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Russia, US Sign Nuclear Reactor Agreement

The United States Wednesday signed an agreement with Russia to help close down Russia's last nuclear reactors producing weapons grade plutonium.

The agreement calls for the United States to work with Russia to shut down three nuclear reactors that together are capable of producing enough weapons-grade plutonium to make one nuclear bomb every day for the next 15 years.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham and his Russian counterpart, Alexander Rumyantsev, signed the agreement. It came during a conference in Vienna on nuclear safety organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency and co-sponsored by the United States and Russia.

Under the agreement, Russia will pay for the shutdown of the three reactors and the United States will help pay for the construction of fossil fuel plants in Russia.

Mr. Rumyantsev expressed his satisfation that even though the reactors are being shut down, there would be no shortage of energy for Russians because of the fossil fuel plants the United States will help to build.

Secretary Abraham said that the agreement demonstrated the commitment of both the United States and the Russian Federation to nuclear non-proliferation.

Jim Walsh, director of a nuclear program at Harvard University called Managing the Atom, said the agreement was good because it meant that there would be less plutonium in the world. "Plutonium is one of the core materials people worry about because it is the stuff that you can make a nuclear weapon with," he said. "You either need plutonium or highly enriched uranium and so we have worked with Russia now for over ten years on encouraging them to stop the production of plutonium and with the plutonium they have trying to either blend it down so that it's less dangerous or to dispose of it in a way that it can't be used by terrorists."

Unofficial estimates put the size of the Russian military's stockpile of weapons-grade plutonium at 110 to 160 tons.