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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 38, June 1999

Report Urges Greater US Help in Protecting Russian Nuclear Materials

On 18 May, the Washington-based National Research Council released a report on ongoing US efforts, taking place under the auspices of the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) programme, to help Russia maintain the safety and security of nuclear-weapons materials. According to a 18 May press release from the Council, the report, Protecting Nuclear Weapons Material in Russia, concludes:

"In response to heightened concern that plutonium and uranium could be stolen or diverted from facilities in Russia to create nuclear weapons, the US Government should continue supporting a cooperative program dedicated to improving the security of Russian nuclear materials for at least a decade... Russian nuclear materials that could be used in weapons are more extensively dispersed and inadequacies in security systems are more widespread than previously estimated."

The report, commissioned by the Brookhaven National Laboratory, estimates that there are currently around 1,350 metric tons of plutonium and highly-enriched uranium in Russia. In its planning for Fiscal Year 2000, the US Government allocated $145 million to assist Russia in securing such material. The Council's report recommends maintaining funding at that level at least for the next five years, with significant but possibly lower subsequent funding. Regarding priority issues for the Department of Energy's oversight of the various programmes intended to deal with the problem, the report recommends that "DOE should devote more resources to installing and operating accounting systems to track materials at Russian sites... The program has not given adequate attention to these systems and has not completed inventories of existing material. ... More funding should be devoted to maintaining and operating both physical protection and material accounting systems once they are installed."

On 20 May, a spokesperson for Russia's Atomic Energy Ministry, Yuri Bespallo, told reporters that US experts and officials who had visited Russian facilities were not alarmed at the situation: "During their visits to Russia, the US experts have more than once been convinced that the nuclear materials there were safely protected..."

Editor's note: in Washington on 16 June, the US and Russia agreed to a 7-year extension of the CTR programme - see Documents and Sources for details.

Reports: United States should continue to help control spread of Russian nuclear materials, National Research Council Press Release, 18 May; Panel - Russia lacks nuke security, Associated Press, 18 May; Russia rejects Western nuke claims, Associated Press, 20 May.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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