“Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.”

– George Stephanopolous
ABC News
January 1, 2005
Most U.S.-Russian Nuclear Work Ends
Share this

March 2015

By Kingston Reif

Former Senator Sam Nunn (D.-Ga.), left, and Senator Richard Lugar (R.-Ind) attend a symposium in Washington on December 3, 2012, on cooperative threat reduction. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)After months of signals that U.S.-Russian nuclear security cooperation beyond 2014 was in jeopardy, most work in that area now has ended, according to news reports and Energy Department budget documents. But some limited work will continue in 2015, according to Energy Department officials.

In a meeting last December in Moscow, Russian officials informed their U.S. counterparts that Moscow was ending U.S. cooperation with Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear corporation, and U.S. access to Rosatom facilities, the Boston Globe reported Jan. 19.

Joint work to upgrade the security of eight Rosatom sites containing weapons-usable nuclear material “will not be completed with U.S. funding, due to Russia’s discontinuation of this joint work,” according to the Energy Department’s detailed justification of its budget request for fiscal year 2016. Joint work to sustain previous upgrades also is ending, said the document, which was released Feb. 2.

The document states that U.S. support for efforts to convert reactors in Russia that still use highly enriched uranium (HEU) to use low-enriched uranium will continue but be limited to the six pilot reactors that are part of a 2010 agreement between the Energy Department and Rosatom. “The U.S. role in additional reactor conversion cooperation in Russia is anticipated to be limited to only technical exchanges,” the document said.

The Globe article reported that the United States will also no longer provide money to install radiation detectors at Russian ports, airports, and border crossings to deter and detect nuclear smuggling.

Since the end of the Cold War, Russia and the United States have cooperated on an array of nuclear weapons dismantlement, material security, and nonproliferation activities inside Russia and the other states of the former Soviet Union. These efforts have been pursued primarily under the auspices of the U.S. Defense Department’s Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program and the Energy Department’s nuclear material security programs.

In June 2013, Russia and the United States agreed to a pared-down replacement for the old CTR agreement. The new arrangement allowed the Energy Department to continue nuclear security activities with Rosatom, but terminated activities involving the Russian Ministry of Defense. (See ACT, July/August 2013.) Many of the activities with Rosatom were scheduled to continue through 2018.

In a Jan. 22 statement, Rosatom said that it would “be ready to return to the cooperation when the American side is ready for that, and certainly, strictly on the basis of equality, mutual benefit, and respect.”

In a Feb. 19 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Energy Department spokesman Derrick Robinson said Russia will fund the security work the Energy Department had been planning to carry out.

Despite the end of work with Rosatom, some cooperative activities would continue, including the repatriation of Russian-origin HEU from third countries, security work with a number of non-Rosatom nuclear sites, and bilateral exchanges on topics such as nuclear security culture and transportation security, Robinson said.

Congress voted last December to withhold the Energy Department’s $92.3 million fiscal year 2015 budget request for nuclear material security work in Russia. (See ACT, January/February 2015.) It is not clear from the budget documents how much money, if any, the Energy Department requested for work inside Russia in fiscal year 2016.

In a Jan. 23 Washington Post op-ed, former Sens. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) described Russia’s decision to cut off most aspects of its nuclear security cooperation with the United States as “short-sighted” and “a major setback in the global effort to secure nuclear materials.”

Nunn and Lugar co-sponsored the legislation that established cooperative threat reduction efforts with Russia in the early 1990s.