In Moscow yesterday the U.S. and Russia signed several agreements that aim to stop Russian production of weapons-grade plutonium by the end of the year 2000. Plutonium is a man-made element that is a key component of most nuclear weapons. Russia has three reactors still producing weapons-grade plutonium — two at the Siberian Chemical Combine in Seversk [Tomsk-7], and one at the underground Mining and Chemical Combine in Zheleznogorsk [Krasnoyarsk-26]. These three reactors were to have been shut down under the terms of a 1994 U.S.-Russian agreement, but Moscow never allowed the accord to enter into force as the reactors are also used to provide heat and electricity for their surrounding communities. According to the terms of yesterday’s agreements, the U.S. will provide up to $80 million of the estimated $150 million project to convert the reactor cores so that they will no longer produce weapons-grade plutonium after December 31, 2000. (White House press release, September 23)
While laudable, these latest agreements deal with but a small fraction of Russia’s weapons-grade plutonium capability. Western experts estimate that these three reactors could produce as much as one and a half tons of this plutonium each year. A few years back Russia was estimated to already have a stockpile of some 130 metric tons of this fissile material with nearly one-third of this amount in nuclear weapons. As these weapons have been dismantled, the fissile material — plutonium and uranium 235 — are stored for potential recycling. The U.S. has nearly 100 tons of weapons-grade plutonium itself and the two governments are continuing to seek ways safely to dispose of the bulk of these two huge stockpiles.
Concerns Over Trends in Russia’s Foreign Trade.