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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 43, January - February 2000

US DoE Budget Proposes Russian Reprocessing Moratorium

On February 7, as part of its Fiscal Year (FY) 2001 budget, the US Energy Department (DoE) announced a new, US$100 million programme to enhance non-proliferation initiatives in Russia. The dramatic centrepiece of the programme, designed to prevent the further accumulation of plutonium separated from materials used in nuclear reactors, is summarised as follows in a February 11 DoE Press Release:

"Each year tons of plutonium are separated from spent fuel from nuclear power plants. The Administration proposes a US-Russian moratorium on increasing the stockpile of separated plutonium by the suspension of spent fuel reprocessing. To support this moratorium it will be necessary to design, license, and construct a dry storage facility in Russia for civil reactor spent fuel. In addition, funds will also support accelerated completion of material control and accounting work on tons of civil plutonium currently stored at the Mayak site… "

The centrepiece programme - the suspension of spent-fuel reprocessing - is likely to cause some embarrassment to Britain and France, which both still have reprocessing programmes. In the words of Patrick Green of Friends of the Earth UK (February 8): "The important thing is to get this fissile nuclear material into a passive shape. It does not make sense to say the Russians should not produce plutonium from reprocessing but that it is alright for the UK and France."

Overall, the DoE's FY2001 budget of $18.9 billion seeks $6.6 billion for 'National Security' programmes - an increase of $502 million from FY 2000.

Notes: on February 13, the Washington Post reported that Russia was considering pulling out of an agreement signed by Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and Vice-President Gore in 1997 under which it would cease producing weapons-grade plutonium by the end of 2000 and convert the three reactor cores in question to allow them to produce civil, non-weapons-grade material. According to the Post, Russia is now so frustrated with delays to the project - with 2004 quoted as being considered the earliest possible completion date - that it would prefer simply to shut down the reactors completely.

Reports: See longer summary on the Acronym Institute website at http://www.acronym.org.uk/usrussia.htm;Strength through Science: US Department of Energy's FY 2001 budget request, US Energy Department Press Release R-00-030, February 7; US, Russia reach plutonium agreement, Reuters, February 7; Russia to stop making plutonium out of fuel from its commercial nuke reactors, New York Times, February 7; Pressure seen on UK, French nuclear reprocessing, Reuters, February 8; Russian reactor project troubled, Washington Post, February 13; Fact Sheet - funds sought for non-proliferation program with Russia, United States Information Service, February 14.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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