U.S., Russia Agree to Plutonium Reactor Shutdown

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AFTER YEARS OF delays and stalled plans, Russia and the United States signed an agreement March 12 to shut down the last three Russian reactors dedicated to the production of weapons-grade plutonium.

The reactors, which each day can generate enough plutonium for the equivalent of approximately one nuclear weapon, also provide heat and electricity for the Siberian "nuclear cities" of Seversk and Zheleznogorsk. Under the agreement, the United States will pay to refurbish one fossil-fuel facility and construct one new fossil-fuel plant for the Siberian cities served by the reactors.

U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham called the accord, which was signed in Vienna on the sidelines of a radiological material security conference, "an important step in advancing our nonproliferation programs." Russian Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev agreed that stopping the plutonium production shows that "Russia and the U.S. are close partners in the strengthening of peace and in the war on terrorism."

The refurbishment of an existing fossil-fuel plant at Seversk will allow the shutdown of two of the reactors by 2008, while construction of a new fossil-fuel facility in Zheleznogorsk will require that reactor to operate until 2011, when the new facility will come online. U.S. Department of Energy fiscal year 2004 draft budget documents state that, although the United States will finance the construction of the replacement power facilities, Russia will shut down the reactors.

The two countries first agreed in 1994 to cease permanently all plutonium production for nuclear weapons in both countries. …