased with the
deal, more than a year in the works, because it comes at a time of growing
strains in relations with Russia over its war in Chechnya, policy toward
Iraq, and access to Russian nuclear facilities.
agreement is also likely to place added pressure on other nuclear powers
like Japan, Britain and France to follow suit, arms control experts
said. Because of concerns about the environment and the spread of nuclear
materials to countries like Iran, Iraq and North Korea, the United States
has not reprocessed fuel since 1978.
of the accord -- $25 million for long-term joint research that is most
attractive to Russia -- is contingent on an end to new sales and transfers
of nuclear technology to Iran. Washington believes that those transactions
are helping Tehran acquire nuclear weapons.
money for this research will be in our budget," said Ernest P. Moniz,
the Undersecretary of Energy, who was in Moscow last week to discuss
the agreement. "It's now up to Russia to decide if they want it."
the bulk of the money will be given in exchange for Russia's decision
to halt reprocessing nuclear fuel from its 29 civilian power reactors.
That will include, if Congress approves, $45 million to better secure
spent fuel already stored at Mayak, a once closed nuclear complex in
the southern Urals, and to build a large dry storage site elsewhere
Adamov, Russia's atomic energy minister, insisted in a telephone interview
from Moscow that despite the agreement, Russia would not stop competing
to sell new light-water power reactors to Iran.
the same time, he said, Russia has lived up to the commitments made
to Washington last year not to provide sensitive material or technology
to Iran. But it was willing in principle to discuss additional safeguards
and "more commitments for greater transparency to remove American concerns."
Adamov also stressed that Russia was not abandoning its belief that
plutonium, which is produced by all nuclear reactors, could eventually
be used to fuel a generation of "safe" reactors, not yet developed,
that would produce waste more difficult to recycle into weapons.
talking in terms of decades," for the moratorium on plutonium reprocessing,
he said. "At least two may be enough."
officials said, already possesses about 150 metric tons of plutonium
and 1,200 metric tons of highly enriched uranium, both of which can
be used in nuclear weapons.
that, said Thomas Graham Jr., a former arms control negotiator who now
is president of the Lawyers Alliance for World Security, an arms control
group in Washington, "it is important to stop the accumulation of material
that some rogue nations would love to get their hands on.
"This is a very important agreement," he added.
1998 alone, Energy Department officials said, Russia's 29 civilian reactors
produced 798 metric tons of spent fuel. Normally, Russia would send
this material to Mayak for reprocessing -- that is, the separation of
plutonium, which can be used in weapons, from the rest of the fuel.
under the new agreement, the plutonium will not be separated out. Instead,
the unreprocessed material will be stored at a new site somewhere in
Russia that the United States will finance.
location and ultimate cost of the site are still not determined, but
Mr. Adamov said he was leaning toward Krasnoyarsk-26, a once closed
nuclear city where the Russian military made plutonium.
C. Potter, the director of the Monterey Institute's Center for Nonproliferation
Studies, in California, particularly praised an allocation of $3 million
in the aid package aimed at helping Russia reacquire Soviet-era fuel
from countries like Belarus, Ukraine and Yugoslavia. He fears that the
material is vulnerable to diversion or military use.
the end of the cold war, the United States has spent billions of dollars
to protect nuclear materials in Russia and the former Soviet Union and
to prevent them from falling into the hands of Iran, Iraq or other aspiring
nuclear powers. As of this year, Washington has spent about $1.2 billion
to help prevent the loss or theft of material that could be used in
Mayak, the United States is already financing the construction of a
warehouse to protect bomb-grade plutonium extracted from nuclear warheads.
A recent American visitor there said that some plutonium was still being
stored in milk-pail-size canisters in a wooden storage shed secured
mainly by a padlock.
1993, Washington has bought 500 metric tons a year of highly enriched
uranium from Russian weapons, sales worth more than $400 million a year
to Russia. The uranium, which is blended down and sold as reactor-grade
fuel for power production, meets about half of America's nuclear power
new aid package for Russia would provide $45 million for the dry storage
site and security upgrades for the stockpiled civilian plutonium and
$30 million for new efforts to safeguard material from the military
would also provide $20 million for collaborative research into devising
reactors and fuel that cannot be used to make weapons, and $5 million
for research into the design and development of a permanent geological
repository to store used fuel. Administration officials stressed that
only those last two items, which are longer- term projects, hinge on
an end to Russian nuclear sales to Iran.
Adamov said on Saturday that Washington would be "wrong" to believe
that a $100 million assistance package would prompt Russia to forgo
revenue from future reactor sales, each of which could be worth up to
$1 billion dollars.
are huge orders for our industry, and we'll aggressively pursue these
orders and win them," he said.