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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia, U.S. to Boost Nuclear Cooperation

Russia will host joint field exercises with the United States on nuclear safety issues by the end of 2006, the Federal Atomic Energy Agency said Wednesday.

The move is one of a series of measures to boost nuclear security cooperation between the two countries, as agreed on by agency chief Sergei Kiriyenko and U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, the agency said in a statement.

Although signed by the two officials at the end of June, the measures were made public Wednesday, just two days before a meeting between Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg. Experts said the exercises, among other measures, suggested the presidents would move toward an overarching agreement that would kick-start wholesale cooperation between the two countries' nuclear industries.

"Such an agreement would lift restrictions on any cooperation in the nuclear sphere between Russia and the United States," an agency spokesman said Wednesday.

Cooperation with the U.S. nuclear industry could help Russia earn billions of dollars in atomic power station construction and fuel supply and reprocessing contracts. Some estimates put the global value of the nuclear storage and processing sector alone at $20 billion.

Ecologists and opposition politicians cried foul this week after it became apparent that such an agreement could theoretically allow the transportation of spent fuel from the U.S. to Russia for processing and storage. "This would turn the country into a waste basket," Yabloko official Sergei Mitrokhin said at a news conference Wednesday.

As part of the cooperation on nuclear safety, both the United States and Russia would be "maintaining an aggressive timeline" for repatriating spent nuclear fuel from third-party countries, the atomic energy agency's statement said.

An agency spokesman denied, however, that the cooperation would extend Russia receiving U.S.-made fuel for reprocessing and storage. "U.S. fuel uses a different sort of uranium, which our facilities do not process," the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, Washington and Moscow look set to embark on a historic field exercise "focused on a search for radioactive materials and the elimination of consequences resulting from a nuclear or radiological emergency," the agency said. The move flows out of the 2005 Bratislava Checklist, a nuclear safety deal signed by Russia and the United States in February 2005.

"It's the first time that the militaries of both countries will work together on ways to tackle the possible theft of nuclear materials and emergencies that might arise from nuclear terrorism," said Alexander Pikayev, a Moscow-based nuclear expert. Joint exercises require "tight political cooperation" and trust, which bodes well for the Putin-Bush meeting, Pikayev said.