US may hand Putin an excuse to stop monitoring of Russia’s breeder reactors

by J Michael Waller / AMI Newswire / March 30, 2016.

The Obama administration risks giving the Kremlin a pretext to ban inspectors from  Russia’s plutonium-breeding fast reactors because of a U.S. budgetary policy change.

Lawmakers and diplomats are concerned that the administration’s handling of cost  overruns on a controversial U.S. Department of Energy project will hand Russian President Vladimir Putin an unexpected victory.

At issue is the administration’s unilateral cancellation of an American commitment to destroy 34 metric tons of military-grade plutonium by recycling it into a civilian fuel for nuclear power.

“Do we have a signed agreement with the Russians? Do we know what they’re going to ask in return, if anything, to approve of this? Because, you know, they’re pretty good deal makers,” Mike  Simpson (R-ID), chairman of the energy subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, told Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz at a March 1 budget hearing.

Both Russia and the United States are committed to destroying the same amount of material,  equivalent to 17,000 nuclear warheads each, under a Clinton Administration  agreement with Moscow in 2000. The agreement called for each side to recycle  plutonium from the equivalent of 17,000 nuclear warheads into fuel to generate commercial electricity. Then, last month, the administration unilaterally canceled  the U.S. commitment to convert the plutonium into mixed-oxide or “MOX” fuel in its 2017 budget request, citing cost overruns.

Lawmakers worry that the cancellation gives Putin the excuse either to kick out the international inspectors who will monitor Moscow’s compliance with the  agreement, or to extract further concessions from the United States. (For the rest of the article, click here.)