U.S., Russia Sign Agreements on Plutonium-Producing Reactors

By Cerniello, Craig | Arms Control Today, September 1997 | Go to article overview
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U.S., Russia Sign Agreements on Plutonium-Producing Reactors


Cerniello, Craig, Arms Control Today


VICE PRESIDENT Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin met in Moscow September 22-23 for the ninth session of the U.S.-Russian Joint Commission on Economic and Technological Cooperation, commonly known as the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission. During this session, the sides completed a set of agreements to convert Russia's three remaining plutonium-producing reactors so that they no longer produce weaponsgrade plutonium. At a joint press conference in Moscow, Gore said the agreements make "a major contribution to the advancement of our non-proliferation interests."

In June 1994, the United States and Russia signed an agreement under which Moscow would shut down the three reactors at Tomsk-7 and Krasnoyarsk-26, former secret nuclear cities now called Seversk and Zheleznogorsk, by the year 2000. (See ACT, July/August 1994.) Russia, however, would not allow the accord to enter into force until alternative sources of energy had been found, arguing that the "dualuse" reactors provide most of the heat and electricity for the surrounding cities. After completing an alternative energy feasibility study in 1995, the United States and Russia determined that conversion of the reactor cores was the best way to meet civilian energy needs while also halting the production of weapons-grade plutonium. Since then, the sides proceeded with the design and engineering phase of the coreconversion project.

Under an agreement signed by Gore and Chernomyrdin on September 23, Russia is required to modify the three reactors by December 31, 2000. The modified reactors will continue to operate until they have reached the end of their normal lifetimes, taking into account safety considerations. In an effort to reduce Moscow's stockpile of highly enriched uranium (HEU), the sides agreed that fuel for the modified reactors will incorporate uranium from dismantled Russian nuclear weapons.

Furthermore, the agreement prohibits the United States and Russia from restarting any plutonium-producing reactors that have already been shut down.

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