U.S., Russia Reach Agreement for Plutonium Site Inspections

Article excerpt

After three days of talks in Washington, Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Hazel O'Leary and Russia's Minister of Atomic Energy (MINATOM) Viktor Mikhailov announced on March 16 that they had reached an agreement to conduct one round of inspections by the end of 1994 at each other's storage facilities for plutonium removed from dismantled nuclear warheads. They also agreed to conduct a joint feasibility study to replace Russia's plutonium-producing reactors with alternative energy sources. The two energy ministers stressed that they expect the inspections and the study, and future agreements that will stem from them, will advance the U.S.-Russian goal of strengthening the international nuclear non-proliferation regime.

O'Leary and Mikhailov declared their intention to host reciprocal inspections by the end of 1994 at the U.S. Pantex facility near Amarillo, Texas, and the Russian facility at Tomsk-7. In preparation for these inspections, U.S. and Russian technical experts will meet to define the procedures for inspections and agree on measures to confirm plutonium inventories. (The Defense Department has devised a new technique, which it has not yet proposed to Russia, for detecting the presence of plutonium in containers (see p. 23). The first meeting of the technical experts is scheduled to take place within two months.

In accordance with President Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin's advocacy of a multilateral convention to ban the production of fissile material for weapons purposes, O'Leary and Mikhailov said they hoped this first round of reciprocal inspections would "be an important step in the process of establishing a worldwide control regime for fissile materials."

U.S.-Russian discussions that began last year on developing alternative energy sources to Russia's plutonium-producing reactors were prompted by general U.S. concerns about nuclear proliferation and specifically by congressional restrictions on "Nunn-Lugar" assistance. Although Moscow has asked the United States for Nunn-Lugar assistance to help build a storage facility for plutonium from dismantled warheads, Russia is reportedly the only declared nuclear-weapon state that continues to produce and separate weapons-grade plutonium. (Some so-called "threshold states," such as India, Israel and North Korea, may also be reprocessing weapons-grade plutonium.) MINATOM still operates three dual-purpose production re actors, two at Tomsk-7 and one at Krasnoyarsk-26, to provide heat and electricity to their respective sites and nearby communities. …