Even before the collapse of communism was official, the United States and the former Soviet Union had reached agreement on destroying thousands of nuclear weapons in the superpowers' arsenals. Now that the Russians are beginning to deliver on their end of the bargain, however, a new question has arisen: what to do with tons of bomb-grade uranium and #F plutonium products extracted from former Soviet nuclear warheads?
No one wants to see these materials fall into the wrong hands. The U.S. could buy and dilute weapons-grade uranium from the former Soviet Union to run in its own nuclear power plants. That would help protect against the vagaries of future policy shifts in the newly independent republics. It would also divert potentially lethal resources away from would-be nuclear weapons states such as Iraq, Iran and North Korea. Both the U.S departments of State and Defense favor purchasing ex-Soviet uranium for precisely those reasons.
But there's a hitch. Officials at the Commerce and Energy departments fear allowing U.S. power companies to purchase Russian reactor fuel will hurt the U.S. uranium industry. The Energy Department is the world's largest supplier of commercial reactor fuel. So the Commerce Department has obligingly slapped a prohibitive 115 percent tariff on imports of Russian reactor fuel and for good measure temporarily blocked sales of Russian weapons-grade uranium as well.