Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission Expands Cooperative Measures

March 1997

By Craig Cerniello

In a prelude to the U.S. Russian summit in Helsinki, Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin met in Washington on February 6 and 7 for the eighth session of the U.S. Russian Joint Commission on Economic and Technological Cooperation, commonly known as the Gore Chernomyrdin Commission. During this session, the United States and Russia signed a joint statement on nuclear materials security and continued to make progress on other arms control related matters, such as implementation of the 1993 highly enriched uranium (HEU) purchase agreement.

Joint Statement on MPC&A

In an effort to improve the security of nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union, then Acting Secretary of Energy Charles Curtis and Russian Minister of Atomic Energy Viktor Mikhailov co chairmen of the Energy Policy Committee, one of the commission's eight committees signed a joint statement on February 7 that reaffirms each side's commitment to the bilateral nuclear materials protection, control and accounting (MPC&A) program and includes the Instrument Research Institute (Lytkarino) in the program beginning this year. As a clear indication of the progress that has been made thus far, the sides noted that 15 Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy (MIN ATOM) facilities were incorporated into the MPC&A program during the previous three sessions of the Gore Chernomyrdin Commission. Six additional MINATOM facilities also engage in MPC&A related activities through a cooperative program between each side's nuclear laboratories, known as the "lab to lab" program. A total of 44 sites in the former Soviet Union participate in the MPC&A program.

HEU Purchase Agreement

According to the Energy Policy Committee report, signed by Curtis and Mi khailov on February 7, the sides continue to make progress in implementing their HEU agreement, which requires the United States to purchase over a period of 20 years 500 metric tons of HEU that has been removed from dismantled former Soviet nuclear warheads and blended down to low enriched uranium (LEU) suitable for use in commercial nuclear reactors. In 1995 and 1996, the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC), the executive agent of the agreement for the U.S. government, purchased the LEU equivalent of 18 metric tons of HEU from Russia.

The committee report referred to an amendment to the HEU agreement, reached in November 1996, that establishes set prices and quantities for the LEU shipments through the year 2001, thereby allowing the USEC to purchase the LEU equivalent of an additional 132 metric tons of HEU over the next five years. (See ACT, November/December 1996.) As part of this amendment, Russia has been awarded an advance payment of $100 million against future deliveries and enhanced transparency measures have been successfully concluded to help assure that the LEU blended down in Russia is actually derived from dismantled nuclear weapons instead of existing HEU stockpiles.

Enhanced Transparency

These enhanced transparency measures, which were signed during the fifth session of the Transparency Review Committee in December 1996, will ensure that U.S. equipment is installed to continuously monitor the enrichment and flow of uranium at the blendpoint at both the Ural Electrochemical Integrated Enterprise in Novouralsk, Russia, and the new Krasnoyarsk Electrochemical Plant blending facility. This new enrichment and flow measurement equipment will be installed at the Russian blending facilities beginning in March 1997 and will be completed this summer.

Furthermore, these enhanced transparency measures will provide the United States with significantly greater access to the facility in Seversk. As of January 1997, U.S. monitors now have access to the receipt and storage area for HEU weapons components arriving from Russian dismantlement facilities and have the right to perform radiation measurements on HEU weapon components, HEU metal chips produced from weapons components and HEU oxide. U.S. monitors will also have access to new documents at Seversk to track HEU at each step of the conversion process. The U.S. government maintains that implementation of these enhanced transparency measures "will provide greatly increased confidence that U.S. non proliferation objectives are being met, in other words, that HEU from weapons is being blended to LEU."

In 1997, the USEC is scheduled to receive 10 shipments consisting of approximately 482 metric tons of LEU derived from 18 metric tons of HEU. As of early April, the first two shipments of the year were in transit.

Other Issues

In addition, the Energy Policy Committee reported on the on going construction of a fissile material storage facility at Mayak, which is being funded under the Defense Department's Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) or "Nunn Lugar" security assistance program. The Mayak facility, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of 1998, will be capable of storing the fissile material from approximately 12,500 dismantled former Soviet nuclear warheads. (The facility will store 50,000 containers of fissile materials, with each warhead occupying up to four separate containers). Although construction of the Mayak facility is proceeding on schedule, the committee report cautioned that "funding and taxation issues" could inhibit its completion. The Clinton administration has requested $64.7 million in fiscal year 1998 CTR funds for the facility.

The committee also noted that a new agreement has been reached in principle to allow the core conversion of the three plutonium producing reactors in Russia. Under the original 1994 agreement, Russia was obligated to shut down the three reactors by the year 2000. Negotiations on a new agreement, which would allow Moscow to operate the reactors as long as their cores were converted, became necessary because Russia claimed that it needed to operate the reactors to provide heat for neighboring cities. Details of the new agreement are still being worked out by the sides.

The Energy Policy Committee also reported on U.S. Russian scientific cooperation related to maintaining the safety and security of nuclear weapons stockpiles under the recently concluded Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, as well as bilateral cooperation on the disposition of weapons plutonium.