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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Pulls Nuclear Funding

WASHINGTON -- A sharp cut in funding will force the U.S. Department of Energy to curtail its effort to employ Russian nuclear scientists in civilian jobs and keep them from peddling their bomb-building talents to other countries, officials said Thursday.

The $7.5 million appropriated by Congress last month for the so-called Nuclear Cities Initiative in fiscal 2000 is half of what was allocated this year. As a result, the administration will limit the program, which began in September 1998, to scientists in one Russian nuclear city instead of three, said Rose E. Gottemoeller, director of the department's nonproliferation office.

Since the end of the Cold War, Russia's production of nuclear weapons has plummeted, and many nuclear workers have lost their jobs. The 17 facilities that make up the Russian nuclear weapons complex once built up to 4,000 warheads a year but now produce just 200 to 300, Oleg Bukharin, a Princeton University expert, said.

Nevertheless, the complex still employs 100,000 professionals in seven former secret cities and around Moscow, about twice the number of facilities and four times as many workers as in the United States, Bukharin said.

Gottemoeller said the Energy Department will focus solely on the city of Sarov, formerly known as Arzamas-16, the Russian equivalent of Los Alamos.

The program's most publicized success was the opening last month of a computing center in Sarov that will produce software. It uses computers that the Russians bought in 1996 and had begun using for nuclear weapons work in violation of U.S. export laws. Months of negotiation led to their removal from the weapons facility and their transfer to the open, commercial venture.

The budget cut by Congress stemmed primarily from a report by the General Accounting Office that said some U.S. funds appeared to be going to Russian scientists who were still working on weapons. In response, Congress inserted a provision in next year's nuclear cities appropriation that requires Energy Secretary Bill Richardson to certify that Russia has agreed to close some facilities engaged in nuclear weapons work.