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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 50, September 2000

Plutonium Agreements Between the US and Russia, Kazakhstan

On September 1, US Vice President Al Gore signed a US-Russia Agreement, first announced at the June 4 Moscow Summit between Presidents Clinton and Putin, to ensure the irreversible disposal of excess weapons plutonium. The Agreement was signed by Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on August 29. The following summary of the disposal plan was provided by the Office of the Vice President:

"The Agreement requires that 68 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium, 34 tons for each party, be disposed. This is enough plutonium for thousands of weapons. It will be disposed by irradiating it as fuel in reactors or by immobilizing it with high-level radioactive waste, rendering it suitable for geologic disposal. Implementation will require the construction of new industrial-scale facilities to convert and fabricate this plutonium into fuel in both countries, and to immobilize a portion of the US material. The Agreement sets 2007 as the target date to begin operating such facilities with a minimum disposition goal of 2 metric tons per year and an obligation to seek at least double that rate. ... Both the process and the end products [of the disposal] will be subject to monitoring and, thus, transparent. The Agreement bans reprocessing of any of this plutonium prior to the disposition of all 34 metric tons. Any reprocessing thereafter must be under mutually agreed, effective monitoring measures. Plutonium immobilized under the program must never be separated from the immobilized forms. The Agreement allows plutonium that may be designated as excess to defense needs in the future to come under the same program."

A Russian Government statement, issued on September 2, noted: "The Agreement stipulates that the activities of Russia and the United States connected with the destruction of weapons-grade plutonium will be open to the international community and will be under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency..."

The total cost of the programme is estimated at $5.7 billion, the bulk of which ($4 billion) will be spent in the US. The US Congress has thus far allocated $200 million to assist Russian implementation. Both Russia and the US have appealed to other G-8 states to provide financial help.

Visiting Kazakhstan on August 29, US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson announced plans for an expansion of non-proliferation projects between the two countries. Nine Kazakhstan institutes will receive $4 million to, in the words of a Department statement, "support research projects and create employment opportunities for scientists with expertise in weapons of mass destruction and to reduce the risk of their migration to countries of proliferation concern." Richardson also announced that over two-and-a-half tons of weapons-grade plutonium had been secured at the BN-350 breeder reactor in Aktau: "Together with Kazakhstan, we have now finished 85% of the job, safely packaging nearly 2,800 fuel assemblies, to help reduce the vulnerability of high-quality plutonium in the western region of the country. Had this unneeded reactor fuel not been secured it could have posed a serious risk to US and global security."

The process of securing the material at Aktau began in 1998, and is expected to be completed by February 2001. At this stage, according to the Department statement, the two sides will "proceed with a project to address the longer-term storage and disposition of the fuel." Collaborative efforts will also be directed towards decommissioning the reactor to "eliminate a source of weapons-grade plutonium production while avoiding a possible environmental incident on the shores of the Caspian Sea."

Reports: US Secretary Richardson highlights strong US-Kazakhstan economic relationship, US Department of Energy Press Release R-00-221, August 29; Vice President Al Gore signs US-Russia Plutonium Disposition Agreement, The White House, Office of the Vice President, September 1; Russia, USA sign deal to destroy plutonium, Reuters, September 2.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.