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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Closure of Plutonium Plants Delayed

A long-discussed U.S.-Russian plan to stop production of weapons-grade plutonium in Russia has been stalled by funding shortages, and the government said Monday it had asked the United States to postpone its implementation.

The agreement — signed in September 1997 by then-U.S. Vice President Al Gore and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin — was hailed at the time as a historic event and a big step in U.S. efforts to ensure that Moscow safeguards and reduces its vast nuclear stockpile.

But it already has faced delays because of disagreements over audit schemes that should ensure that the U.S. money committed to the project is spent properly.

The latest plan envisaged that two nuclear reactors in the Siberian city of Seversk, formerly a closed city called Tomsk-7, were to end plutonium production in 2002 and 2003, Itar-Tass reported.

The third reactor in the Siberian city of Zheleznogorsk, or Krasnoyarsk-26 in Soviet times, was supposed to stop producing plutonium in 2004. The cities, as their former names suggest, are located in the Tomsk and Krasnoyarsk regions, respectively.

The money crunch has continued, and the Cabinet's information department said Monday that Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov ordered the Nuclear Power Ministry to negotiate an amendment to the deal with U.S. officials.

It argued that the Seversk reactors would have to keep working until the end of 2005, and the one in Zheleznogorsk until the end of 2006.

The military reactors also provide electricity and heat for the cities' residents, and the U.S.-Russian agreement called for the two countries to share the costs of building replacement power facilities.

The agreement would convert the plutonium-producing plants to production of uranium for civilian power plants.

The proposed amendment, authorized by Kasyanov, said that the United States would help modify reactors or build alternative power facilities if funds are available. The government statement did not say when the amendment is expected to be signed.

Meanwhile, U.S. Republican Senator Richard Lugar was visiting Severodvinsk, a military port on Russia's northern coast that is the focus of efforts to dismantle scores of aging nuclear submarines with the help of U.S. funding.

Lugar, who arrived in Russia on Sunday, has complained of massive cuts in the programs designed to help Russia secure its vast cache of nuclear weapons and material, which environmental groups have said pose a major threat to the surrounding area.

He was inspecting a maintenance plant, U.S.-financed disposal projects and the shipyard before heading back to Moscow, then to Nizhny Novgorod and Kazan, cities on the Volga River, on Tuesday and Wednesday before heading to Ukraine, according to the U.S. Embassy.