Russia has suspended a post-Cold War deal with the US on disposal of plutonium from decommissioned nuclear warheads. The decision was explained by “the hostile actions of the US” against Russia and Washington’s failure to observe the terms of the deal.
A decree signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin cites “the radical change in the environment, a threat to strategic stability posed by the hostile actions of the US against Russia, and the inability of the US to deliver on the obligation to dispose of excessive weapons plutonium under international treaties, as well as the need to take swift action to defend Russian security” as justification for suspending the deal.
While Russia suspended the plutonium reprocessing deal, it stressed that the Russian fissile material, which was subject to it, would not be used for any military purpose, be it production of new weapons or research.
The development was not entirely surprising, since Russia earlier expressed its dissatisfaction with how the US wants to handle plutonium disposal.
Washington decided it would be cheaper to mix nuclear materials with special additives. Russia insisted that the US was violating the terms of the deal, which required it to use a nuclear reactor to transmute plutonium. Unlike the mixing technology, the latter method makes the process irreversible.
The treaty between the US and Russia, which regulates how the two countries are to dispose of plutonium from nuclear warheads decommissioned as part of the parallel reduction of the two countries’ Cold War arsenals, was signed in 2000. Each country was required to dispose of over 34 tons of fissile material by turning it into so-called MOX fuel and burning it in nuclear reactors.
However, costs for building a facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, where the US was supposed to fabricate MOX fuel from its plutonium, spiraled out of control. Under the Obama administration, the US decided that it would instead use the cheaper reversible process, arguing that it was in line with the spirit of the deal with Russia.
Russia expressed its concerns over the unilateral move in April, shortly after a nuclear security summit held in the US.
“We signed an agreement that the plutonium will be processed in a certain way, for which facilities would be purpose-built,”Putin said at the time. “We have met our commitments, and constructed the necessary facilities. The US has not.
”The US rejected the criticism from Russia. The “new US method would not require renegotiation of the agreement,” US State Department spokesperson Jennifer Bavisotto said.