Global Security Newswire
Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues
U.S., Russia Sign Plutonium Disposal Agreement
WASHINGTON -- The United States and Russia yesterday signed an update to a decade-old agreement to eliminate excess weapon-usable plutonium from their respective military nuclear programs (see GSN, April 9).
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sealed the deal on the sidelines of President Barack Obama's nuclear security summit in Washington.
Under the renewed version of the 2000 Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement, the two countries have again committed to each dispose of no less than 34 metric tons of excess weapons material beginning in 2018. In addition, material that is designated as unnecessary through implementation of future arms control deals should "be disposed under the same or comparable transparency and other terms," according to a State Department fact sheet.
"When this mechanism starts working we expect its positive influence on the process of nonproliferation," Lavrov told reporters.
He described the event as having "significant importance." Clinton said the total amount of material involved is enough for nearly 17,000 nuclear weapons.
Both diplomats said the agreement prevents any future military use of the plutonium.
Russia also announced it would shut down its last plutonium production plant. The ADE-2 reactor has been producing weapon-grade plutonium for close to 52 years in Zheleznogorsk, a once-secret city in Siberia, according to a White House press release.
Yesterday's signing occurred on the second and final day of the first-of-its-kind nuclear security summit. World leaders and dignitaries from 47 countries were in Washington for two days to hammer out strategies to meet the president's goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear materials worldwide within four years.
The plutonium agreement was completed one decade ago, but implementation was delayed by Russia's displeasure with provisions for converting weapon plutonium for use in nuclear power plants, according to reports. Developed nations also failed to produce $2 billion in promised funds to support conversion of the Russian material.
Yesterday, Lavrov said the original compact was not implemented because of "technical reasons." He did not elaborate.
The revised version of the agreement -- in the works since 2008 -- calls for the United States to contribute $400 million to the effort, including $300 million in construction and development activities.
The Energy Department's fiscal 2011 budget blueprint unveiled in February asked lawmakers to approve one-fourth of that assistance.
Moscow would pour $2.5 billion into the effort, Lavrov told reporters yesterday. Russian implementation of its disposition will no longer be predicated on additional funding from the United States and other countries, according to the State Department.
The amended agreement demands weapon-grade plutonium be eliminated through irradiation in light-water reactors in the United States and in a pair of fast-neutron reactors in Russian.
Operations are expected to begin around 2018. Neither side said how long the process would take, nor did they provide a percentage figure for the amount of their total plutonium stores are covered by the deal.
A CBS News report stated that the United States holds 100 tons of plutonium, while Russia has 150 tons.
The lasting impact of the agreement was not lost on those in attendance.
"I just wanted to see it," National Nuclear Security Administration chief Thomas D'Agostino remarked to a colleague moments before the signing.
The disposal will be inspected and monitored by experts, including the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"This is a historic time for U.S.-Russian relations," said Clinton, noting that Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last week signed the follow-on agreement to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (see GSN, April 8).
The new accord requires the former Cold War adversaries to lower their respective strategic arsenals to 1,550 deployed warheads. Both countries would also cap their deployed nuclear delivery vehicles -- missiles, submarines and bombers -- at 700, with another 100 held in reserve.
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