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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 36, April 1999

US & Russia Conclude Agreement Confirming Uranium Pact

In Washington on 24 March, US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson and Russia's Minister of Atomic Energy, Yevgeny Adamov, signed an agreement confirming a 1993 accord under which America is to pay Russia to transfer weapons-grade uranium to be converted for use in civil reactors. In all, payments of $12 billion are envisaged for transfers of 550 tons of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) over a 20-year period. Up to the time of the 24 March agreement, about 40 tons of HEU had been delivered to the US. The deal, however, had run into difficulties caused principally since the fall in uranium prices since 1993. According to reports, the 24 March agreement bonds the US to removing 22,000 tons of natural uranium off the market to increase prices.

The signing ceremony was low-key and was not advertised beforehand, reportedly due to the beginning of the NATO bombardment of Serbia.

Also on 24 March, three companies - Cameco Corporation of Canada, COGEMA of France, and Nukem of US and Germany - announced that they had reached agreement with Techsnabexport (Tenex), the commercial division of the Russian Atomic Energy Ministry (MinAtom) on the purchase of 260 million pounds of HEU over the next 15 years, under the terms of the 1993 accord. The move was heralded by Bernard Michael, Cameco's Chief Executive Officer:

"The commercial agreement has taken many years to negotiate. The considerable efforts of the two Governments to agree upon an appropriate framework will now allow the commercial implementation of the HEU agreement as first envisaged in 1993 when it was signed. It should permit the Russian Federation to receive maximum value for its weapons-derived uranium, thereby encouraging the process of disarmament."

On 23 March, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien told journalists that he had written to President Clinton informing him Canada was prepared to consider receiving weapons-grade plutonium from Russia. In the 3 March letter, revealed by Canadian CTV television, Chretien wrote: "One particular area in which Canada is considering participation is plutonium disposition. ... [W]e are prepared to consider any safe and financially viable proposal based on an agreement between the United States and Russia in this regard. I can assure you that we share your concerns about the need to dispose of material resulting from warhead dismantlement." Chretien's offer was fiercely attacked by Svend Robinson, a member of the New Democratic Party (NDP), who asked: "Doesn't this Prime Minister understand that Canadians don't want our country to become a dumping ground for the world's Cold War plutonium?"

Report: Canada mulls taking Russian plutonium, Reuters, 23 March; Cameco says it signs uranium deal with Russia, Reuters, 24 March; Cameco announces deal for uranium derived from Russian nuclear weapons, PR Newswire, 24 March; US, Russia sign uranium deal, Associated Press, 27 March.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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