In a program introduced by former US Senator Sam Nunn and moderated by Carnegie Endowment senior associate Rose Gottemoeller, Secretary Abraham and Minister Rumyantsev provided overviews of US-Russian cooperation on nuclear nonproliferation. They also answered questions from the audience.

 

Meeting Summary

On Thursday, May 9th, U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham and Russian Minister of Atomic Energy Alexander Rumyantsev, took time out from their preparatory meetings for the upcoming US-Russian summit to participate in a dinner discussion hosted by the Carnegie Endowment and the Nuclear Threat Initiative. NTI co-chairman and CEO Sam Nunn introduced the guests emphasizing the importance of US-Russian cooperation in the fight against catastrophic terrorism.

Minister Rumyantsev spoke first, providing a brief overview of the structure of his ministry, highlighting its activities in the areas of nuclear energy, nuclear weapons and fundamental and applied research. In the sphere of international relations, the ministry's close partnership with the U.S. and its fruitful working relationship with Secretary Abraham are of special importance. Since September 11th, the cooperation between these two agencies has taken on a new dimension, focusing on the security and control of nuclear materials. The United States and Russia have immense nuclear potentials, which compound their responsibility to deal with the threat posed by nuclear terrorism. Intense cooperation at all levels is necessary in order to achieve success in bringing security to a complex world. Minister Rumyantsev reiterated Russia's commitment to work against terrorism along with the U.S., while cautioning that terrorism will be difficult to combat.

Minister Rumyantsev said that he and Secretary Abraham had discussed the issue of downblended highly-enriched uranium (HEU) over the past three days. The Minister explained that the HEU downblending program is unprecedented and helpful to both the U.S. and Russia. Since its inception, the program has provided Russia with funds to secure its existing nuclear sites and engage in research protect the environment from the effects of nuclear contamination. The Minister also announced that the two sides had explored the possibility of setting up working groups to focus on securing weapons grade materials.

Following Minister Rumyantsev's remarks, Secretary Abraham addressed the audience. Over the past year, Secretary Abraham has met with his colleague three times and characterized their relationship as very close. Central to the US-Russian relationship is a commitment to countering the threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. To this end, the two agencies have increased their efforts to secure Russia's stockpile of nuclear materials. Both the U.S. Secretary and the Russian Minister have remained closely engaged in this process, helping to overcome bureaucratic obstacles. As a result, the process of securing Russia's nuclear materials will be completed years earlier than was previously thought. Credit is also due to the U.S. Congress for its support of threat reduction programs, which received the largest budget appropriation ever this year.

In Secretary Abraham's view, the most important step taken this past week was the attention paid to increasing the security of radiological materials. The Department of Energy's material protection, control and accounting program has been engaged in this for some years, but September 11th made it clear to both sides that more must be done to prevent the proliferation of materials that could be used to construct a "dirty bomb." Secretary Abraham announced that the two agencies had agreed to create a US-Russian task force to look into ways to counter this threat. The Secretary also announced that the US would resume the purchase of plutonium from Russia for use in the US space program, and that the President that very evening had signed the IAEA additional safeguards protocol and would submit it to the Senate in due course. (NB: The official name of this document is the Protocol Additional to the Agreement Between the United States of America and the International Atomic Energy Agency for the Application of Safeguards in the United States of America.)

In the question-and-answer period, Carnegie Endowment Senior Associate Rose Gottemoeller posed several questions. Regarding the possibility of a U.S.-Russian agreement on Iran's nuclear program, Minister Rumyantsev and Secretary Abraham both agreed that this is a very sensitive issue. The Minister explained that Russia is helping to construct a nuclear power plant at Bushehr but added that Russia's cooperation with Iran ended there. Once the plant is completed, Russia will only supply new fuel to Iran if Iran agrees to return the spent fuel to Russia. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also monitors this project closely and has made over 60 visits to the site in the past year.

On the issue of U.S.-Russian collaboration to secure nuclear materials outside of Russia, Minister Rumyantsev pointed out that it would be possible to build storage facilities in Russia that could be used to consolidate materials in a secure manner. However, Secretary Abraham and Minister Rumyantsev acknowledged that they share similar difficulties concerning the transportation of nuclear materials within their respective countries.

At this point, Rose Gottemoeller ended the question and answer period.

Summary by Karlis Kirsis, Junior Fellow, Russian and Eurasian Program.