U.S., Russian Companies Tentatively Agree on 'HEU Deal'

By Bleek, Philipp C. | Arms Control Today, March 2002 | Go to article overview

U.S., Russian Companies Tentatively Agree on 'HEU Deal'


Bleek, Philipp C., Arms Control Today


THE COMPANIES IMPLEMENTING a 1993 nonproliferation program under which the United States buys uranium from Russian nuclear warheads for use in power reactors reached an agreement in February that will allow shipments to resume in March.

Under the U.S.-Russian Highly Enriched Uranium Purchase Agreement, the U.S. government committed to purchasing, over a 20-year period, 500 metric tons of weapons-origin uranium blended down to low-enriched uranium for use in commercial power reactors. The agreement is implemented by the Russian government-controlled Techsnabexport (Tenex) and the private, U.S.-based USEC, Inc., formerly the government-run United States Enrichment Corporation.

Known as the "HEU Deal," the initiative is intended to make the Russian material unusable for nuclear weapons; employ Russian scientists who might otherwise be tempted to work for proliferant states or groups; and provide a much-- needed revenue stream for Russia's nuclear complex, which has struggled to pay personnel and maintain physical security. The deal also provides a significant percentage of the uranium needed to meet U.S. nuclear fuel needs.

The initiative had been effectively stalled this year because the agreement establishing prices for the HEU deal had expired at the end of 2001, and the companies could not agree on how much USEC would pay for Russian uranium under a new agreement. The terms of the previous contract allowed for its prices to be extended through 2002, but USEC had refused to place orders for this year's shipments before a new contract had been concluded.

USEC and Tenex began negotiating new pricing terms in the spring of 1999. USEC sought to replace the existing terms, which specified a fixed uranium price that the company alleged was too high, with a more flexible pricing arrangement consisting of a three-year running average of the market price for uranium, with an additional discount. Moscow initially balked because the resulting price was significantly lower than the existing arrangement, but USEC sweetened the deal by agreeing to purchase a limited quantity of non-weapons-origin uranium fuel to provide Russia with additional revenue.

The Clinton administration approved that deal in its final week in the White House, but the incoming Bush administration withheld approval pending an internal review. (See ACT, March 2001.) The Bush administration authorized the conclusion of negotiations in November 2001, and on February 22 the State Department announced that USEC and Tenex had "concluded" a new agreement, whose terms are "subject to review and approval by the two governments. …

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