The Russian State Duma’s international affairs committee has prepared for ratification the agreement between the Russian and US governments on the disposition of plutonium which was signed last year. Each side undertakes to dispose of 34t of recyclable weapons-grade plutonium and 25t of plutonium metal. The agreement includes a pledge by the USA to allocate $200 million to build the required facilities.

Earlier, on 13 June, president Bush extended a federal order ensuring that Russian-owned uranium being processed in the USA would not be seized by creditors. Until President Clinton signed the executive order in June 2000, Russia feared its creditors could seize the uranium after shipment to the USA. Clinton’s order freed Russia to resume shipping low enriched uranium that has been “downblended” after being taken from nuclear weapons stockpiles, so it can be used in US and Russian commercial reactors. Much of it is stored in Ohio.

Bush said it is a “major national security goal” to guarantee that material removed from Russian nuclear weapons is used “for peaceful commercial uses, subject to transparency measures, and protected from diversion to activities of proliferation concern.” However, his budget proposed cutting the Department of Energy’s non-proliferation programmes by $100 million from $874 million in the current year.

The sales come under a 1993 agreement in which Russia agreed to sell to the US over a 20-year period 500t of highly enriched uranium removed from nuclear weapons and converted to fuel for use in commercial nuclear reactors.

Last year, the accounts of a number of Russian state organisations in Europe were arrested as part of a suit by the Swedish Noga company. Company lawyers also brought their suit to the New York and Connecticut courts, demanding seizure of Russian uranium to pay debts Russia owes the company. Russia then threatened to stop shipping uranium to the USA under contract until it received written US government guarantees that Russian uranium in American storage facilities would not be touched by the Noga suit.

Russia had planned to process 30t of highly-enriched uranium at a cost of $550 million last year.