During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union manufactured enormous quantities of plutonium for use in nuclear weapons. When that era ended, the United States and the newly formed Russian Federation began to reduce their nuclear arsenals. Both nations possessed large stockpiles of plutonium—a problem that posed both a sustained threat to the environment and a risk of future nuclear weapons proliferation. In 2000, the United States and Russia pledged to dispose of their excess plutonium in order to mitigate the security concerns, safety risks, and storage costs. They signed the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement, which requires each country to dispose of at least 34 metric tons of weapons plutonium. Unfortunately, the agreement failed to solve the excess plutonium problem. Eighteen years later, the United States has been unable to develop a successful strategy to safely, affordably, and permanently dispose of plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons, despite a high degree of industrial capability and technical expertise. Why has the United States been unable to either implement its obligations under the disposition agreement or execute its own policy? And how can the Plutonium Disposition Program finally become effective?
Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 24th April 2018 read more »