Plutonium scandal: the US games and Russia’s benefits

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The State Duma approved the suspension of the US-Russian Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement. 445 deputies voted for it, and one abstained. President Vladimir Putin introduced the bill to the lower parliament October 3.

The Russian-American deal on reprocessing weapons-grade plutonium ensures the material is useless for a nuclear explosive device by “burning” it in reactors. Each party planned to dispose of 34 tonnes of the metal.

Russia has built the necessary industrial infrastructure to abide by the agreement, while the United States has failed. Washington decided not to “burn” plutonium, but to blend it with other materials and put it into the radioactive waste storage facility.

As Vladimir Putin said in this regard, America preserves the breakout potential, so plutonium can be extracted, processed and weaponized again.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, in his turn, explained to the deputies that, in fact, the deal with the USA had not been observed since 2014.

In the State Duma the diplomat clarified that de facto the framework agreement remained in force, but in practice cooperation in all spheres had been curtailed by the Americans under politically contrived pretexts in 2014.

According to the wording of the law adopted, the decision about the resumption of the agreement is taken by the president of Russia, RIA Novosti reports.

For this to happen, several conditions must be fulfilled. Among them: reduction of the US military infrastructure and its field strength in the territories of NATO members that joined the Alliance after 2000; abolition of Magnitsky Act and of directed against Russia provisions of 2014 Ukraine Freedom Support Act; lifting of all sanctions against Russian companies and citizens (at the moment 281 Russian legal entities and 81 officials are under sanctions).

Among the conditions there is also compensation of the damage suffered by Russia because of sanctions, including the losses caused by desperate counter measures taken towards the USA.

Finally, Russia wants Washington to formulate a clear plan of inconvertible utilization of plutonium, fitting under the deal.

United Russia deputy Vyacheslav Nikonov considers that Russia is giving a sign to the United States that its strategic patience has run out. The expert emphasizes that Duma’s support of the bill about the suspension of the deal is “one of the most rigid foreign policy decisions over the past few years”.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov mentions that Moscow is ready to resume the plutonium deal if Washington corrects its policy and puts out of the way the circumstances that emerged due to its own fault and resulted in negative changes in political, military and economic balance. According to him, suspension of the agreement is a desperate measure and Russia does not disengage itself from its obligations in the sphere of nuclear disarmament.

However, experts doubt that Americans will fulfill the ultimatum since the scale of the demands is too big. Besides, Washington is not ready for a U-turn in its foreign policy. The chairman of the State Duma international affairs committee Leonid Slutsky regrets that the current US policy makes any hope on return to cooperation over weapons-grade plutonium and atomic energy industry as a whole utopian.

Previously the US State Department repeatedly proclaimed its interest in coordination with Moscow over nuclear security. In reality the USA sails in its own boat.

The construction of an industrial subject in South Carolina for making the so-called MOX-fuel of weapons-grade plutonium started in 2007 and in 2016 the enterprise was supposed to be launched. But Washington thought the project was too expensive. National Nuclear Security Administration decided to dilute plutonium with materials inhibiting physicochemical reactions and then – keep them in special containers in Carlsbad (New Mexico). Exposing of the details of the story, RIA Novosti says that this way American atomists by experiment have already utilized more than 4 tonnes of plutonium without taking into account the position of Moscow.

In 2014 at the hearings of the House of Representatives of the American Congress Energy Secretary confirmed that the administration in Washington wanted to gum up the process of building a facility for utilization of the surpluses of plutonium, despite an inevitable in this case repeated dialogue with Russia and possible risks to strategic stability. Senator Lindsey Graham described this idea in a following way: “A nasty plan. It is the most idiotic plan to change the course and hope that Russians will agree with it”. Besides, several congressmen addressed letters about the reconsideration of plans to president Barack Obama.

It is noteworthy that the authorities of South Carolina made a claim to the district court against the federal government to achieve adherence to the Russian-American deal. By that time the 8 billion dollars object was 70% ready. State’s authorities required either to satisfy the agreement – to build and put into service the utilization factory – or to pay an indemnity.

Such pretensions are quite predictable: weapons-grade plutonium utilization by processing it into fuel is not only in the interests of the United States and Russia, but also of regional authorities and business community let alone the fact that nowadays there is no any other viable and legal utilization technology. Good solution is good for everyone. But the White House even now wanted to outplay everybody.

Eventually this combination backfired on the American administration and Kremlin got additional preferences in a race for leadership in atomic energy industry. Russia has already placed the USA 5 years behind in developing MOX-technologies.

Of course the problem is not with technologies but with politics. Unfortunately, as political scientist Fedor Lukyanov says, America is still waging the Cold War of the 20th century. Global leadership is still central to its foreign policy. It presupposes achieving hegemony (from the US point of view, purely salubrious) and unique position in international relations. And it does not matter by which means this will be achieved – even if by roguery or sheer deception. Against this background, Americans can hardly count on respect of their ex-partners.

Source: Politanalitika

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