The USA and Russia have signed a landmark deal on nuclear cooperation to facilitate trade and allow joint ventures between companies.
The deal, known as a 123 agreement after the section of the US Atomic Energy Act that requires it, was signed in Moscow yesterday. Representing the USA was its ambassador to Russia, William Burns, while Sergei Kiriyenko, director general of the Rosatom corporation, signed for Russia. Kiriyenko said the deal would create the conditions for "massive development of nuclear power worldwide."
The text of the agreement is not yet available, but the White House said it will "provide a framework for potential commercial sales of civil nuclear commodities to Russia by US companies." The White House did not elaborate on potential sales in the other direction but Russian commentators said the American market would open to Rosatom and AtomEnergoProm, the state-owned company soon to become the biggest nuclear corporation in the world.
Described by officials as a 'priority' for the countries' Presidents, George Bush and Vladimir Putin, the civil nuclear cooperation deal is one part of a wider package of strategic cooperation between the two former Cold War opponents. Putin and Bush declared a program of agreements in April called the US-Russia Strategic Framework Declaration. Besides civil nuclear cooperation and an energy dialogue meant to enhance security and diversify energy supplies, it also covered missile defence, terrorism commitments and economic cooperation.
Another major element was bilateral atomic weapons control through the development of a legally-binding arrangement to follow on from the end of the Strategic Arms Reduction treaty (START) in December 2009. It also reiterates both sides' commitment to a negotiated solution to the arguments over Iran's uranium enrichment program. Russia has cooperated with Iran to build the Bushehr nuclear power plant, but has no involvement in the controversial enrichment work. Formalised arrangements for the USA and Russia to cooperate on nuclear projects in third countries could avoid political tensions like those surrounding Iran in future.
In terms of nuclear power, the framework mentioned joint actions to "promote the expansion of nuclear energy without the spread of sensitive fuel cycle technologies" which could be abused to manufacture nuclear weapons. The 123 Agreement was the most important of these in that it makes possible cooperation for other framework items such as the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP); the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism; and initiatives to create reliable access to nuclear fuel.
The USA has 22 similar agreements with other international entities, including one with Euratom to cover the European Union's 27 members and another with the International Atomic Energy Agency. It is currently trying to conclude a special 123 Agreement with India, but has hit major roadblocks in the Indian parliament.
The deal will now be sent to the Russian Duma and American Congress respectively for approval.