USD 12 billion deal between the US and the Russian nuclear industry

In an attempt to keep international control over Russia’s growing stocks of highly enriched uranium (HEU), also known as weapon grade uranium, the US signed a contract with Russia in 1994 under which 500 tons of HEU from dismantled nuclear warheads were to be purchased by US Enrichment Corp. (USEC). Following the terms of the agreement, USEC purchased 6 tons of HEU from Russia in the middle of 1995, and 12 tons in 1996. It is expected that USA will receive 18 tons of HEU in 1997. According to the US Ministry of Energy, 24 tons of HEU will be purchased in 1998 and then 30 tons on annual basis till the year 2013. The total deal amounts to 12 billion US dollars.

In order to make the HEU useful as fuel for nuclear power plants in the US, the material is blended down at the facilities of Tomsk-7 (Seversk) in Siberia. Additional construction works at this plant was finished in October 1996, meeting the growing requirements for blending down weapon grade HEU.

The uranium is delivered to the US by joint stock company "Tekhsnabexport", which was founded in 1963 as a trade office within the USSR Ministry of External Trade. The main task of "Tekhsnabexport" was to export radioactive isotopes and rare earth metals to the East European and other countries. In 1968 "Tekhsnabexport" also began enriching uranium for foreign countries. In 1988 the organisation was transferred from the trade office, to be supervised by the Ministry of Atomic Energy. In 1989-90 "Tekhsnabexport" started to export natural uranium mined in Russia as well as enriched uranium.

According to the President of "Tekhsnabexport", the main purpose of the contract signed with the US on delivering HEU, is to get funds "to solve the acute tasks of the nuclear industry of Russia, in particular to create new facilities to blend down highly enriched uranium, to upgrade safety of the Russian nuclear reactors, and to solve the environmental and social problems".

According to different estimates, the stocks of weapon grade uranium in Russia are between 520 and 920 tons, while stocks of weapon grade plutonium are estimated to 177 tons (1993). The money received by the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy within the contract with theUS, allowed the construction of new facilities for blending down highly enriched uranium in Tomsk-7, as well as allocation of additional financial recourses for further development of the nuclear complex in Russia.

References:

  1. "Nuclear Control", Russian-American Nuclear Commerse: one step forward, one step aside, Moscow, no. 23:97.

  2. "Nuclear Control", Interview with the President of "Tekhsnabexport" Shishkin A.A., Moscow, no. 23:97.

  3. Perera, J., The Nuclear Industry in the Former Soviet Union: Transition from crisis to opportunity, vol.2, Financial Times Energy Publishing, 1997.

  4. Nilsen, T. and Bohmer, N., Reprocessing plants in Sibiria, Bellona Working Papers, no. 4:95.

Igor Kudrik

igor@bellona.no