By Paul Kerr
The United States has reportedly offered Russia access to spent nuclear fuel if it ends its role in constructing a nuclear reactor near the Iranian city of Bushehr. The State Department would not directly confirm that the lucrative offer had been made but said October 23 that the United States would be willing to offer the transfer “of spent reactor fuel currently held by third countries” to Russia as incentive to halt nuclear cooperation with Iran.
Russian Atomic Energy Ministry spokesman Yuri Bespalko expressed doubts about the sincerity of Washington’s proposal, however, citing Washington’s failure to fulfill a promise of removing trade restrictions imposed by the 1974
Jackson-Vannick Amendment, according to the October 22 Washington Post article that first reported the deal. A Bush administration official interviewed October 30 differed with the Post’s account, saying that a spent fuel deal has been discussed for several years and that Russia was more receptive to it than the spokesman’s statement suggests.
The official said that several countries are seeking ways to dispose of their nuclear waste and would be interested in paying Russia to take it from them. Washington would have to approve the transfer of most of the material because the United States originally supplied it and has agreements with recipient countries requiring Washington’s permission for shipment to third parties, the official explained. (See ACT, July/August 2001.) The official said that a decision has not yet been made as to whether Russia would store or reprocess the fuel, but said that the United States prefers storage.
The State Department placed the deal’s value at “potentially…over $10 billion”—significantly more than the Bushehr project, which is widely reported to be worth about $800 million.
The offer was reported while John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, was traveling in Moscow October 20-22. Bolton acknowledged that he had discussed Russia’s assistance to Iran’s nuclear and missile programs with Russian officials, but he denied that the United States had offered any incentive to halt this assistance. “The idea of that kind of quid pro quo trade-off is simply an inaccurate representation of the nature of the relationship between Russia and America today. We wouldn’t offer such an arrangement, and the Russian government wouldn’t accept it,” he said during an October 22 press conference in Moscow.
Russia’s assistance on the Bushehr project has long concerned the United States. The State Department asserted that such assistance could aid Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, according to an October 23 statement. Moscow raised Washington’s ire when it released a draft document July 26 that called for the construction of additional nuclear reactors in Iran. (See ACT, September 2002.)