In early October, the Kremlin decided to suspend its implementation of the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement, which called for the bilateral elimination of American and Russian excess plutonium stocks. Key among the reasons cited by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his administration [link in Russian] for Russia’s unilateral suspension of the agreement, was the allegation that the United States had long ago violated the terms of the agreement by undertaking a plutonium disposition method not authorized by the agreement—a method that makes the disposed plutonium easily accessible for future weaponization. In other words, the United States chose to nix the agreement; Russia was simply making it official. The bilateral agreement thus became another victim in what has become an increasingly confrontational Russo-American relationship. Technically speaking, Moscow is not wrong. The United States was well on its way to breaching the agreement, if not already in violation, because the plutonium disposition method that the Obama administration decided to adopt is far from proliferation-proof. Yet while this may be enough to satisfy the Kremlin’s narrative of Washington’s obstinate refusal to cooperate on critical security issues, the accusations hold little weight when placed in the larger context of plutonium disposition methods, and of Russo-American relations more generally. For this reason, it is worth taking apart the Kremlin’s allegations, to both test their validity from a technological perspective, and to draw lessons for the future of similar bilateral frameworks and for the future of US-Russia relations under a new administration in Washington.
Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 1st Dec 2016 read more »