Lugar: Keep Plutonium Agreement With Russia

Tours MOX Construction Site That Supports the International Agreement

04 Feb, 2016, 14:52 ET from Former Senator Richard Lugar

AIKEN, S.C., Feb. 4, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Former Senator Richard G. Lugar today said that the United States must continue keeping its end of an agreement with the Russian Federation to dispose of at least 34 metric tons of plutonium from nuclear weapons. 

Lugar made the comments after touring the construction site of the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Project at the U.S. government's Savannah River Site in Aiken, SC.  The MOX Project is approximately 70 percent physically complete, and Lugar was able to observe ongoing work.

"Seeing the main MOX facility under construction is impressive," Lugar said.  "It is a massive nuclear construction project being completed with a strong safety record.  I was encouraged by the obvious progress a skilled workforce is making to bring a groundbreaking nonproliferation initiative to fruition."

Lugar, former chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and co-author of the landmark Nunn-Lugar Act that launched a program to secure and dismantle nuclear weapons and infrastructure in the former Soviet Union, called on the Department of Energy to "finish the job so the United States can uphold its end of a major nonproliferation agreement."

The bilateral measure, the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA), requires both the U.S. and Russia to dispose no less than 34 metric tons of plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons; that 68 metric tons total is equivalent to about 17,000 nuclear weapons. A key protocol, added to the agreement in 2010, requires both countries to convert weapons-grade plutonium into MOX fuel for use in nuclear power reactors.

"MOX is the only approach that changes the isotopic structure of plutonium, ensuring that this dangerous material can never again be used in a nuclear weapon," Lugar said.

The Department of Energy (DOE) is considering abandoning the MOX project in favor of diluting the plutonium and burying it in the troubled Waste Isolation Pilot Project in New Mexico, a move the department says would cost less.  But the DOE has a history of underestimating the costs of major capital projects.  There is no assurance that an alternate approach would save money.

"Changing the method of disposition would violate provisions of the PMDA," Lugar said, "It is highly unlikely that the Russian Federation would be willing to renegotiate, on equally favorable terms, an agreement that removes the proliferation risk of so much nuclear material."

"Finishing the job at MOX is the most prudent approach," he said.  "Major construction is nearing completion.  Much of the sophisticated instruments and equipment that will populate the building is already on site, and it will be tested before installation to ensure it is working properly."

Contact:  Andrew Koch
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SOURCE Former Senator Richard Lugar