U.S. agrees to purchase uranium from Russia Material to come from scrapped Soviet weapons

September 01, 1992|By New York Times News Service

The United States has reached an agreement in principle to buy billions of dollars' worth of bomb-grade uranium from scrapped Soviet nuclear arms in an attempt to bolster the shaky economy of the former Soviet Union and to reduce the risk of nuclear accidents and theft.

The agreement, which would require the formal approval of both governments, calls for highly enriched uranium from Russian nuclear arms to be diluted for sale as commercial reactor fuel.

It would be the first such agreement, and, if approved, would be a major step to reducing the dangers that made the Cold War so unnerving.

"It's a big deal," said Barry Daniel, director of public affairs for the Energy Department, which will buy the uranium.

"This provides a way to move the highly enriched uranium from nuclear weapons dismantled in Russia into this country and to keep it out of the wrong hands. It also provides capital to Russia, and part of the proceeds go to increasing the safety of nuclear reactors over there. It's a win-win situation."

VTC The agreement was announced late yesterday by the White House after months of secretive negotiations. In a statement, President Bush said it "illustrates how foreign policy accomplishments can promote our domestic economic well-being while making the world a safer place to live."

The agreement calls for the United States to buy at least 80 metric tons of highly enriched uranium, with no less than 10 metric tons being bought in each of the first five years and no less than 30 metric tons thereafter.

Private experts said that at prevailing market prices, that might amount to $5 billion dollars or more over the period of the agreement. The experts generally praised the agreement.

"It's very significant," said Dr. Thomas B. Cochran, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, a private Washington group, and co-author of the Nuclear Weapons Databook. "It doesn't prevent them from making new material. But what it does do, which is very good, is to remove a lot of excess weapons material from storage facilities that would otherwise be available for theft or sale to third parties."

But the Bush administration is still taking a tough stand on another means of mass destruction, biological warfare. Yesterday, U.S. officials asked Russia to to demonstrate that it has ended the program.

Administration officials said they did not question the commitment of the Russian President, Boris N. Yeltsin, to end the program. But they said they believed that the political authorities in Moscow are having difficulty getting the military to divulge details about a program that violated the 1972 biological warfare treaty.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian officials have acknowledged that Moscow maintained a biological warfare program in violation of the 1972 treaty, which bans the production and possession of germ weapons.

Mr. Yeltsin said in a speech in January that the Russians would not produce or stockpile biological weapons, adding that there had been a Soviet "lag" in carrying out the treaty. In April, Mr. Yeltsin issued a formal decree banning work on germ weapons.

At the same time, Russia has been reluctant to provide information that would prove the program has been stopped.

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