Magazine article Arms Control Today

Moscow Puts Hold on Transfer of Laser Isotope Separator to Iran

Magazine article Arms Control Today

Moscow Puts Hold on Transfer of Laser Isotope Separator to Iran

Article excerpt

RUSSIAN OFFICIALS CONFIRMED September 21 that they would freeze shipment of a laser isotope separator to Iran, following repeated requests by the Clinton administration, which believes Tehran could use the technology to produce weapons-grade enriched uranium.

Yuri Bespalko, head of public relations at the Russian Atomic Energy Ministry, conceded that because of U.S. concerns "a decision has been made to give the issue more thorough consideration," according to Interfax, the independent Russian news agency. However, Bespalko said that pending review of the laser technology by U.S. and Russian commissions, the deal could still go through as planned.

According to David Stockwell, spokesman for the National Security Council, President Bill Clinton was notified in early September that Russia had agreed to freeze the laser transfer. Since July, the president has reportedly raised the prospective laser sale at least twice with Russian President Vladimir Putin: at the July Group of Eight summit in Okinawa, Japan and on September 6 at the UN Millennium summit in New York.

Boris Yatsenko, director of Microtechnology at the Yefremov Scientific Research Institute, the laboratory scheduled to sell Iran the laser, told Interfax that the laser, which he said is 15-20 watts, is intended "only for medical, industrial, and scientific purposes." At 15-20 watts, the laser would fall below the 40-watt threshold requiring control by the Nuclear Suppliers Groupa group of 34 countries (including the United States and Russia) that have agreed to restrict the export of nuclear and dual-use equipment that could be used for weapons purposes.

Laser separation of uranium appears to be too expensive to be economically competitive for commercial production. In 1973, the United States began attempting to develop a cost-effective laser. …

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