You were probably tremendously impressed by the media reports of
President Clinton's fancy footwork and smooth talking in getting
President Putin at the recent Moscow summit to agree to peacefully
dispose of 34 tons of Russian weapons-grade plutonium.
If you were impressed, that was probably because you didn't remember
-- because the media elite didn't remind you -- that President Clinton
had already got President Yeltsin to agree to do basically the same
thing shortly before the 1996 elections. And you probably didn't know
-- because the media elite didn't tell you -- that Congress had already
directed President Clinton on several occasions to help the Russians
peacefully dispose of all that weapons-grade plutonium, appropriating
more than $200 million just last year for that very purpose.
Advertisement - story continues below
Actually, Clinton had gotten Yeltsin to agree to make all excess
stocks of weapons-grade plutonium and weapons-grade uranium as
resistant to misuse, theft and proliferation as is the plutonium
ordinarily contained in power reactor spent fuel -- and he has now got
Putin to agree to take the money Congress told Clinton to give him.
But, it didn't take much smooth talk to get Yeltsin and Putin to
agree. They had intended all along to make reactor fuel -- mixed
plutonium and uranium oxide (MOX, for short) -- out of their highly
valuable weapons-grade plutonium and uranium and burn it up in Russian
power reactors, generating electricity. The main reason that Clinton
has done almost nothing since the 1996 elections to help the Russians --
even though Congress has repeatedly authorized the administration to do
so -- is that he doesn't want the Russians to go the MOX-fuel route. He
doesn't want anyone to go the MOX-fuel route.
The main reason Clinton opposes the MOX-fuel cycle is that the
Clinton administration -- almost alone in the world -- remains convinced
that the plutonium that can be extracted from even ordinary spent fuel
can easily be made by terrorists or rogue states into nuke weapons; for
Clinton, the recovery of plutonium from spent fuel is too great a nuke
proliferation risk to even contemplate. Clinton fears that once the
Russian MOX-fuel cycle is established, and all the Russian weapons-grade
plutonium has been burned up, the Russians will then turn to the
thousands of tons of spent fuel, recover the plutonium from it, and make
As it happens, Clinton is right about what is going to happen; he's
just wrong to fear it.
Advertisement - story continues below
The rest of the world has concluded that if the Russians are willing
to burn up their weapons-grade plutonium, now, to generate electricity
in Russia, Japan, Taiwan, China, Ukraine, etc., then they are willing to
help them, financially and technically, even if the Clinton
administration is not. They realize that, even though MOX is not really
cost-effective now -- it appears to be because the price of the
alternative U235-fuel is essentially being held artificially high to
prevent even more likely U235 nuke proliferation -- it will be cheaper
in another 20 years or so when the world's current supply of U235-fuel
is exhausted. So they plan to help Russia build large storage
facilities to store all the world's spent fuel for 20 years or so, until
MOX becomes truly cost-effective.
They intend to store the spent fuel as spent fuel all those years
because they know, even if Clinton doesn't, that spent fuel contains not
only the plutonium isotope that bomb makers want, Pu239, but also
appreciable fractions of Pu240 and PU241, which the bomb makers,
especially terrorist bomb makers, decidedly don't want. The
radioactive properties of these higher plutonium isotopes are such that,
a) the recovery of the plutonium from the spent fuel, b) the
manufacture of the MOX-fuel elements, and c) the installation of the
MOX in the power reactor needs to be well coordinated, with the time
interval between each step essentially minimized.
So, what the Russians intend to do -- irrespective of who the next
president of the United States is -- is to build, with international
financial assistance, humongous spent fuel storage facilities; charge
the rest of the world annual fees for storing all their spent fuel, and
with the revenues build, with additional international financial
assistance, MOX-fuel fabrication plants, charging the rest of the world
a fabrication fee. In the meantime the Russians will build at least 23
reactors specifically designed to run efficiently on MOX-fuel.
So, the Russians will make MOX from their weapons-grade uranium and
plutonium, neither of whose radiative properties requires the special
coordination or minimization of time intervals between each step that
spent-fuel MOX does.
So if you are still convinced by the media elite that the Russians
were induced by Bill Clinton's smooth talk and fancy footwork at the
recent Moscow Summit to do something they really didn't want to do, you
can readily imagine how afraid the Russians will be to see Al Gore
shuckin' and jivin'. I'll bet Putin can hardly wait.