Gore discusses nuclear co-operation with Russia

Publish date: July 30, 1998

Written by: Igor Kudrik

U.S. Vice President Al Gore discussed bilateral cooperation in the nuclear field with Russian Prime Minister Sergey Kiriyenko during his visit to Moscow last week. The 'nuclear' talking points focused on conversion of Russia's closed nuclear research cities to civilian roles, a common project aimed to convert 50 tons of weapons grade plutonium into MOX-fuel, and settling the problems related to the uranium deal between the two countries.

The discussions between the two top officials, within the framework of a regular bilateral forum set up under Kiriyenko’s predecessor Victor Chernomyrdin, focused on the state of Russia’s economy as well as issues such as nuclear security.

Closed nuclear research cities
Washington pledged $3.1 million to Moscow to help fund the conversion of its closed nuclear research cities to civilian roles, under a so-called Nuclear Cities Initiative, reported Russia Today. The project is part of to the U.S. Department of Energy Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention program. The Nuclear Cities Initiative is aimed at helping closed cities like Arzamas-16, Chelyabinsk-70 and Krasnoyarsk-26 to review their potentially marketable projects to be applied commercially. The first meeting in Moscow planned within the framework of the initiative, scheduled for August, will begin reviewing Russian technologies for commercialization, as well as finalize the Russian membership, and work out a general list of working group topics and memberships, according to the Washington-based newsletter Post-Soviet Nuclear and Defense Monitor.

MOX-fuel co-operation
Another deal signed last Friday foresees spending $1 billion per year in the coming five or six years to convert 50 tons of weapons-grade plutonium in each country into MOX-fuel to be used in nuclear power plants reactors. In late June this year, a delegation from the U.S. Department of Energy visited the Mayak reprocessing plant in Chelyabinsk County and signed there a letter of intent, regulating the cooperation in exchanging information on MOX-fuel. Two years ago, Mayak launched a research facility to covert weapons grade plutonium to MOX-fuel called Paket. The American funds will go as well to the experiments on this facility. The Russian funding share in the research amounts to $2 billion. This week, Lev Ryabev, First Deputy Nuclear Energy Minister, said Russia does not have that kind of money, unless it receives foreign financial assistance.

Uranium deal
In February 1993, Moscow and Washington reached an agreement, under which 500 tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) were to be purchased by the U.S. Enrichment Corp. (USEC). The main Russian partner was the Ministry for Atomic Energy (Minatom). The deal was evaluated at $12 billion. In 1996, USEC was privatized. Following the privatization, the company stated it was longer in the position to pay for the uranium itself, but only for the services to blend it down. This process was conducted in Russia. With the U.S. partner found to be unreliable, Minatom officials demanded the return of the blended low-grade uranium. However, U.S. legislation forbids the export of nuclear materials to Russia.

This question was raised between Gore and Kiriyenko, but, apparently did not bring any immediate result. After Gore’s departure, deputy director of the uranium export agency Tekhsnabeksport Aleksey Grigoriev criticized the U.S. over failing to fulfill its part of the agreement. The U.S. is still paying for only enriched uranium, and not the "natural" component, as was stipulated in the 1993 agreement. At the day of the visit, on July 24, Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeniy Adamov said this threatens the U.S.’s continuing participation in the deal, ITAR-TASS reported.

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