Russia and the United States on Wednesday brought an updated bilateral agreement on the disposal of weapon-grade plutonium into force through an exchange of diplomatic documents, the U.S. State Department announced (see GSN, June 7).
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the exchange in Washington.
The U.S.-Russian Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement requires the nations starting in 2018 to each eliminate a minimum of 34 metric tons of processed plutonium -- enough fissile material to fuel roughly 17,000 nuclear warheads. The pact anticipates further reductions in stockpiled weapon-usable plutonium in the future, according to a State Department press release.
"Entry into force of the agreement also represents a significant milestone in U.S.-Russian cooperation on nuclear security measures, and it marks an essential step in the nuclear disarmament process by making these reductions in plutonium stocks irreversible," the release states.
Moscow and Washington are in discussions with the International Atomic Energy Agency on methods for verifying the pact's mandates are being carried out (U.S. State Department release, July 13).
"This milestone marks important progress on U.S. and Russian commitments to eliminate nuclear weapons material," Laura Holgate, National Security Council senior director for WMD terrorism and threat reduction, said in provided comments. "Such eliminations are the ultimate in improving nuclear security, as they permanently remove the threat of theft or misuse of nuclear material, at the same time reducing the burden of securing materials."
The plutonium pact was initially inked in 2000 and subsequently updated in April 2010 with a new protocol that authorized Russian to employ fast reactors to irradiate the plutonium under rigorous security standards, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration said in a release.
Washington is to give Russia as much as $400 million for the project, with Moscow paying the remaining costs of the effort -- projected to be in excess of $3 billion. The Energy Department's semiautonomous nuclear agency and its Russian equivalent, Rosatom, are also to pursue foreign donations to defray the costs for Russia.
To carry out the disposal program in the United States, the Energy Department is supervising building of three plants at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, including the Mixed-Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility that would convert plutonium into nuclear reactor fuel (see GSN, June 17). Russia is also developing its own plutonium conversion technologies and is building the BN-800 fast reactor (U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration release, July 13).