Russia - Plutonium Investigation n°12/13

Russia to Convert Three Plutonium Production Reactors
by ENS(Environmental News Service)

In Moscow on September 24, 1997, Russian Federation Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and United States Vice President Al Gore wound up phase one of the ninth meeting of the U.S.-Russian Joint Commission on Economic and Technical Cooperation with the announcement that Russia would halt the production of plutonium at three of its reactors by the end of the year 2000. Actual conversion is expected to begin in 2000.

A major breakthrough of the Commission meeting, Gore said at a news conference, was that "after much hard work we took an important, perhaps even historic step this week when we reached agreement to halt the production of weapons-grade plutonium both in the United States and Russia." The pact marked the first time that the U.S. and Russia had placed limits on the materials for nuclear warheads themselves rather than on their delivery vehicles such as missiles and bombers, as in the START and INF treaties.

Other such reactors that Russia is not currently using must remain permanently closed down. The U.S. has promised to provide some funding for the Russian halt of plutonium production. The U.S. Department of Defense will be providing technical assistance relating to the conversion of the cores of those three reactors to Minatom.

The reactors to be converted to civilian use are: ADE-4, ADE-5 (near the city of Seversk in the Tomsk Region) and ADE-2 (near city of Zheleznogorsk in the Krasnoyarsk Region). After the completion of the core modifications, these reactors will permanently cease operation at the end of their normal lifetimes.

In its negotiations on the reactor conversions the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission took into account three important considerations. First, the two sides expressed their desire to cooperate with each other to prevent the accumulation of "excessive" stocks of plutonium and to reduce them in the future.

Next, they recognized that they were able to work constructively together with the knowledge of the intent of the government of the Russian Federation to take out of operation three operating reactors that produce plutonium. Because the three reactors provide heat and electricity to regions of Siberia where they are located, the Russian Federation intends to create alternative sources of heat and electricity to replace that presently supplied by the three reactors. Once each reactor is modified, it will utilize an alternative type of fuel including uranium derived from dismantled nuclear weapons.

The agreement also states that plutonium produced after December 31, 2000 at the three reactors, and any high-enriched uranium recovered from spent fuel discharged from the modified reactors, shall not be used in nuclear weapons.

In order to ensure the possibility of taking the three reactors the Russians will undertake to create alternative sources of thermal and electrical energy to replace these reactors by the time of their final shutdown. To assist this effort, the U.S. will encourage private sector participation in the creation of replacement sources of energy.

The total cost of the plutonium reactor conversion project is estimated to be US$150 million, divided between the U.S. and the Russian Federation. The U.S. was authorized to spend up to US$10 million in FY (fiscal year) 97 and, based on the meeting of appropriate project milestones with future congressional authorization providing up to an additional US$70 million on this project.

"I would like to talk specifically about cooperation in the field of conversion," the Russian Prime Minister said. "We came to the conclusion that this requires a broader approach in order to make a breakthrough in cooperation based on high technologies most of which - and I don't think I will be telling you a secret - have double uses."

(Source: ENS)

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