US to remove plutonium from 1,000 old atom bombs

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VIENNA, Sep 17 (Reuters) The United States will remove from military stockpiles nine tonnes of plutonium, enough for more than 1,000 atom bombs, to demonstrate its commitment to non-proliferation, the US energy secretary said today.

The excess plutonium will be taken out of retired nuclear weapons in coming decades and turned into mixed-oxide fuel burnable in commercial nuclear reactors providing electricity, Samuel Bodman said during a UN nuclear watchdog meeting.

''As the United States continues to reduce the size of its nuclear weapons stockpile, we will be able to dispose of even more nuclear material while increasing energy and national security,'' he told a press briefing.

The step reflected an accord between the United States and Russia in 2000 under which each was to make 34 tonnes of excess plutonium unusable for nuclear weapons, with the possibility of converting it into a proliferation-proof civilian energy source.

Peace activists say Washington, Moscow and the other early nuclear weapons powers -- Britain, France and China -- have fallen far short of disarmament targets foreseen in a 1990s extension of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Some 27,000 nuclear weapons remain in big-power arsenals.

Today, 16 nations signed a US-initiated pact to help meet soaring world energy demand over the coming decades by developing nuclear technology less prone to diversion into atomic bomb-making.

REUTERS AM BD2248

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