US, Russia, Sign Protocol to Dispose of 17 Thousand Weapons’ Worth of Plutonium

By Matt Loffman

Apr 13, 2010 3:00pm

As the first Nuclear Security Summit began coming to a close, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed that their countries would each dispose up at least 34 metric tons of excess weapon-grade plutonium – 68 metric tons total — enough material for approximately 17,000 nuclear weapons.

The agreement came in the form of an updated version of the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement first agreed to by both countries ten years ago.

Both countries will use civil nuclear reactors to dispose of the material, with verification measures in place so each country can show the other that it is abiding by the agreement.

Speaking in English, Lavrov said the protocol will "remove technical impediments and obstacles" to the agreement signed in 2000 by Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. He thanked the US for its previous U.S. pledge of up $400 million for Russian disposition program activities; Russia will spend $2.5 million.

“It is certainly a step in our shared goal of nuclear disarmament because apart from limitations and reduction of arms, you need to do something with the plutonium,” Lavrov said, adding that the US and Russia hope to expand the treaty to other countries.

Disposition of the materials is scheduled to begin in 2018, after the proper facilities are completed and operational.

Weapon grade uranium can be blended with other chemicals so as to render it unusable in weapons. But that is not the case with weapon grade plutonium. It can, however, be fabricated into a kind of fuel and irradiated in civil nuclear power reactors to produce electricity. The 68 metric tons of weapon-grade plutonium will be irradiated in the US at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site, which is scheduled to begin operation in 2016, and in the Russian Federation at fast-neutron reactors operating under specific non-proliferation conditions.

-jpt

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