The United States has carried out 16 audits of Russian nuclear sites under a bilateral strategic arms treaty that took effect in February, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller wrote in a commentary published on Thursday by The Hill newspaper (see GSN, Dec. 19).
Russia, in turn, has carried out 17 checks in the United States, she stated.
"We have been keeping pace with each other. Every year, we each have the right to conduct 18 inspections on the other’s territory" under the New START treaty, Gottemoeller said. A Russian military official last week said the United States had completed 12 visits to Russian strategic missile forces sites under the pact.
New START requires each government to reduce deployment of strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, down from a cap of 2,200 mandated by next year under an older treaty. It also limits the number of fielded strategic warhead delivery platforms to 700, with an additional 100 systems permitted in reserve. The treaty calls for the nations to regularly share quantities, siting and schematics of armament equipment and sites.
"Negotiators worked hard to find innovative new mechanisms to aid in the verification of the treaty and the results of that work are now evident," Gottemoeller said. "For the first time, we are receiving data about re-entry vehicle (warhead) loadings on Russia’s missiles -- and Russia, of course, receives the same data from us. The on-site inspection procedures under New START allow the United States to confirm the actual number of warheads on randomly selected Russian missiles. These verification tasks and inspection rights did not exist under the previous START treaty."
Washington in March made B-1B and B-2A heavy bombers available for examination and Moscow provided comparable access to the RS-24 ICBM and its firing unit.
"That was the first time we had a chance to see at first hand the RS-24, the new Russian mobile missile with multiple warheads," Gottemoeller wrote.
The sides to date have swapped more than 1,700 notifications under the pact, she said. "We are constantly in communication with the Russians. ... These notifications help to track movement and changes in the status of weapon systems. For example, a notification is sent every time a heavy bomber is moved out of its home country for more than 24 hours."
"In addition, every six months we exchange a comprehensive database," Gottemoeller stated. "This gives us a full accounting of exactly where weapons systems are located, whether they are out of their deployment or operational bases and gone to maintenance, or have been retired. This semiannual exchange, along with the mandatory treaty notifications that continuously update the information that each side receives, create a 'living document' that provides a comprehensive look into each other’s strategic nuclear forces.
"The New START treaty data exchanges are providing us with a more detailed picture of Russian strategic forces than we were able to obtain from earlier exchanges, and the inspections give us crucial opportunities to confirm the validity of that data," she said, noting the United States maintains orbital surveillance instruments and other tools for independent confirmation of findings.
"Our experience so far demonstrates that the New START treaty is enhancing our national security by building predictability and stability between the United States and Russia," Gottemoeller wrote. "We are also setting the stage for the future, since new nuclear reductions will build on the success of New START and the innovations we are putting in place as we implement it" (Rose Gottemoeller, The Hill, Dec. 22).
Meanwhile, the sides on Tuesday inked plans for implementing a decade-long, $2.8 billion uranium trade deal, RIA Novosti reported (see GSN, Aug. 26). Under the arrangement, the United States would purchase Russian uranium from 2013 until 2022.
Russian atomic energy firm head Sergei Kiriyenko and U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Ponemon formally endorsed "the administrative arrangements for the intergovernmental U.S.-Russian agreement on cooperation on peaceful use of atomic energy,” said Alexei Grigoryev, who oversees the Russian nuclear materials supplier Techsnabexport.
A civilian nuclear cooperation agreement between the countries took effect in January (see GSN, Jan. 11).
“The contract between Tenex and USEC, which we signed on March 23, 2011, for the supply of low-enriched uranium, entered into force with the signing of the (new) agreements,” he said.
Under the bilateral 1993 Megatons to Megawatts agreement, Moscow committed to eradicate 500 metric tons of weapon-grade uranium -- enough fissile material to fuel 20,000 warheads -- by blending it down into low-enriched fuel, which is purchased by U.S. atomic energy companies, according to a previous report. The arrangement is set to lapse in 2013 (RIA Novosti, Dec. 21).
Uranium provided under the new deal would not be converted from bomb-grade material, USEC said in a press release on Wednesday (USEC release, Dec. 23).