Threat Reduction Programs Meet Benchmarks

Daniel Arnaudo

U.S. threat reduction programs in Russia registered three significant successes in April. First, the Department of Defense announced April 9 that its Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program had helped Russia completely dismantle and destroy its stockpile of SS-24 ICBMs. Later the same month, the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced that the U.S.-Russian Material Consolidation and Conversion (MCC) program had downblended 10 metric tons of Russian highly enriched uranium to low-enriched uranium in its nine years of existence. Finally, with U.S. funding and support from the NNSA, Russia completed the shutdown of a reactor that produces weapons-grade plutonium in Seversk.

In an April 9 press release, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) announced the elimination of the last SS-24. "This is another important milestone in our 16 year effort to secure and dismantle the weapons of mass destruction of the former Soviet Union. The SS-24 ICBMs posed a serious threat to the United States with its 10 independently targeted warheads and ability to be moved throughout the country by train," said Lugar. After the Cold War ended, Lugar helped create the CTR program with then-Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) in the early 1990s by co-sponsoring legislation that allowed for cooperation between the United States and Russia on a range of nonproliferation work.

SS-24s could be deployed in silos or on railcars, making them mobile and difficult to target. Fifty-six SS-24s were eliminated in all, 42 of which were specially designed to be mounted on railcars.

The work was done as part of the Pentagon‘s Strategic Offensive Arms Elimination program, which was allocated $91 million for fiscal year 2008 and was set up to dismantle Russian ICBMs and their related infrastructure. The SS-24 destruction brings Russia closer to the limit set by the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), under which Russia and the United States agreed to cut the number of their deployed strategic warheads to 2,200 by the end of 2012.

According to Lugar's press release, the reductions were made in accordance with the guidelines set by the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and reaffirmed by SORT in 2002. The program will continue to dismantle truck-mounted SS-25s as part of the same treaty commitments.

Addressing another aspect of threat reduction, on April 24 the NNSA pointed to its MCC program that is operating at three facilities in Russia and has successfully converted enough material for 400 weapons into low-enriched uranium for power production purposes.

The NNSA also announced April 21 that a plutonium reactor at Seversk had been completely shut down. It is the first of three Russian reactors that can produce weapons-grade plutonium to be deactivated under the program for the elimination of weapons-grade plutonium. Two reactors are in Seversk, and another is in Zheleznogorsk. Because the reactors also produce power for their respective cities, the NNSA is working with Russian contractors to simultaneously build one coal-fired power plant in Zheleznogorsk and refurbish another in Seversk to replace the energy the reactors generate. (See ACT, March 2008)

The reactors were originally supposed to have been deactivated eight years ago under a agreement between then-U.S. Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin in 1994, but construction difficulties, cost overruns, and disagreements about how to replace the electric power they provided extended the project for many years.

In December 2002, the project was transferred from the Defense Department to the Energy Department, which then concluded the present accord with Russia in March 2003. Its timetable called for the reactors at Seversk to be shut down by the end of 2008, and the NNSA press release added that it expects to shut down the second reactor there in June. The Energy Department's fiscal year 2009 budget request earlier this year noted that the second reactor at Zheleznogorsk is scheduled to be deactivated by the end of 2010.

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