Jane VaynmanRussian interests in the 123 Agreement

The Carnegie Moscow Center held a discussion yesterday on the 123 Agreement, which would allow for nuclear cooperation between Russia and the US. The presentation was given by Robert Einhorn of CSIS, and there will be a summary on the Carnegie site shortly, but I thought people here might be interested in a point about spent fuel that came up in this and other conversations.

The issue of what are Russia’s interests in the 123 Agreement is a bit more complicated than it seems. Progress on a US-Russia nuclear agreement seemed to be going nowhere until head of Rosatom Sergei Kiriyenko visited Washington prior to the St. Pete G8 summit and brought it up. This would suggest some interest on the Russian side. However, in the Carnegie session and in my other conversations so far, the mention comes up that Russia may not be interested in the part of all this which Americans probably find most appealing – taking US origin spent fuel into Russia.

Russia may have been seeking such a plan years ago, when Minatom was poor and struggling. But now the economic situation is a bit different, and such an option is no longer appealing. Also, public opinion in Russia has for a long time been very strongly against making Russia a dumping ground for spent fuel from other countries. A few years ago, the Russian Duma passed a law that allowed for the import of spent fuel, but in the last few months Rosatom has stated that Russia will not import foreign spent fuel. It is possible that we’ve missed the chance to make something like this happen, as it will now be politically problematic on the Russian side.

If not really for economic benefits of storing spent fuel, why is Russia specifically interested in the 123 Agreement? The question came up during the meeting, but no good answers were suggested.

More on this when I figure it out. Also, good summaries on 123 Agreement, its links to Russian cooperation with Iran, and possible effects of this agreement on other nuclear cooperation programs can be found at ACA and in this Monterey Institute Issue Brief NTI which at the end also notes the possible change in the Russian position on spent fuel.


  1. Matthew Bunn

    The question of what Russia hopes to gain from a 123 agreement with the United States is a fascinating and important one. Spassky, the new Rosatom #2 for international affairs, addressed it in his recent trip to Washington, saying that a wide range of types of cooperation (which could include joint development of new nuclear reactors and fuel cycles, joint ventures to lease fuel, and more), would be easier if there were a 123 agreement underpinning them. Russian officials have said that the U.S. proposal for the text of a 123 agreement is “attractive” and they are negotiating from that starting point. Spassky expressed hope that a 123 agreement would be completed and put into force while Bush and Putin are still in office. Spassky also indicated that while they are not interested in spent fuel imports now, for the reasons you note, it is not ruled out in the future; if a fuel leasing arrangement is put in place (which Russia sees as helping its competitive position in exporting reactors, where the real money is), and people get used to seeing the exported fuel returned, (and infrastructure is put in place) the politics of spent fuel import may improve.

    Also, a small point: the “NTI Issue Brief” you cite was in fact written by an analyst at Monterey, and should more properly be described as a Monterey Issue Brief. As some one who also provides substantial amounts of content for the NTI website, I am often annoyed when my writings are attributed to NTI because they are posted there, rather than to Harvard where they were produced.

  2. Jane (History)

    Thanks for the comment. Here is a link to the Spassky talk at Carnegie in case anyone is interested in more details.

    And thanks for the note on the NTI brief. I’ve changed it.

  3. dhs

    Jane – Any chance the various statements claiming that Russia isn’t interested in providing spent fuel storage or disposal services are actually just a tactic in the continuing negotiations over the HEU suspension agreement?