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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Weighs In on Nuclear Bill

The U.S. State Department has responded to Russia's plan to import spent nuclear fuel by reiterating that Washington would not give its consent for importing fuel of American origin unless Moscow takes into account U.S. security concerns.

The United States controls about 90 percent of the world's spent nuclear fuel, since most countries that use the fuel buy it from the United States and are contractually obligated to receive U.S. approval for any transfer of such material.

Nuclear Power Minister Alexander Rumyantsev said Wednesday he was aware that these restrictions could leave Russia with access to only 10 percent of the world's spent nuclear fuel.

According to a statement posted Wednesday on the State Department's web site, Russia could count on U.S. approval if it were to sign a Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, which would oblige Moscow to terminate nuclear cooperation with "third parties" — presumably so-called rogue nations such as Iran and North Korea.

But this was not the only condition.

"The U.S. would need to be assured that the planned transportation and disposition of the fuel complied with appropriate standards of safety and security," the statement said. "The U.S. would want to be assured that the transfer was for eventual disposal, and not for reprocessing."

The reprocessing foreseen by Rumyantsev's ministry would result in increasing Russia's stocks of separated plutonium, which is used mainly for military purposes. Limiting these stocks has been one of Washington's long-term goals for decades.

The ministry plans to use the reprocessed fuel in a new generation of reactors, which environmentalists say are exorbitantly expensive and dangerous.

The State Duma passed the bill on the import plan Wednesday, but some members of the Federation Council, which must also pass the bill, have voiced opposition to the plan.

Russia is making "a strategic mistake in the search for quick profit," Nizhny Novgorod Governor Ivan Sklyarov told Interfax on Thursday. Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleyev called the plan "a disgrace."

But the vote will ultimately depend on the chamber's silent majority, which is likely to pass the bill.

It was not immediately clear whether Washington's position would affect Rumyantsev's stated aim of earning Russia $20 billion on the imports.

His predecessor Yevgeny Adamov estimated that the world's spent nuclear fuel market would be worth around $150 billion in the coming 20 years — theoretically giving Russia access to $15 billion in profits from non-U.S.-controlled fuel.

The money — which Rumyantsev says will go toward nuclear cleanups — has been one of the ministry's chief arguments in convincing deputies to pass the bill.

Indeed, commercial interest in storing spent fuel in Russia seems to bridge the Atlantic.

Earlier this year, the Financial Times reported that a Delaware-based company, Non-Proliferation Trust, has been negotiating with the Nuclear Power Ministry about brokering a plan to ease U.S. restrictions on exports to Russia. According to the report, the company, which is said to enjoy the support of some influential U.S. Republicans, hopes to generate $15 billion by shipping 10,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel to remote sites in Russia for permanent storage.