APS News

OSTP Releases Report on Reducing Excess Plutonium Stockpiles

An interim study by independent U.S. and Russian scientists released in November by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) recommends a broad program of cooperation between the United States, Russia, and other countries to reduce stockpiles of excess weapons plutonium resulting from ongoing nuclear arms reductions. The group's key recommendations are included in the interim report; a final report is expected in 1997.

The interim report released in November recommends that both the U.S. and Russia move forward quickly, and in parallel, to safely and securely store and then reduce their stockpiles of excess plutonium, with international inspection applied from very early in the process. The report urges that both countries pursue a dual-track approach, using some of the excess plutonium as fuel in existing nuclear reactors, and immobilizing the rest in glass or ceramic with high-level wastes.

U.S.-Russian technical cooperation to demonstrate the feasibility of various approaches is already underway. These approaches are among the options being considered in the U.S. plutonium disposition program, led by the Department of Energy (DOE). The DOE is expected to announce preferred alternatives for disposition of U.S. excess plutonium later this year. [Copies of the interim report are available upon request from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.]

"Moving forward to get rid of the vast stocks of excess bomb materials built up over nearly five decades of Cold War is one of this Administration's highest priorities," said John H. Gibbons, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and co-chairman of President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). "This report provides both Presidents with the views of this distinguished group of scientists on the quickest, most cost-effective, and most secure ways to reach that end, while protecting the environment and public safety." The Clinton Administration is expected to review the recommendations in preparation for deciding on options both for dealing with U.S. excess plutonium and cooperation with Russia and other countries.

The U.S.-Russian Independent Scientific Commission on Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium is an independent group chartered as a result of a proposal by Russian President Boris Yeltsin at his Hyde Park meeting with President Clinton in October 1995. The commission was formally established in mid-1996 at the initiative of the PCAST, and the Russian Academy of Sciences. The group was directed to make recommendations to the two Presidents on specific steps that could be taken to reduce stockpiles of excess weapons plutonium. These independent recommendations complement the government-level joint technical assessment of plutonium disposition options, also released today.

The U.S. team was chaired by Professor John Holdren of Harvard University, a member of PCAST, and included John Ahearne, an adjunct professor of public policy at Duke University; Richard Garwin, fellow emeritus of IBM Research Laboratories and who served in an advisory capacity under Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon; Wolfgang K.H. Panofsky, director emeritus of the Stanford -Linear Accelerator Center; and John Taylor, emeritus vice president for nuclear power of the Electric Power Research Institute. Every member of the team is also an APS member; Ahearne and Garwin are Fellows; Holdren is a Fellow and Recipient of the 1995 APS Forum Award; and Panofsky is a Fellow and was APS President in 1974.

The Russian team was chaired by Academician Evgeniy Velikhov, president of the Kurchatov Institute, and included Aleksei A. Makarov, director of the Institute of Energy Economics in Moscow (and also an APS member); Fedor M. Mitenkov, director of the Ministry of Atomic Energy (MINATOM) nuclear design institute; Nikolai N. Ponomarev-Stepnoi, vice president of the Russian Research Center at the Kurchatov Institute; and Fedor Reshetnikov, senior scientist at MINITOM's Bochvar Institute of Organic Materials in Moscow.

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin