U S, Russia agree on plutonium disposal plan

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WASHINGTON, Nov 19 (Reuters) The United States and Russia today announced a new plan to dispose of tons of surplus weapons-grade plutonium in a step forward for the two countries' troubled nuclear nonproliferation efforts.

The two sides reached a mutual understanding that Russia would dispose of 37.5 tons of plutonium from its weapons program by converting it into mixed oxide fuel that would be used to generate electricity. The United States would dispose of an equal amount of plutonium under the agreement.

''Along with the US program to dispose of plutonium as mixed oxide fuel in light water reactors, the Russian program will ensure that enough plutonium for thousands of weapons is converted into a form which cannot be used to construct a weapon,'' US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said in a statement.

The United States and Russia agreed to begin reducing dangerous Cold War stockpiles of weapons-grade plutonium seven years ago, under the 2000 Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement. But that agreement has been hampered by slipping schedules and sharply rising cost estimates.

Under the plan announced today, Russia agreed to process plutonium in two fast breeder reactors at its Beloyarsk nuclear power plant beginning in 2012. Only one of the reactors is currently operating. The other is under construction.

The two Russian reactors could dispose of approximately 1.7 tons (1.5 metric tons) of plutonium per year, according to a U.S. statement.

Washington would pay 400 million dollars to help cover Russia's costs. The two countries also said they would cooperate on an advanced gas-cooled, high-temperature reactor for Russia, which could accelerate the disposal of Russian plutonium.

A joint statement by Bodman and Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency Director Sergey Kiriyenko said that US and Russian officials will meet to modify the 2000 plutonium agreement so that the new disposal plan can proceed.

REUTERS RSA RN2309

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