Wednesday 7 December 2016

Putin freezes plutonium control agreement with US

Published 04/10/2016 | 02:30

Vladimir Putin accused the US earlier this year of failing to live up to its commitments under the plutonium management deal
Vladimir Putin accused the US earlier this year of failing to live up to its commitments under the plutonium management deal

Vladimir Putin has scrapped a key nuclear control agreement over "unfriendly" actions of the United States towards Russia, in the latest rupture in the troubled relationship between the two countries.

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In a decree published yesterday, Russia froze an agreement to dispose of surplus plutonium because of "a drastic change in circumstances, the appearance of a threat to strategic stability due to unfriendly actions of the United States toward Russia".

The document claimed Washington was "unable" to meet its obligations under the terms of the agreement and that Moscow "must take urgent measures to defend Russian security".

The Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA) was an arrangement for reprocessing weapons-grade material into fuel for nuclear reactors.The deal, first negotiated by Mr Putin and Bill Clinton in 2000 and updated in 2010, committed both countries to disposing of at least 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium, enough to produce around 17,000 nuclear weapons.

The US State Department praised the deal at the time as an "essential step in the nuclear disarmament process". The original plan was to irradiate plutonium to produce so-called mixed oxide fuel (MOX) for nuclear power plants, but the US scrapped its plans for a MOX production facility because of soaring costs and safety fears after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.

Instead, the US has argued for alternative methods of disposal, such as diluting it and burying it underground.

Russia has raised concerns about that route, however, arguing that procedures to dilute plutonium are reversible.

In April, Mr Putin accused the US of failing to live up to its commitments, when he told journalists Russia had already built its own MOX-producing facilities to comply with the agreement and complained that alternative methods would allow the US to retrieve weapons-grade material if it wanted.

The harsh language of the decree reflects a collapse in trust between Moscow and Washington since the breakdown of a jointly brokered ceasefire in Syria last month. However, it is unclear whether the move will have a significant impact on arms control or Russia's nuclear weapons program.

The decree signed by Mr Putin yesterday states that plutonium left unprocessed as a result will not be used for bomb-making or other military purposes.

And it seems likely that Russia will continue to process its own plutonium into nuclear fuel outside the treaty, said Pavel Podvig, a researcher at the UN Institute on disarmament research and an expert on Russian nuclear weapons.

"There was already little chance the agreement would be implemented as envisaged, and the only difference is that Russia no‑w doesn't have to submit this process to monitoring by the US or IEA [International Energy Agency]," said Mr Podvig. "The choice of language is the most significant bit here." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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