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Fissile Material

U.S. Disposes of Weapons-Usable Fissile Material

The Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced that it achieved significant milestones in two programs: a project to convert weapons-grade fissile material to nuclear fuel for power stations and the cleanup of a former U.S. nuclear weapons facility site.

As part of the Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) Blend-Down Program, South Carolina’s Savannah River Site in mid-July sent its first shipment of low-enriched uranium—converted from excess weapons-grade, HEU—to Nuclear Fuel Services in Tennessee. There, the uranium will be converted into fuel that will be used for civilian energy purposes at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Alabama. The project will continue through 2007.

In addition, Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham announced August 19 that Rocky Flats, the former plutonium trigger production site near Denver, sent out its last shipment of fissile material as part of its shutdown process. Manufacturing of plutonium pits—which trigger detonation of a thermonuclear weapon—ended at the site in 1989 after it was deemed an environmental hazard and shut down. Initial studies estimated that cleanup and closure would take up to 65 years, but in 1995 the DOE and its contractors established an accelerated schedule due to the potential danger posed by the large amount of plutonium at the site and its proximity to a heavily populated area.

Plutonium from Rocky Flats is being shipped to Savannah River Site, where it will later be converted into fuel for civilian nuclear reactors. Despite political wrangling between Abraham and South Carolina Governor Jim Hodges (D) over shipping Rocky Flats’ plutonium to Savannah River Site in 2002, the Rocky Flats site is on track to be completely closed down by 2006. (See ACT, May 2002.)

NNSA Folds Advisory Council

Christine Kucia

In a surprise decision, the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) shut down an advisory committee established to review the agency’s research and development portfolio and make recommendations for strengthening its science and technology work. The action drew harsh criticism from several members of Congress.

The committee, which was created June 25, 2001, had a two-year term for its work, and the NNSA decided not to renew it. Committee members included physicists and other scientists with technical knowledge about nuclear weapons, as well as former government officials and experts with experience on a complex range of nuclear policy issues. The committee was created soon after the NNSA was established as a semi-autonomous agency of the Energy Department, when General John Gordon—the first head of NNSA—tasked the committee to “provide advice and recommendations on matters of technology, policy, and operation.” The charter also indicated that the advisory group “is expected to be needed on a continuing basis.” The committee met five times during its two-year term.

The committee’s termination occurred soon after Ambassador Linton Brooks was sworn in as NNSA’s administrator in May. (See ACT, June 2003). According to NNSA spokesman Bryan Wilkes, the group’s members should not have been surprised by its termination because federal advisory committees stand only for two years unless a specific renewal request is made. He added that, in the absence of the committee, the Nuclear Weapons Council—comprised of Brooks and two officials from the military and the Defense Department—will continue to develop guidance on nuclear weapons policy. “Ambassador Brooks has no shortage of advice,” Wilkes said.

Some former committee members disagree. “A committee like this was a very useful thing for NNSA to have,” Raymond Jeanloz, a University of California professor of planetary science, told ACT August 20. He explained that the committee provided analysis, recommendations, and constructive criticism for the agency. “We made recommendations that ended up being implemented. And we served a ‘checks and balances’ role,” he said.

Sidney Drell, a Stanford University physicist on the committee, had harsher words about the group’s lapse. “I presume they did not value us or found us a nuisance,” he said, according to a July 31 article in The Guardian.

Congressional objections drew attention to the committee’s demise. Representative Edward Markey (D-MA) blasted the decision in a July 29 press release. “[I]nstead of seeking balanced expert advice and analysis about this important topic, the Department of Energy has disbanded the one forum for honest, unbiased external review of its nuclear weapons policies,” he said.

Markey also sent a letter to Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham, asking for an accounting of the committee under the rules governing groups established under the Federal Advisory Committee Act. The letter called for copies of the group’s final report to be provided to the Library of Congress; asked whether the committee fulfilled its mandate after holding only five meetings over the two-year term; and inquired how NNSA’s administrator will be advised in the future on complex technical and policy issues in the absence of “the only independent contemplative body studying nuclear weapons.”

Despite Markey’s efforts, NNSA continues to guard the committee’s final report. After his office requested copies, NNSA officials sent the final document to its Office of General Counsel, where it awaits further review by the agency. NNSA refuses to estimate when the report will be publicly available.

Jeanloz said he was “surprised” by the department’s decision to withhold the report, which he said was entirely unclassified. “I can’t think of anything in the report that would be detrimental or negative for the current NNSA leadership or NNSA in general,” he said, adding that refusing to issue the report “may make the document seem far more provocative than what it concludes.”


In a surprise decision, the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) shut down an advisory committee established to review the agency’s research...

Reform and Expansion of Cooperative Threat Reduction

Kenneth N. Luongo and William E. Hoehn III

While America’s attention has been riveted on Iraq and the war on terrorism, the Nunn-Lugar cooperative threat reduction agenda has, with little fanfare, protected the nation against major nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons threats. Nunn-Lugar and related programs have been a critical defense against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by reducing many of the dangers posed by the old Soviet Union’s massive Cold War arsenals.

During its 12-year span, threat reduction has posted some remarkable achievements. (See box.) These concrete accomplishments are all the more significant because they have been achieved under often difficult circumstances through cooperation with Russian ministries and institutes that for more than 40 years were America’s enemy.

Beyond the measurable rewards, these cooperative programs also have created equally important but less tangible benefits, including an improved Russian appreciation of nonproliferation; heightened levels of trust between U.S. and Russian officials, military officers, and scientists; and new political linkages and relationships not thought possible during the Cold War. These intangible benefits are hard to quantify in official reports, but they are a unique result of this work.

Last year’s Group of Eight (G-8) pledge to provide up to $20 billion over the next decade under the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction has provided an opportunity to further catalyze and accelerate progress on this nonproliferation agenda and to bring in new allies to share the threat reduction burden.

Threat Reduction Accomplishments

Despite facing some major obstacles, threat reduction programs have had significant successes that enhance the security of the United States and the world. Some of the program’s results in the former Soviet states include:

  • Removal of roughly 7,000 nuclear warheads from deployment
  • Destruction of more than 400 missile silos
  • Elimination of more than 1,400 ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, submarines, and strategic bombers
  • Enhancement of storage and transportation of nuclear material and weapons
  • Elimination of 150 metric tons of weapons-grade uranium
  • Elimination of a major biological weapons production plant
  • Support of approximately 50,000 chemical, biological, nuclear, and missile scientists in peaceful research work

With construction of the first wing of the Mayak Fissile Material Storage Facility, the nuclear components from more than 12,500 dismantled nuclear weapons will be safely stored in coming years.

Remaining Challenges

Although these are impressive results, much of this agenda remains to be completed. Roughly two-thirds of Russia’s weapons-grade material remains inadequately secure, the destruction of chemical weapons is just starting, and much remains unknown about the size and scope of Russia’s biological weapons activities.

These difficulties are exacerbated by many implementation problems that have developed during the past decade. For the most part, however, these problems are political, not technical, and they can be resolved if there is the demonstrated political will to do so in Russia, the United States, and the other G-8 countries.

Political Attention

Because of its sensitive nature and the need for cooperation by all parties, the threat reduction agenda requires sustained political attention and the expenditure of political capital. Truly robust political support for threat reduction, however, is very rarely demonstrated and often is more rhetorical than real.
For example, the Russian government has rarely spearheaded efforts to eliminate the internal security and bureaucratic problems that plague implementation in Russia. In the United States, insufficient political support and attention has resulted in funding limitations and restrictions, bureaucratic battles, and delayed program implementation.

The G-8 Global Partnership initiative is just a year old, and progress is being made in shaping its contributions and actions. But a number of issues affecting U.S.-Russian threat reduction cooperation might also bog down the G-8 process. Insufficient facility access, difficulties in negotiating agreements, and the lack of requisite legal protections such as exempting assistance from taxes and addressing liability matters are all problems that the Global Partnership is facing. In addition, so far, these problems are not being addressed consistently at high political levels in any of the G-8 countries.

It is largely up to the Russian government to resolve the major impediments, but increased and high-level political intervention could eliminate a number of these problems.

Access and Transparency

Perhaps the most pervasive impediment to progress is the lack of access to Russian facilities and the lack of transparency of information. Major parts of the Russian national security bureaucracy are still wary of the West and its interest in Russia’s defense materials and facilities. Requests for access and transparency create suspicion on the Russian side, and the rejection of these requests fuels resentment and hard-line attitudes on the U.S. side.

In a recent study, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) confirmed the seriousness of the issue, noting that the lack of access provided by Russia to some of its nuclear warhead, fissile material, and biological pathogen facilities has resulted in slow progress for several threat reduction efforts.1

The disputes over access are frustrating, and ultimately changes in Russian law might be necessary for the matter to be completely solved. These problems, however, could be better managed with a regular and focused dialogue between high-level political leaders in both countries. Such a process does not now exist. As a result, the review and coordination of bilateral and multilateral threat reduction programs remains inadequate, and overall direction and prioritization are lacking.

Strategy and Coordination

One way to focus attention and create an integrated and comprehensive strategy for the panoply of threat reduction programs would be to install a threat reduction coordinator. But insistent, bipartisan calls for a dedicated threat reduction coordinator in the White House have been rejected by Democratic and Republican administrations. Creation of a coordinator position and the development of an integrated strategy could substantially improve threat reduction’s effectiveness and more quickly reduce proliferation risks. Without improvement in management and oversight, threat reduction activities will remain vulnerable to attack as delays continue to grow.

The need for strong coordination will become more essential in the future as threat reduction’s results become less tangible. To date the most popular activities have centered on highly observable developments, such as elimination of missiles, bombers, and submarines. Activity in these high-profile areas will continue, but other issues, such as weapon-scientist redirection and weapon-complex infrastructure downsizing, must become more prominent in the coming decade if the roots of the proliferation danger are to be addressed. These issues, however, have an uneven track record of political support and require longer timelines for implementation and achievement of their goals.

Excess WMD Scientists

A fundamental source of instability within the former Soviet WMD complexes is economic in nature. Therefore, addressing the economic dimensions of threat reduction is essential. The downsizing of WMD production plants and related infrastructure will continue to displace thousands of scientists and workers skilled in the details of weapon design, manufacture, and maintenance.

However, the re-employment programs currently in place for weapon scientists, while essential, are not providing many career-changing opportunities in any of the WMD complexes in the former Soviet Union. The two main strategies for the redirection of the scientists that have been pursued by governments—research-contracting and technology-driven commercialization and business development—are inadequate. New approaches and new attitudes are required to meet this challenge.

The science-contracting approach remains an essential lifeline for many weapons scientists, but the duration of most projects does not exceed three years, and many of these scientists still maintain their weapons-related employment during that time. Indeed, a recent analysis by the International Science and Technology Center (ISTC), which provides former Soviet weapons scientists with opportunities to redirect their talents to peaceful activities, has shown that many of the scientists working on its projects are not being converted completely from weapons work but are mostly being detoured temporarily.2

At the other end of the re-employment spectrum, government investments in commercialization have had some successes but yielded few real results, often because the projects have not adequately conformed to market needs. Creating successful commercial enterprises is difficult enough in Russia due to the systemic barriers to business creation. When the additional impediments posed by the Russian weapons complex are added, it becomes a daunting challenge.

Western governments must be willing to accept these realities and lower their expectations that commercialization in the WMD complexes will completely solve the problem of excess scientists. Russia must also curtail its unrealistic economic expectations and recognize that systemic problems in that country impede commercial progress.

A more comprehensive, integrated, and effective strategy for addressing the re-employment of scientists across the WMD spectrum needs to be developed and implemented. A positive first step would be harnessing the experience and knowledge of the excess weapons scientists to solve real world problems in the areas of environmental remediation, energy technology development, life sciences, and nonproliferation. Such an approach would provide global benefits as well as a path to sustainable, peaceful career change for these scientists.

Governments must also begin to distinguish between the redirection needs of the scientists and engineers in these complexes and the need to identify suitable nonweapons work for the production workers displaced by the complex downsizing process. A recent analysis has estimated that excess fissile material and nuclear weapons production workers account for roughly 20,000 to 25,000 of the total 35,000 projected excess employees in the Russian nuclear complex.3 These workers have knowledge of the physical, chemical, and metallurgical properties of the various weapons materials and components, and that makes them a proliferation risk. Re-employment strategies must be developed to make use of their unique skills.


Funding for threat reduction has been considered the litmus test of support; indeed, robust funding for this agenda is necessary. Some key programs, however, are now experiencing funding backlogs because implementation difficulties are holding back progress. Implementation problems, in turn, are festering because of the lack of political attention to solving them. Funding could be spent rapidly, however, and the goals of threat reduction achieved earlier if these political problems were solved.

Although more than $1 billion per year is being made available for international threat reduction programs by the United States and other countries, there are a number of lower-profile threat reduction efforts within this total that are overshadowed by larger activities and which could be accelerated if additional funding was made available. These include programs for redirecting weapons scientists; eliminating additional quantities of highly enriched uranium (HEU); implementing plutonium disposition; ending the production of weapons-grade plutonium; expanding the scope of the program designed to convert research reactors that use HEU; and improving border, export, and customs control.

Threat Reduction Expansion

Threat reduction is facing some very difficult challenges, but its unquestioned successes have made it a candidate for expansion. (See Sidebar.) During the past two years, there has been more attention focused on multilateralizing the threat reduction effort, expanding its scope beyond the former Soviet Union, and assessing its applicability to new arms control and security agreements.

A Short History of Threat Reduction

The U.S. Congress, in bipartisan action in 1991, laid the foundation for the cooperative threat reduction agenda by enacting what became known as the Nunn-Lugar program, named for its primary co-sponsors, Senators Sam Nunn (D-GA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN). This initiative has since developed into a broad set of programs that involve a number of U.S. agencies, primarily the Departments of Defense, Energy, and State. The government now provides these programs with approximately $900 million to $1 billion per year. In the past 10 years, roughly $7 billion in total has been spent on cooperative activities to secure and eliminate WMD and related materials, expertise, and technologies at their source in Russia, in other former Soviet Republics, and in other locations around the world.

During this time, this cooperation has yielded indisputable results that have made a real, tangible difference in global security. Among the highlights:

The first success came in 1992, when Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan agreed to return to Russia the nuclear weapons they had inherited from the Soviet breakup and to accede to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as non-nuclear-weapon states. The same year, the United States helped establish two science centers designed to provide alternative employment for scientists and technicians who had lost their jobs and, in some cases, had become economically desperate because weapons work in the former Soviet Union was significantly reduced.

In 1993 the United States and Russia signed the Highly Enriched Uranium Purchase agreement, under which the United States would buy 500 metric tons of weapons-grade HEU that would be “blended down,” or mixed with natural uranium to eliminate its weapon usability, and be used as commercial reactor fuel. To date, 175 metric tons of Russian HEU, or the equivalent of approximately 7,000 nuclear warheads, have been eliminated under this program. The two countries also established the Material Protection, Control, and Accounting program, a major effort to improve the security of Russia’s fissile material, and they signed an accord to build a secure Russian storage facility for fissile materials.

In 1994, U.S. and Russian laboratories began working directly with each other to improve the security of weapons-grade nuclear materials, and the two countries reached an agreement to help Russia halt weapons-grade plutonium production. Assistance to the Russian scientific community also expanded, with weapons scientists and technicians being invited to participate in the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention program, which is focused on the commercialization of non-weapons technology projects.

In 1995 the first shipments of blended-down Russian HEU began arriving in the United States. The United States and Russia also began to implement a new program to convert the cores of Soviet-designed research reactors so that they no longer use weapons-grade uranium.

In 1996 the last nuclear warheads from the former Soviet republics were returned to Russia. In the United States, Congress passed the Nunn-Lugar-Domenici legislation, which expanded the original cooperative initiative and sought to improve the U.S. domestic response to threats posed by weapons of mass destruction that could be used on American soil.

In 1997 the United States and Russia agreed to revise their original plutonium production reactor agreement to facilitate the end of plutonium production. In March 2003, the United States and Russia signed the implementing agreements, under which the United States will finance the modernization and construction of replacement fossil fuel plants in exchange for a Russian commitment to shut down and decommission the three remaining reactors.

In 1998 the two countries created the Nuclear Cities Initiative, a program aimed at helping Russia shrink its massively oversized nuclear weapons complex and create alternative employment for unneeded weapons scientists and technicians.

In 1999 the Clinton administration unveiled the Expanded Threat Reduction Initiative, which requested increased funding and extension of the life spans of many of the existing cooperative security programs. The United States and Russia joined to extend the CTR agreement, which covers the operation of such Department of Defense activities as strategic arms elimination and warhead security.

In 2000 the United States and Russia signed a plutonium disposition agreement providing for the elimination of 34 tons of excess weapons-grade plutonium by each country.

In 2001, Congress increased the funds for critical threat reduction activities substantially above the requested amounts, including in the post-September 11 supplemental appropriations act.

In 2002 the G-8 agreed to expand the scope, funding, and timeline for WMD threat reduction activities in Russia, and Congress again provided supplemental funding for key efforts.

The G-8 Global Partnership

Threat reduction has always been more than just a U.S.-Russian effort, and many other countries have contributed to various objectives, such as chemical-weapon destruction and scientist redirection. The creation of the G-8 Global Partnership, however, was a major step forward in the multilateralization of WMD threat reduction efforts. Under this initiative, the G-8 countries committed to provide up to $20 billion to support cooperative nonproliferation projects, initially in Russia.

The assumption is that the United States would bear the cost of about half the $20 billion because it is currently spending about $1 billion per year on threat reduction activities in the former Soviet Union. Another roughly $8.5 billion has been publicly pledged by the other G-8 states, the European Union, and a few non-G-8 countries to date. About 8 percent of this $8.5 billion amount has been committed to specific projects. This constitutes a major funding increase from the non-U.S. G-8 countries.

The major interests of the other G-8 states are in chemical weapons destruction, submarine dismantlement, plutonium disposition, and re-employment of weapons scientists. Additional areas of work will include Soviet-designed nuclear reactor safety projects and environmental remediation efforts.

The substantial increase in funding and commitment to threat reduction from countries other than the United States has provided a framework for thinking concretely about the future and expansion of this agenda.

Regional Expansion

Attention in the policy community recently has turned to whether and how threat reduction assistance can be extended to other countries outside of Russia and the other former Soviet republics that possess weapons of mass destruction and/or potentially vulnerable material stockpiles and weapons expertise.
A variety of ideas have been put forward as to how the United States could engage countries such as China, India, Iraq, Pakistan, and possibly even Iran and North Korea in threat reduction-type activities.
Some useful forms of nonproliferation cooperation with other countries that could be explored more intensively include:

  • Rapid response to WMD emergency circumstances.
  • Undertaking a program to develop alternative employment opportunities for scientists and workers previously engaged in Saddam Hussein’s WMD programs, in addition to accounting for and securing weapons of mass destruction and any related materials in post-war Iraq.
  • Providing export control development and nuclear materials protection, control, and accounting (MPC&A) assistance to India and Pakistan.
  • Resuming a dialogue on MPC&A cooperation with China and expanding cooperative U.S.-Sino WMD interdiction and anti-smuggling efforts.
  • Assisting India in its commitment to eliminate its chemical weapons arsenal.
  • Extending personnel reliability systems to Pakistan and India to effectively screen guard forces with access to warheads and sensitive materials.
  • Contingency planning to assist dismantlement of North Korean nuclear weapons and disposal of related materials, should a dramatic breakthrough in the current crisis on the Korean Peninsula occur.

However, a number of complications and barriers exist that could prevent effective U.S.-led activities in these countries. These include the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which limits cooperation between nuclear and non-nuclear-weapon states; U.S. laws and export controls; suspicions in the host country about possible assistance motives and intentions; and domestic policy attitudes that oppose any foreign assistance that is perceived as contributing to operational readiness or offensive capabilities of foreign military forces. Clearly, substantial political will must be summoned to establish meaningful threat reduction cooperation with other countries of concern.

Moreover, congressional opposition has, to date, prevailed over most proposals to extend threat reduction to other corners of the world, at least when it comes to utilizing the resources of the Department of Defense’s Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program.

Twice in the past year, proposals by Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) and President George W. Bush to allow use of unobligated CTR program funds for nonproliferation activities outside of the former Soviet Union have been defeated in Congress. At present, CTR is limited under existing law to cooperation with states of the former Soviet Union.

The 2003 Iraq war supplemental appropriations bill, however, provided funds to the Department of Energy’s nonproliferation programs expressly for threat reduction assistance to countries beyond the former Soviet Union. In addition, Congress’ fiscal year 2004 defense authorization act may provide authority and funding for expansion of threat reduction to non-former Soviet Union states.

Applicability to New Arms Control Agreements

Threat reduction might also have a role to play in facilitating current and future arms control agreements. The implementation of the START I treaty has provided an essential rationale for a major portion of threat reduction activities. On the other hand, concerns about Russia’s fulfillment of obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention have had the opposite effect, resulting in the suspension of threat reduction in Russia for much of 2002.

Other agreements, such as the Treaty of Moscow, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and regional nuclear weapons-free zones, currently have little or no relation to threat reduction, but threat reduction could be instrumental in facilitating the implementation of and strengthening support for these treaties. These linkages should be explored, as threat reduction cooperation between the United States and Russia moves through its second decade.

A Threat Reduction Reform Agenda

Many of threat reduction’s enduring problems can be solved if decisive steps are taken in the near term to reform some key programs, create new ones, and make determined efforts to solve major obstacles. This will require focused attention and effort from the United States, Russia, and the other G-8 partners.
In the United States, there is a reform role for both the administration and Congress. A congressional threat reduction reform agenda, however, should not focus on additional expenditure restrictions and more onerous reporting requirements as a means of assuring accountability. Fiscal prudence is necessary, but these methods have produced limited results to date, and reliance upon them places risk aversion over threat elimination.

Steps that Congress can take include:

  • Supporting the amendment of current law to give permanent authority to the president to waive the annual certifications required for CTR programs and Freedom Support Act nonproliferation programs. The president requested this action in the fiscal year 2004 budget request to Congress.
  • Expanding and refocusing efforts designed to employ excess weapons scientists and specialists peacefully and eliminate WMD complex infrastructure irreversibly. Excess weapons scientists and workers are a major root cause of the proliferation threat given their expertise and access to weapons and materials. These efforts need more funding, greater flexibility, and new strategies in order to provide the career-changing opportunities that can further reduce, if not eliminate, the threat these scientists and their facilities pose.
  • Supporting robust funding for key programs. The Baker-Cutler task force report, A Report Card on the Department of Energy’s Nonproliferation Programs with Russia, recommended that $30 billion be spent on nuclear security alone in Russia and other former Soviet states. To date, the United States has spent a total of about $7 billion on all nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons threat reduction activities. Critical threat reduction programs were cut in the fiscal year 2002 budget submission. Without congressional action, those cuts would not have been reversed, and additional funding to accelerate the security of WMD materials in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks would not have been provided. The fiscal year 2004 budget request again cuts some essential nuclear material security programs, although they are designed to pay for new and important initiatives.
  • Although some of the programs targeted for reduction have funding backlogs, if implementation problems are resolved, those backlogged funds could be spent rapidly.
  • Creating a new global initiative that would eliminate weapons-grade uranium from vulnerable facilities worldwide (similar to projects conducted in Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Serbia). The authority to undertake this effort needs to be clarified and the funding for it provided.

The Bush administration also should make changes in the way it approaches threat reduction by:

  • Integrating cooperative threat reduction activities into the concept of homeland defense and the war on terrorism. These programs are a first line of defense against WMD threats to the United States and its allies, and they should be considered a high national security priority, not foreign aid. This could also provide a basis for the expansion of threat reduction beyond Russia and other former Soviet states.
  • Creating a senior U.S. coordinator or focused coordination team that can prioritize, oversee, and expedite threat reduction activities. Currently the multiple threat reduction programs are run without a well-developed or coordinated strategy. This person or group must be more powerful than current interagency working groups and must have unfettered access to the president and his senior advisors.
  • Proposing the creation of bi-annual, performance-focused meetings between high-level U.S. and Russian political officials to evaluate threat reduction progress comprehensively, receive reports from program managers on advances and impediments in each program, and negotiate solutions to implementation obstacles. There is no substitute for having both sides in the same room reporting to senior political officials on programmatic progress and problems.

In addition to the steps taken by the United States, it is vital for Russia to improve the environment for threat reduction activities by accounting for past WMD program activities, providing access to facilities where security improvements are required, offering financial transparency, and approving the legal protections that are needed to move this agenda forward. Resolving these problems would benefit from a much more intense political dialogue between the White House and the Kremlin than currently exists. If Russia is to be an equal partner in this process, however, it must be primarily responsible for addressing these key issues.

It is also important for the other G-8 countries to meet their financial obligations under the Global Partnership initiative and to focus their funding on priority proliferation issues. Intensified efforts also should be made to encourage the further involvement of non-G-8 states and to increase the total funding commitment to higher than $20 billion.


Cooperative threat reduction is a vital effort that is essential to reducing 21st century WMD threats. It needs to be updated, reformed, and expanded. Congress and the administration need to work together along with Russia and our other G-8 partners to make this reform a reality.
The dangers are acute. As President Bush has stated,

The gravest danger our Nation faces lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology. Our enemies have openly declared that they are seeking weapons of mass destruction, and evidence indicates that they are doing so with determination. The United States will not allow these efforts to succeed.…We cannot defend America and our friends by hoping for the best.…History will judge harshly those who saw this coming danger but failed to act. In the new world we have entered, the only path to peace and security is the path of action. 4

If terrorists or hostile regimes should gain access to the world’s largest exposed WMD stockpiles because of inertia, distraction, or risk aversion on the part of our leaders, our security will suffer despite other victories in the war on terrorism, and the judgment of history may indeed be harsh.


1. U.S. General Accounting Office, “Weapons of Mass Destruction: Additional Russian Cooperation Needed to Facilitate U.S. Efforts to Improve Security at Russian Sites,” March 2003, GAO-03-482.

2. International Science and Technology Center 2001 Annual Report, p. 7.

3. Bukharin, Oleg. “Workforce of Primary Production Units at Nuclear Facilities in Closed Cities.” Princeton University, March 25, 2003 (presentation at RANSAC meeting).

4. George W. Bush, The National Security Strategy of the United States, September 17, 2002.

Kenneth N. Luongo and William E. Hoehn III are Executive Director and Washington Office Director, respectively, of the Russian-American Nuclear Security Advisory Council (RANSAC), a private nonpartisan research organization.


G-8 Gauges Progress of Threat Reduction Partnership

Christine Kucia

Leaders of the Group of Eight (G-8) countries meeting in Evian, France, June 1-3 will review progress achieved to help Russia meet threat reduction goals as part of the G-8 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, which was adopted at last year’s summit. (See ACT, July/August 2002.)

The partnership, dubbed “10 plus 10 over 10,” will provide Russia in the next 10 years with up to $10 billion in U.S. funding, matched by up to $10 billion from the European G-8 members and Japan. Some other countries outside of the G-8, such as Norway and Switzerland, are also helping Russia secure and destroy its weapons of mass destruction and related materials through the program. The United States already offers roughly $1 billion in assistance to Russia through the Cooperative Threat Reduction program and other associated projects.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John Wolf said in May 8 testimony to Congress that G-8 partner countries have committed $6 billion to the program, despite pressure from the State Department to meet the $10 billion goal with international pledges before the Evian summit.

“It’s been too long that Europe and Japan haven’t done enough to…help these threat-reduction projects that we’ve been working on for a decade,” Wolf said.

One reason for the lack of financial pledges is that G-8 states are pressing Russia to cut a deal on tax and liability issues. (See ACT, November 2002.) In an attempt to improve government-to-government cooperation on these issues, the United States, the European Union, and Russia May 21 signed the Multilateral Nuclear Environmental Program in the Russian Federation (MNEPR). At the signing ceremony for the agreement, which provides 110 million euros ($130 million) for a variety of radioactive waste disposal projects, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov noted that the MNEPR contains the “legal framework” for meeting the implementation goals in the G-8 program. “It is of fundamental importance that we will now be able to use this Agreement as a guide in working out bilateral accords under the Global Partnership,” he said.

Russia’s chief priorities for new foreign assistance include dismantlement of more than 100 decommissioned nuclear submarines, which, due to budget constraints, languish in ports with the nuclear fuel still onboard the boats. Assistance with destruction of Russia’s chemical weapons stockpile—the world’s largest at an estimated 40,000 tonnes—is also viewed as imperative; experts indicate that the poorly guarded, poorly maintained munitions pose a proliferation risk as well as an environmental challenge.

Despite U.S. criticism of Europe and Japan, Russia recently hailed assistance from Germany and Japan as “the greatest advance in project development.” Russia announced April 18 that Germany has pledged 30 million euros ($35 million), primarily for construction of a chemical weapons destruction facility at Kambarka, Interfax reported.

Since promising assistance for dismantling Russian weapons in the early 1990s, Japan has committed $200 million to Russia for nonproliferation projects, but bureaucratic issues have impeded detailed agreement between the capitals. At a February 13 meeting, however, Japan and Russia made significant strides toward finalizing a program to dismantle a Victor III-class submarine. Earlier, Japan had agreed to fund construction of a $36 million radioactive waste treatment plant, which started operation in 2001.



Leaders of the Group of Eight (G-8) countries meeting in Evian, France, June 1-3 will review progress achieved to help Russia meet threat reduction goals as part of the G-8...

U.S. Produces First Plutonium Pit Since 1989

Christine Kucia

Los Alamos National Laboratory announced April 22 that it has produced the first U.S. plutonium pit since 1989 that complies with nuclear stockpile specifications, thus re-establishing the U.S. capability to remanufacture or produce new plutonium cores for nuclear weapons.

The United States has not had the ability to produce pits, which trigger a fission reaction that sets off a thermonuclear weapon, since the closure of the plutonium pit facility at Rocky Flats, Colorado, in 1989. The Department of Energy decided in 1996 to restart pit manufacturing on a small scale at Los Alamos, and since then, the laboratory has been re-establishing the processes to create pits that comply with U.S. stockpile requirements. The laboratory built the pit, named Qual-1, using 42 processes required to make a certifiable pit.

The processes were qualified in December 2002 to meet the standards for pit production, but the pit itself must be certified separately before it can be used in a nuclear weapon. “Our next challenge is to carry out the required experiments, analyses, and computer modeling so we can certify that this newly manufactured pit will perform reliably in the stockpile, without conducting underground nuclear tests,” said Pete Nanos, interim director of Los Alamos. The Energy Department estimates that certification of Los Alamos-produced pits will be complete by 2007.

Qual-1 is the first pit manufactured under the program to replace pits in W-88 warheads, which are used on submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Several more pits will be produced at Los Alamos each year through 2007 for the certification process and to establish the ability to begin manufacturing up to 10 pits annually by 2007 for nuclear weapons or for testing purposes. Eventually, Los Alamos could produce 20-50 pits each year.

According to Nanos, “All of these manufacturing processes meet today’s health, safety, and environmental regulations, so some materials and processes differ from those used at Rocky Flats.” The former U.S. pit production facility was shut down in 1989 following environmental safety and occupational health violations.

As Los Alamos establishes a limited pit production capability, the Bush administration is pursuing a larger plan to establish a more robust pit production capacity. John Gordon, then-head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, announced in February 2002 that a new facility will be established for plutonium pit production, slated for completion in 2018. The Modern Pit Facility will allow the United States to produce at least 125 pits per year, which officials claim are needed to replace aging pits or those used in diagnostic tests. (See ACT, March 2003.) Critics of pit production efforts claim that U.S. reserves are sufficient for U.S. stockpile maintenance needs.


U.S. Produces First Plutonium Pit Since 1989

North Korea's Uranium-Enrichment Efforts Shrouded in Mystery

Paul Kerr

The current crisis over North Korea’s nuclear activities began when the United States announced October 16 that North Korea had admitted to Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly earlier that month that it had a covert uranium-enrichment program. The exact status of the program and its origins are not clear, but examining these issues is important for U.S. analysts attempting to divine North Korea’s motives for starting the program and what effect, if any, U.S. decisions had on Pyongyang’s actions.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee February 4 that the administration received a National Intelligence Estimate in June 2002 stating that North Korea “had engaged in at least [a research and development] project for highly enriched uranium.” He also stated that intelligence received the next month, however, indicated that North Korea was acquiring “many more [centrifuges] than was originally thought,” adding that a September 2002 intelligence memorandum said that North Korea “had embarked on a production program.”

A November 2002 CIA report to Congress says North Korea “is constructing a [uranium-enrichment] plant that could produce enough weapons-grade uranium for two or more nuclear weapons a year when fully operational.” Kelly testified during a March 12 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that the uranium-enrichment program could produce fissile material in “probably…months and not years.”

There are various U.S. government sources that provide clues as to when North Korea began its uranium-enrichment program, but disagreement among the sources makes it difficult to determine the exact start of the program. Most information, however, indicates it began between 1997 and 1999.

Armitage has provided the earliest estimate of the program’s origin, testifying February 4 that the U.S. government noticed “some anomalies in [North Korean] procurement patterns” starting in 1994. Similarly, Secretary of State Colin Powell stated during a March 26 hearing before the House Appropriations Committee that North Korea started the program to enrich uranium “before the ink was dry” on the 1994 Agreed Framework.

A March 17 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report states that the uranium-enrichment program “appears to date from [the end of] 1995,” although it does not cite a source or provide further detail. John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, stated in an April 15 interview with Arms Control Today that the program “goes back to about 1998…[but] it may go back earlier than that.”

Powell described a similar, although less precise, timeline in a series of television interviews on December 29, 2002. On NBC’s Meet the Press, he said the program began “four or five years ago, if not earlier.” Contrary to his later comment that North Korea began the program around the time the Agreed Framework was signed, he said on ABC’s This Week that North Korea started the program “in 1998 and 1999.”

The November CIA report to Congress indicates that “North Korea embarked on the effort to develop a centrifuge-based uranium enrichment program about two years ago.”

It is also unclear as to when North Korea decided to proceed from a research and development project to building a production facility for uranium enrichment. Armitage argued in his February 4 testimony that North Korea was “intent on going to a full-up production program” from “at least” February 2000—a possible reference to President Bill Clinton’s February 2000 decision not to certify that North Korea “is not seeking to develop or acquire the capability to enrich uranium, or any additional capability to reprocess spent fuel.” Congress had recently passed legislation requiring Clinton to make such a certification before funds could be released to the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, which implements the Agreed Framework.

Wendy Sherman, the counselor to the Department of State, explained Clinton’s decision during a March 16, 2000, hearing before the House International Relations Committee, testifying that “the way that that certification is written, it goes to the intention of North Korea…it’s very hard to conceive of what their intentions are.”

An April 2003 CIA report states that the United States “has remained suspicious that North Korea has been working on uranium enrichment for several years,” adding that North Korea “began seeking centrifuge-related materials in large quantities” in 2001 and “obtained equipment suitable for use in uranium feed and withdrawal systems.”

It is interesting to note that the most recent estimates place the program’s origins at an earlier date, perhaps reflecting changes in intelligence assessments.





North Korea's Uranium-Enrichment Efforts Shrouded in Mystery

U.S., Russia Agree to Plutonium Reactor Shutdown

Christine Kucia

After years of delays and stalled plans, Russia and the United States signed an agreement March 12 to shut down the last three Russian reactors dedicated to the production of weapons-grade plutonium.

The reactors, which each day can generate enough plutonium for the equivalent of approximately one nuclear weapon, also provide heat and electricity for the Siberian “nuclear cities” of Seversk and Zheleznogorsk. Under the agreement, the United States will pay to refurbish one fossil-fuel facility and construct one new fossil-fuel plant for the Siberian cities served by the reactors.

U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham called the accord, which was signed in Vienna on the sidelines of a radiological material security conference, “an important step in advancing our nonproliferation programs.” Russian Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev agreed that stopping the plutonium production shows that “Russia and the U.S. are close partners in the strengthening of peace and in the war on terrorism.”

The refurbishment of an existing fossil-fuel plant at Seversk will allow the shutdown of two of the reactors by 2008, while construction of a new fossil-fuel facility in Zheleznogorsk will require that reactor to operate until 2011, when the new facility will come online. U.S. Department of Energy fiscal year 2004 draft budget documents state that, although the United States will finance the construction of the replacement power facilities, Russia will shut down the reactors.

The two countries first agreed in 1994 to cease permanently all plutonium production for nuclear weapons in both countries. The United States has not produced weapons-grade plutonium for its arsenal since 1988. The two countries have attempted to find alternative energy sources to replace Russia’s last three plutonium production reactors since signing the 1994 accord. Russia and the United States agreed in 1997 to a “core conversion” of the reactors, which was the less costly option, to be completed no later than 2000. (See ACT, September 1997.) Under that plan, the designs of the cores in the reactors would have been converted to minimize weapons-grade plutonium production and instead use uranium to fuel the reactors, providing electricity and heat for the cities.

However, cost overruns, financial troubles in Russia, and bureaucratic delays on both sides impeded the project. (See ACT, March 2000.) The countries reassessed the project and determined that core conversion would likely make the reactors less safe and potentially a greater proliferation threat, because they would use highly enriched uranium. Instead, the countries agreed in 2001 to shut down the reactors after replacing them with alternative power sources.

The reactors’ shutdown could displace up to 9,500 workers, according to a March 12 ITAR-Tass report. Many of the employees at the plutonium plants will be employed at the new fossil-fuel facilities, while some might be absorbed into the U.S.-sponsored Russian Transitions Initiative program, which helps former Russian nuclear weapons complex scientists and technicians use their expertise in civilian work sectors.

After years of delays and stalled plans, Russia and the United States signed an agreement March 12 to shut down the last three Russian reactors dedicated to the production of weapons-grade plutonium.

More Security Needed at Russian Nuke Facilities

Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev called for more money to beef up security at Russia’s nuclear facilities during a Duma meeting March 5, requesting increased funding to safeguard installations, monitor radioactive materials, and hire more guards.

Rumyantsev requested 6.5 billion rubles (about $207 million) to upgrade safety and security conditions at nuclear and chemical facilities, according to a March 5 Interfax report. “Everything boils down to money,” Rumyantsev told the lawmakers. He said, however, that nuclear safety in Russia is currently “satisfactory.”

A memorandum to the Duma from the Russian federal nuclear and radiation supervisory commission presented a more urgent appeal for funding. Citing 100 abandoned radioactive sources, such as major medical facilities, over the past year in Russia, the report documented “serious flaws” in security around nuclear installations, according to Interfax. The memorandum described accounting, control, and protection of missile materials as incomplete and noted that, in the absence of paid security personnel from the Russian interior ministry, the facilities are “guarded by non-departmental security personnel, in essence—unarmed pensioners or women.” At the Duma hearing, commission head Yuri Vishnevsky stressed, “There can be no more delays.”

Governments worldwide have expressed concern about the vulnerability of Russia’s nuclear installations, noting that terrorists could use gaps in security at the facilities to steal material. The United States and Russia established the Cooperative Threat Reduction program in 1991 to secure and destroy Russia’s weapons of mass destruction and related materials, and an initiative launched in June 2002 by the Group of Eight aims to help Russia secure more of its fissile material and facilities over the next decade. (See ACT, July/August 2002.)

CD Still Stalled by U.S., China Spat

Blocked by a continued diplomatic stalemate, the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) ended the first third of its 2003 negotiating session March 28 without any progress.

Since completing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996, the conference only managed to initiate negotiations in 1998, and those negotiations yielded no final agreement. Sixty-six countries are members of the conference, which operates by consensus and is tasked with negotiating on arms control and disarmament issues.

The United States and China are the principal antagonists in the CD stalemate. The United States is pressing for the immediate commencement of negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), which would prohibit the production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium for weapons purposes. While claiming to support FMCT negotiations, China demands that they do not begin without parallel negotiations on the prevention of an arms race in outer space—a linkage the United States opposes.

On March 6, Chinese Ambassador Hu Xiaodi reiterated a proposal that the United States rejected last year. Hu said China would accept holding talks, not negotiations, on outer space if they were done “with a view to negotiating relevant international legal instrument.” But the United States, which argues that outer space negotiations are unnecessary, opposes this formulation, saying it prejudges the outcome of the talks.

Beijing and Washington will have two more work periods this year to reach an accommodation. The first will take place May 12 to June 27 and the other July 28 to September 10.

DOE Requests Funds for Plutonium Disposal

Christine Kucia

Asking for a $312 million increase in its nonproliferation spending, the Department of Energy released its budget request for fiscal year 2004 on February 3. Most of the new funds would be used to begin construction on a controversial mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication plant to dispose of U.S. weapons-grade plutonium.

Of the $1.3 billion requested for the department’s nuclear nonproliferation activities, $609.4 million would go toward U.S. surplus fissile material disposition, according to budget documents released by the agency. Of that amount, $415.6 million will support construction of a facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina intended to convert 34 metric tons of U.S. plutonium into MOX fuel. Previous years’ appropriations supported design studies for the facility, and funds in the fiscal year 2004 budget will be used to complete the design phase and begin building the plant.

The Bush administration’s controversial plan for disposing of U.S. stocks of plutonium, which will fulfill U.S. obligations under an agreement negotiated with Russia in June 2000, accounts for 83 percent of the rise in the department’s proposed nonproliferation spending. Critics contend that MOX fuel fabrication is a more costly route than the alternative, plutonium immobilization, and poses a greater proliferation risk. (See ACT, January/February 2003.)

The proposed budget also includes funding for the Accelerated Materials Disposition initiative. That program stems from an agreement between Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in May 2002 which stipulated that the United States will increase assistance to Russia to help it dispose of more fissile material. The $30 million requested for the program in fiscal year 2004 will allow the United States government to purchase more highly enriched uranium from Russia and support the conversion of more highly enriched uranium into low-enriched uranium. Converting research and test reactors in Russia to use low-enriched uranium is also a priority under the program.

International safeguards would also receive a substantial boost under the Energy Department’s fiscal year 2004 budget. The proposed budget includes $15.7 million in funding to help strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency’s role in developing and enforcing mechanisms to combat proliferation and terrorism with weapons of mass destruction—a 56 percent request from its fiscal year 2003 request of less than $9.9 million.

The remainder of the Energy Department’s nonproliferation budget—which was drafted and presented to Congress prior to the finalization of the department’s fiscal year 2003 funding—closely follows the pattern of spending in the previous year.

The Department of Energy’s nonproliferation program is the largest component of U.S. nonproliferation efforts, which also include programs in the Defense and State Departments. The State Department’s fiscal year 2004 budget request includes a 133 percent jump in funding to $35 million for the Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund, which helps to halt proliferation of advanced conventional weapons, weapons of mass destruction, and related materials and technologies.

Asking for a $312 million increase in its nonproliferation spending, the Department of Energy released its budget request for fiscal year 2004 on February 3...


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