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Office of Science and Technology Policy

For Immediate Release November 1, 1996
             Completion of the Joint United States-Russian
          Government-to-Government Plutonium Disposition Study

A joint U.S.-Russian study released today by the Office of Science and Technology Policy outlines key options for disposition of the excess weapons plutonium resulting from ongoing nuclear arms reductions, and concludes that there are no major technical obstacles facing programs to reduce these dangerous nuclear stockpiles.

The joint study reflects a new level of U.S.-Russian cooperation in this area, emphasizing the two countries' agreement that excess plutonium stockpiles should be reduced "as soon as practicable," and concluding that while the United States and Russia need not use the same technologies for disposition of their excess plutonium stockpiles, the two countries' disposition programs should proceed in parallel. The study also states that "whatever option is pursued, the resulting material should not be reprocessed and recycled at least until current excess stockpiles of separated plutonium are eliminated."

The report assesses a broad range of options for reducing the excess weapons plutonium, from using the material plutonium as fuel in nuclear reactors to disposing of it as waste, and concludes that each of the options assessed is technically feasible. Each of the options considered was judged capable of meeting the goal enunciated at the April 1996 Moscow Nuclear Safety and Security Summit of transforming this plutonium into "spent fuel or other forms equally unusable for nuclear weapons." Each of these options was also considered capable of ensuring security for the material and protection of the environment, safety, and health, if sufficient resources were applied to these tasks.

The study fulfills a request made by President Clinton and President Yeltsin in their January 1994 summit statement, in which they directed their experts to jointly "study options for the long-term disposition of fissile materials, particularly of plutonium, taking into account the issues of nonproliferation, environmental protection, safety, and technical and economic factors." The U.S. effort on the joint study was coordinated by an interagency group co-chaired by the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Security Council, with technical support provided by the Department of Energy and its nuclear laboratories. The Russian effort was led by the Ministry of Atomic Energy, with technical support from its nuclear institutes.

The joint study is one element in a broad U.S. program to address the plutonium legacy of the Cold War. The Department of Energy, in coordination with other agencies through the interagency group, is carrying out a broad range of studies and tests of technologies for disposition of U.S. excess plutonium. An announcement of preferred alternatives for disposition of this U.S. material is expected later this year. At the same time, the United States and Russia are already moving on from the joint study to prepare for joint tests, demonstrations, and analyses of key plutonium disposition technologies.

Following up on the government-level joint study, which assesses options and provides technical information without making recommendations, in mid-1996 the United States and Russia established a joint group of independent senior scientists to make recommendations to the two governments concerning the best approaches to pursue. They have completed an interim report, which is also being released today. Internationally, an experts' meeting on plutonium disposition, called for by the April nuclear summit, is taking place in Paris this week to work out next steps in international cooperation to solve this pressing problem of international security. U.S. programs in this area are designed to achieve the President's objective of permanently reducing stockpiles of excess weapons plutonium.

Copies of the joint report are being shared with other nations at the Paris meeting, and are being made available in Department of Energy public reading rooms. Copies are available on request to reporters only from the Office of Science and Technology Policy.