THE WHITE HOUSE
the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY
ON PLUTONIUM DISPOSITION AGREEMENT
3:30 P.M. (L)
MR. HAMMER: This
afternoon we have a group of senior administration officials who will be
briefing you on the agreements that have been reached so far during the course
of this summit, including an agreement on weapons-grade plutonium, as well as
on shared early warning.
Just to give you a sense today, the President
met one on one with President Putin, starting about 1:20 p.m. Then they went
into an expanded meeting, five on five. They've obviously gone right to work.
Let me just give the floor to one of our briefers.
ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. I'll be a very brief briefer. I'm just
going to articulate what the two agreements are that we're covering this
afternoon, the two agreements that have been brought to conclusion at the
summit -- one on the disposition of plutonium coming out of nuclear weapons in
both the United States and Russia; and the other on shared early warning.
As you may know, these were agreed in principle by the two Presidents
in September of 1998, by Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin. Subsequent to that,
there have been intense negotiations to bring those principles into practical
working operating agreements. There have been a great many complicated issues
arising during the course of those negotiations, a great deal of work on both
sides. The two teams have used the summit, the approach of the summit, as a
target to help come to closure on outstanding issues and to bring the
agreements to a conclusion here.
These are highly significant
agreements. They will result in tangible national and international security
benefits. They will remove from possible circulation plutonium that is directly
usable in weapons if the were to fall into the wrong hands. And the second, the
shared early warning agreement, will answer a wide variety of concerns that
have been raised about the risk of mistaken nuclear launch because of gaps in
early warning coverage.
With that, let me invite one of our additional
senior officials in a dark suit to -- (laughter) -- begin with the plutonium
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you to the previous
senior official in a dark suit with a white shirt. I'll tell you about the
plutonium disposition agreement, which we just completed in the last day or so,
and which President Clinton and President Putin will announce today at their
As John said, this is a very significant -- in fact,
it's an unprecedented arms control and nonproliferation agreement because for
the first time, it tries to deal with the problem of surplus plutonium, of
surplus weapons grade plutonium that is coming out of nuclear weapons programs.
Before this, we have had in place a program to dispose of
highly-enriched uranium, weapons-grade uranium that is coming out of the
Russian and American nuclear weapons programs, but we've never had a comparable
program in place for weapons-grade plutonium, which is the other type of
fissile material that can be used for nuclear weapons.
agreement, both sides, both the U.S. and Russia will be required to dispose of
34 tons each of weapons-grade plutonium that is being removed from military
programs -- 34 tons, just to give you an idea of the magnitude -- that's enough
for thousands of nuclear weapons. And as the previous briefer said, this is
very pure grade, weapons grade material that is directly usable for nuclear
So getting it out of the weapons program and rendering it
technically into a form that is no longer suitable or useful for nuclear
weapons is a very significant step. In addition, the agreement contains
legally-binding political commitments on both sides that neither will use this
material again for nuclear weapons or other military purposes.
are we going to accomplish this? The agreement lays out plans, schedules and
proposals for disposing of this material in both the U.S. and Russia. In the
case of Russia, the disposition will take place by converting this weapons
plutonium into nuclear power reactor fuel. And this will be done under very
strict monitoring and verification. Once the plutonium has been burned in power
reactors, it's no longer usable in the same way for nuclear weapons.
the case of the U.S., there will be two paths to disposing of this material.
One will be to burn some of the material as nuclear power reactor fuel. And the
other path will be to encapsulate this material with high-level radioactive
waste and to store it in geological locations.
One of the big issues
for the future -- because this is such an ambitious program, it's going to be
very expensive to carry it out, and will take quite a period of time. Our
current cost estimate for the program in Russia is about $1.75 billion; for the
program in the United States, about $4 billion. So one of the big tasks we have
ahead of us now is raising international funding in order to carry this program
through from beginning to end.
The U.S. Congress, thanks to the
leadership of Senator Domenici, has already appropriated $200 million for this
program, which is enough to get started for the preconstruction stage, research
and development and planning and so forth. And the U.S. has pledged to seek an
additional $200 million toward the program in Russia.
But we really
can't do it without help from the international community. And the G-8 in
particular have expressed their political support for this plutonium
disposition effort. And we are hoping that the U.S. and Russia will work
together, first at the G-8 meeting in Okinawa in July, to begin to put together
an international funding mechanism that will allow this program to be carried
through from beginning to end over what is likely to be at least 20 years to
finally dispose of all this material.
Why don't I stop there, and if
you have any questions, we're lucky enough to have our negotiator, my colleague
Q Way back here. What argument are you going to use with other
countries since they're not responsible for the nuclear craze that caused the
pileup of all this stuff -- horrible stuff? How do you tell other countries
they should kick in? What argument do you use -- that it's good for the planet?
Isn't it really the U.S. and Russia's responsibility having amassed all this
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Actually, there has been
widespread recognition, particularly in the G-8, that this is a problem for
everybody. I think they also recognize that if there is no international
financing for the Russian Federation, that there will be no disposition in
Russia. And if there is no disposition in Russia, there would probably not be
disposition in the United States.
I say everybody recognizes that this
is a security benefit, a major security benefit for them, just as much as it is
for us. The idea of disarming and degrading this plutonium helps them just as
much as it helps us. A very powerful argument, however, to those that are
hesitant is, what is the alternative. And the alternative to not doing this is
the continued storage of weapon-grade, the most sensitive, the most readily
usable plutonium and weapons. And so it would be a store for anybody to put
back into weapons if they ever decided to, or a small fraction of that in the
wrong hands would be a threat for many. So I believe there is widespread
Q Has any document changed hands so far that you know of
from either Russia or the U.S.?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not to
Q What percentage of a surplus stockpile would this
represent -- this 34 metric tons?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:
That's hard to say, because, of course, the estimates related to the Russian
stockpile are still classified. But this is a significant portion -- this is
going to take 20 years in its own right. it would take several years to
develop, design and build facilities, and then it will take several more years,
20 or so years to actually dispose of, to use this material to degrade it, to
isolate it, to immobilize it. We hope this agreement is a framework. We hope
that future excess material, as a result of further progress in arms control,
will come under this agreement as well; we've provided for that.
Where is it? Is it in an actual stockpile? Will it come out on weapons?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's a good question. Roughly 75
percent of this will be actual what we call "pits or clean metal," which means
it comes from weapons. And the other percent is very high-grade, weapon-grade,
we call it, plutonium, which could be easily and readily used as well, but may
not have been into weapons at this stage.
Q But is there any way for us
to be able to say what the U.S. -- is that also classified? Can you say this
represents half of the weapons-grade plutonium out there, or can you --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not in any position to say what
percentage it is of our stockpile. I'm sure there is an unclassified number
there, and I've never done the calculation of that unclassified number.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Why don't we try to check and see if we
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We could certainly say it's a
very significant portion of the U.S. plutonium stockpile and what we think is
the Russian stockpile. But we'll try and see if we can get you more specific on
Q What's happening on the civilian front? I mean, there have been
some efforts to broker and agreement which -- what's the status of that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We and the Russians have had very
extensive discussions on our proposal to deal with the civil plutonium issue.
Now, this is plutonium not from the weapons program, but from nuclear power
reactor fuel, which Russia continues to separate at the rate of about two
metric tons a year. And this material also presents a potential proliferation
I would say that in our discussions with the Russians, both
sides have agreed in principle to the concept of a long-term moratorium on
further separation of this civil plutonium and on the desirability of working
together to develop a more advanced type of power reactor that could ultimately
use some of this plutonium as fuel and burn it up in the same way that we're
proposing to burn up weapons-grade plutonium.
At the same time, we
continue to have issues with the Russians that have prevented us from moving
forward with this program, and in particular, we continue to be concerned about
Russian nuclear assistance with Iran, which we're very concerned about because
of what we think is Iran's efforts to acquire a nuclear weapon.
plan to continue to meet with the Russians on this issue. We're hoping we can
resolve these outstanding concerns so that we can move forward with the civil
Q -- the end of the day, how much will the
Russians pay towards their own program? Also, my second question is, are
Russian power plants equipped at the moment to burn plutonium? If not, will we
pay to convert them to do so? And also, in the U.S. where -- plutonium --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: These are all very good questions.
Exactly how much the Russians will contribute to this program has yet to be
determined. We're working both with the Russians and with the other countries
to see how that will work out. The most we can say now is Russia will make a
substantial contribution. It's not clear how much or if any of that would be in
cash, however, but they will be providing land, they will be providing
infrastructure, they will be providing uranium in addition to the plutonium to
this program at no cost.
So they will certainly have a sizable in-kind
-- we call that in-kind contribution. It's yet to be determined if there will
be another Russian contribution, which means we are also looking not just at
public funding. There will be a large public funding aspect of this; we can't
avoid that. But we're also exploring, over time, potential revenue streams from
the private sector, et cetera. So these are all elements that we need to look
at in terms of putting together this financial mechanism or scheme.
Your second question was related to --
Q Are Russian power
plants currently equipped to burn plutonium? Or do we have to pay for it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, no, they are not. They have a
very small research and prototype fast-reactors, which have, I think, will be
easily upgraded to burn plutonium. And they have burned some plutonium in this
small research. Their power reactors are not upgraded to burn plutonium
mixed-oxide fuel. And indeed, yes, part of the costs -- let me say the costing
scheme, we've included basic segments, and that is design, development, and
construction of conversion and fabrication facilities for the fuel; then
upgrading of the reactors to take this fuel. And that is a sizable cost.
Q -- question was, where do you put the plutonium in the United States?
And so far, you know --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, in the
United States there's already been an announced program, and that program is --
I mean, there's a consortium, and it's going to be in Savannah River. We plan
to have both our fabrication and our mobilization facilities. And then, of
course, reactors have already been designated and signed on to burn those. But
those will have to go through a licensing process.
Q Can you explain
why there's this dual approach in Russia and the U.S.? Specifically, since the
Russians aren't equipped now to burn plutonium? I mean, it was a while ago that
the U.S. decided that this was an unsafe and uneconomical way to go about
developing energy. Why that? And also, specifically, what monitoring program is
going to be in place on the Russian side? Will there be DOD, U.S. DOD officials
there on site to watch this happen?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:
First of all, let me say that we still believe this is an uneconomical way for
the production of power. Nobody disputes that in the United States. Our policy
is not to encourage the use of civil plutonium, or reprocessing of civil
plutonium, for use as power reactors. One, it's not economical. And two, of
course, we see problems and risks associated with that.
I would come
back to -- why do we do that in this context? This is not a nuclear fuel cycle
issue. The basic issue here is, what do you do with this plutonium coming out
of the weapons program? And as I said before, the alternative to doing this --
these are the only two methods that have been basically accepted to date for
degrading or disposing of this plutonium. The only alternative to that is
storage of this most dangerous plutonium. And that alternative nobody likes. So
I think that's the problem you're faced with on that side.
Q Why the
dual approaches? Why the separate approaches for the U.S. and the Russian --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think this is an approach for
each country to decide. The Russians see energy value in plutonium. They have a
different concept of the fuel cycle; they believe over time, in some decades,
they want a closed fuel cycle that uses plutonium. We do not. So there are
simply different approaches here, but the one thing that was clear from the
beginning is the Russians -- their interest was in utilizing the energy value
of this and not -- not -- in simply disposing of it.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's a good question. We have not
worked out the details for monitoring yet, but we have worked out several pages
of rights and obligations and principles that will guide the development. It
will be very clear that from the time that this material shows up at a
conversion facility, from that time forward, there will be monitoring of this
material. It's still going to be classified on both sides at that stage, but
there will be monitoring to determine that each side disposes of 34 tons.
From the time it comes through that facility, we have also established
that it must be unclassified totally, and so that we look forward to the
International Atomic Agency being able to take on this task and follow the
material the way it normally would.
Q You said that U.S. concerns about
Russia's nuclear assistance to Iran has been one of the obstacles to coming up
with an agreement on the civilian side. Did the issue of Iran come up in any
way in your discussions today? And once this plutonium is transformed into
nuclear energy kind of plutonium, is this the kind of material that could be
used in the facilities --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know
-- first of all, in the plutonium disposition negotiations, one of the
interesting aspects of this is these negotiations I think have been insulated
on the side from every single political wrinkle. Political wrinkles or problems
or extraneous issues have not come up in these negotiations at all.
So these were very narrow discussions.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:
These are how you deal with this plutonium coming from weapons programs. And it
wasn't affected or in any way impacted by other issues that relate -- we both
have this problem, how do we deal with this.
And your second question
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Just to address the more
general, we take advantage of every opportunity with the Russians to raise our
concerns about Russian assistance flowing to Iran's nuclear program, and that
was certainly one of the issues discussed by the Presidents during these
Q So it did not come up in your meetings?
ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Correct.
Q And when this plutonium is
transformed into the new safe plutonium, could that be used at a plant like
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What do you mean, used as fuel?
Q Yes -- have to transport the fuel for those two nuclear reactors in
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have very strict
conditions over -- none of this fuel can leave Russia without the prior written
consent of the United States. None of it -- nothing -- in fact, it goes farther
than that. Nothing ever goes through a facility --
ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The answer is technically, it could be if that reactor
is modified. But we have consent rights over the export of that fuel under the
Q So we're just spending all this money to make this into
another form of plutonium that in principle could be used in Russian plants to
help other countries with nuclear reactors?
OFFICIAL: Well, they'd have to break the agreement.
ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They'd have to even build their own facilities. You're
right, they'd have to break the -- the rights that we have established in this
regard are rights that survive even the 25 or 20 years it will take for this
agreement. Those rights go on forever. So they would have to break the
agreement to do that.
Q Have you discussed any of the funding issue?
How do you discuss this at all with any of the G-8 partners to this point? What
type of reaction have they had? And are you looking to any G-8 partners in
particular to help --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What was the
Q Are you looking to any of the G-8 partners in particular
to help you with funding?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't want
to put them on the spot right now. Let me say, when -- I was laughing only
because I leave at 5:00 a.m. tomorrow morning for Tokyo to meet with G-8 -- I
have a G-8 group that's been working on this issue for several months now. And
we have a smaller group that's been working even over a year. We're working a
lot with them.
We have the Okinawa summit. We want to try to have a
significant progress made at that summit. And I hope we will achieve that. And
we are working closely -- we do expect -- I do not want to name names, but we
have every indication that even at this early stage, that some of our
colleagues will at least make indications or suggestions -- or maybe even
announcements, we don't know that yet -- that they are willing to start
contributing to the public side of this. But we do not know that yet.
But you said you have talked about this with the Japanese already. Have they
given you any -- how has their response been? Has it been very positive?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Japanese response has been more
cautious. The Japanese have already -- recall that a year ago the Japanese
already said they were going to put $33.5 million into part of this program,
one aspect of it. They sort of feel that they have already announced and given,
whereas some of our other colleagues have not done that yet. So I think if you
were looking, one would be looking more towards some of the others to see if
there can be movement there.
Q I might have missed this at the
beginning of your conference. I didn't know you had begun. But I'm wondering
what you attribute today's breakthrough to? It's obviously been a long time in
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: To be quite honest, one,
there's been about 15 months of very, very intense work. But the breakthrough
came basically because of the President's visit and the emphasis and the
senior-level attention that's gone into making this happen.
Q So at the
G-8, your objective is to have some kind of announcement on funding from the
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: At least our objective is -- G-8
has made announcements since '96 supporting this program. But now we are coming
to a point where it gets harder, because you're not talking in theory in
principle. Pretty soon you start talking about what are we going to do and
contribute to this program? But we would hope that there will be at least a
basic commitment to try to develop something in this regard over the next year.
Q Can you describe in a little more detail how the private sector --
what the private sector involvement might be? And secondly, when it comes to
delivering funds into the Russian public sector, are there any safeguards that
are going to be put in place? Will they go into central government funds, or
will they go specifically to -- directly to the areas that it's meant to help?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, first of all, there will be no
fund transfers. We don't transfer funds in this business at all. I mean, there
will be contracts let under certain procedures; could be American, other,
Russian. And then the funds will be going to contractors who will then be
working to put these things together. There are no funds provided to Russia
under this kind of program at all.
On the private, I can't get into --
there is a lot of private consideration being given to -- I think the easiest
way to answer that would be, obviously there could be -- in fact, one country
has announced last year, a Western country, that it was interested in burning
Russian MOX fuel. If that country or others, once you do that, you now have a
revenue stream for hard currency. And people are looking at how that mechanism,
how selling MOX fuel to Western, developed countries would produce income, and
how that might be developed and therefore help -- help -- support this whole
program. In broad terms, that's what it's about.
Q Which country?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Switzerland announced it last year.
Q You said that on the American side, one of the alternatives will be
to burn it as fuel in nuclear reactors. The other is to encapsulate it with
nuclear waste and store it. Could you please explain that latter part in
layman's terms? Where would this be stored?
OFFICIAL: We're laughing because we ourselves have been talking, how do you put
it in layman's terms. There is almost no layman term. Let me -- it's not a
layman's term, but what they will do with this material, they will take
weapons-grade plutonium, they will blend it with another material into a kind
of puck, a ceramic form. That will then go into a can about this big. And then
several of those cans will go into a huge system in which they pour high-level
radioactive waste. And this is all --
Q From --
ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, from whatever programs they've had it from.
Whatever high-level radioactive waste we have or whatever waste could go there
-- I mean, from past programs -- I don't know exactly where they will be
getting that. We will say that is suitable for geologic storage. Now,
obviously, there is no geologic storage site yet, but that system would be
suitable for putting in geologic storage.
Q I'm just wondering how
unusual this type of funding is. I mean, is there any precedent --
international funding of an arms control --
OFFICIAL: Absolutely. While this isn't an arms control, but you will recall the
G-8 -- one of the major things they undertook a few years ago was the safety --
nuclear safety in Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere, and there have been mechanisms
established through the European Bank and a lot of countries -- several, much
broader than the G-8 -- contributing into these funds to enable this
cooperation to go forward.
Chernobyl is a very basic one -- the
cooperation on Chernobyl and making that safe and what do you do with that. So
there are some precedents here. This is only different in the sense that you're
talking about construction of major industrial-scale new facilities -- in that
sense, but the mechanism -- we are going to look at all these precedents,
because we have to, between now and I would hope next year, figure out not only
how to finance it, but what kind of multilateral grouping do you put together
to be able to carry this forward.
Q -- study forward?
ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think the first thing to keep in mind is what
was exactly said in '98. And both at that time, President Clinton and President
Yeltsin announced their intention to withdraw in stages, to withdraw in stages
approximately 50 tons.
Now, why did we end up with 34? We ended up with
34 because when we looked at what had been declared excess in the United States
and what was weapon grade, either directly from weapons or weapon-grade, the
most readily usable material. That amount of plutonium was 34 tons on the
United States side. That's what had been withdrawn. We have actually withdrawn
others, but that's dealt with in a different way, it's not --
Q What is
the 34 tons, metric tons -- what does it equate to in terms of tons of --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You're still talking about thousands of
weapons, thousands of weapons.
Q What's the tonnage, though, do you
know -- British -- 2000-pound tons.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:
Twenty-two hundred pounds, I guess, is the metric ton, so --
Q A little
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Our ton is 2,000, so you're
talking -- but this number represents thousands, literally thousands of nuclear
Q You had indicated that Japan had already pledged $33.5
million for this program. Has something already been going on on this, even
before the formal announcement of the agreement today?
ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me say, a lot has been going on. As I say, the G-8
has supported these programs since '96. You will recall, the United States and
Russia had a scientific and technical cooperation agreement in '98, and we've
had an enormous amount of work -- research development, planning -- going on
under that agreement.
Where Japan had come in was that Japan wants to
work on the fast reactor and a new kind of fuel development, and they have done
research development. And they look forward to spending more of this money over
time for that. And another important thing is there is a trilateral agreement
between the French, the Germans and the Russians, which has also predated our
'98 agreement. And there's also been a tremendous amount of sort of development
and design and planning under that as well.
They will not break ground
for new facilities until 2007 at the earliest. I mean, there's a lot of
licensing, regulation, demonstration, development and research that has to be
done on all of this. But on the fast reactor where Japan is interested, that is
ahead of some of the other work, and you do not have to build new facilities to
do that work. It's only part, it's a small scale of the whole thing, but you
can actually upgrade existing facilities in Russia for that purpose.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 4:03 P.M. (L)
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