June 25, 1998
Laura S.H. Holgate
Special Coordinator for Cooperative Threat Reduction
Washington, DC 20301
Dear Ms. Holgate:
We write regarding the important U.S. initiative to convert the cores of Russia's three remaining weapons-production reactors and thereby eliminate Russian production of separated, weapons-grade plutonium
As you know, a joint U. S.-Russian effort is currently underway to explore the feasibility of two alternative replacement cores -- one utilizing weapons-grade, highly enriched uranium (HEU), the other non-weapons-usable, low-enriched uranium (LEU). As you approach a previously announced deadline of July 1, 1998 for selecting a path forward, we urge you to avoid choosing HEU -- a choice that would be strategically wrong and politically indefensible.
We strongly oppose conversion to HEU because this path would create vulnerabilities and risks that outweigh the benefits of halting plutonium production. Conversion of the Russian reactors to HEU would be a net negative for U.S. national security for two reasons:
1. The resulting processing, transportation and storage of this nuclear-weapons material would significantly increase proliferation and terrorism risks; and
2. Facilitating use of HEU fuel on a massive scale would undermine two decades of U.S. leadership of an international effort to eliminate use of such fuel worldwide -- the Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors (RERTR) program -including a joint U. S.- Russian effort to eliminate its use in research reactors in and supplied by the former Soviet Union.
By contrast, conversion of the three production reactors to LEU would have only beneficial impacts -- terminating Russian weapons-grade plutonium production without increasing commerce in another nuclear weapons-grade material. Preliminary results of a joint U. S.-Russian study indicate that conversion to LEU is feasible and cost-effective and would result in only about a six-month delay in conversion. Such a delay is a small price to pay for the substantial national- security and non-proliferation benefits of choosing the LEU path.
Some argue that the United States must proceed now to fund Russia's fabrication of HEU fuel to ensure conversion of one of the reactors by the year 2000, the original target date. But for the reasons stated above, this would be an arbitrary and short-sighted decision -- and would likely encourage Russia to proceed with HEU cores for its other two production reactors. Moreover, a decision to spend U.S. taxpayer dollars to increase commerce in bomb-grade uranium in Russia could not withstand scrutiny by Congress and the press.
The Office of Cooperative Threat Reduction, which has assumed the task of funding the core conversion program, plays a critical role. We urge you to withhold all U.S. funding to Russia for fabrication of even a single HEU core, and to channel your resources instead into expediting the LEU option, including immediate provision of funds for fabrication of LEU elements for required test irradiation.
If handled prudently, this initiative could significantly promote U. S. interests in reducing risks of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism If handled inappropriately, however, the initiative could backfire, increasing such risks and undermining the U.S. national interest.
Thank you for your attention to this important national security matter. We would be pleased to discuss it further with you.
President Natural Resources Senior Policy Analyst
Nuclear Control Institute Defense Council Nuclear Control Institute
cc: Leon Fuerth
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