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On February 18, 1993, the governments of the Russian Federation and the United States signed the “Agreement Concerning the Disposition of Highly-Enriched Uranium Extracted from Nuclear Weapons”. Under this document, Russia undertook to supply the U.S. with not less than 500 tons of its weapon-grade uranium that would be used as fuel in U.S. nuclear power plants. The agreement was extended over the 20-years period, and the program was successfully completed in 2013. In its turn, the U.S. was obliged to pay about $11 billion. With the blessing of Yeltsin and Clinton, the deal was signed by Albert Gore and Viktor Chernomyrdin.
The agreement was concluded two years after the signing of the START I that contemplated almost 50% reduction in the number of nuclear warheads and carriers. It raised a necessity to recycle the excessive quantity of weapon-grade uranium from the thousands of nuclear warheads. Referring to desperate state of the Russian economy and the need to assure that there would be no risk that Soviet nuclear weapon falls into wrong hands, American scientist Thomas Neff proposed to dilute excessive for national security purposes Russian high-enriched weapon-grade uranium (HEU) into low-enriched uranium (LEU) and send it to the U.S. nuclear power plants. In order to provide additional employment in Russian former defense enterprises and to keep the isotopic composition of the material in secret, it was decided that HEU would be diluted in Russian factories, and the U.S. would get the right to control the process. As well as, the Russian side could ensure that this uranium is not used for the U.S. military purposes.
So-called “Megatons to Megawatts Program” was presented as a mutually beneficial deal. It could be so, if Russia had not assured a half of the U.S. nuclear power plants’ needs for 20 years almost for free. The “mutually beneficial deal” turned out to be Russian reparations for losing the Cold war.
The documents that were declassified in the U.S. in 1996 unveiled that, after spending $ 3.9 trillion on nuclear weapons since 1945, the Americans were able to produce only 550 tons of weapons-grade uranium. It equals the quantity of nuclear fuel that was sent by Victor Chernomyrdin and Boris Yeltsin across the Atlantic Ocean. The uranium was sold not for trillions dollars in line with what the US spent, but for $ 11.5 billion. According to various estimates of nuclear scientists, the cost of Russian uranium was much higher and could amount to $8-12 trillion. That is, Americans paid only 0.15% of the real value.
The bargain was cloaked in utmost secrecy. The agreement was not ratified. Despite the numerous demands to ratify it according to the law, as the agreement affected national security. Even the directorate of the Russian Ministry of Defense, whose missiles were gutted in the most shameless way, had no idea on the final destination of uranium transfer.
Army General Igor Rodionov once admitted: “How was it possible that being the Minister of Defense I knew nothing about the Uranium Bargain between Russia and the United States. There are still the questions: Who exactly, in what composition and how did they implement these agreements?”
According to Rodionov’s claims, in total, there were four agreements, but the texts of documents No. 1 and No. 3 were missing. They have never been found.
“And for some reason, neither the Russian FSB, nor the Security Council, nor the Ministry of Defense can help us, the deputies of the State Duma. I personally addressed three letters to President Putin in May 2004, January and March 2005. Putin didn’t answer me. I wanted to explain to the President of the country that probably we are dealing with high treason of paramount importance.”
Many prominent Russian scientists and politicians were involved in solving the mystery of the secret agreements, some of them paid for their curiosity with their lives. The first to see the criminal nature of the agreement was Lev Maksimov, acting Director of the secret Novosibirsk Institute of physical problems of metallurgy and special engineering, who tried to raise a stink hoping to push Kremlin to invalidate the agreement.
However, his efforts led to the opposite results, all scientific developments that the Institute was engaged in were confiscated by “unidentified persons”, and researchers were expelled. Since then, Maximov has been persecuted and threatened, he survived several assassination attacks.
He addressed to the Chairman of the State Duma’s Defense Committee Lev Rokhlin, who started to investigate the implementation of the agreement. In November 1996, Rokhlin wrote a letter to Yeltsin asking about the deal, but received no response. L. Rokhlin was assassinated in his datcha in 1998.
A day before the murder, Rokhlin gave an interview to Express-Gazeta, saying: “I have enough documents to claim that some officials from the presidential administration work for foreign intelligence. I am very close to releasing these documents…”
According to some reports, after the murder of L. Rokhlin, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma’s Defense Committee Yuri Shchekochikhin, has been actively searching for the “missing” texts of the agreements No. 1 and No. 3. He was allegedly poisoned in 2003.
Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov and State Duma Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin tried to unveil the deal. The death of Ilyukhin and the resignation of Skuratov are attributed to their excessive activity in the investigation of the Grand Uranium Bargain.
Skuratov resigned in 2000. The formal reason for his resignation that was spread by mass media was a video in which Skuratov allegedly had sex with two young women. In fact, the video did not produce the desired effect, many even envied that the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation at his age could please young women. In addition, in the 1990s, rape and pedophilia were wide spread in Russia, so Skuratov’s decent personal life, as he had never been suspected of cheating on his wife, did not make a desired splash. According to trusted sources, the video was rigged. The scandal was initiated by a circle of people whose interests were prevented by Skuratov’s actions against the realization of pro-American agenda on the territory of Russia. The Prosecutor General worked in several such directions, one of which was the investigation of the Grand Uranium Bargain.
Thanks to Rokhlin, other deputies joined investigation process, including Ivan Nikitchuk, doctor of technical science, nuclear physicist, who worked for almost 30 years at the secret Arzamas-16 facility. They checked the information received from Maximov and agreed that it was true. There were less and less doubts that a crime has been committed against Russian national interests.
In 1997 after the inspection, closed and then open trials were held in the State Duma. The participants developed appropriate recommendations, and sent requests to President Yeltsin, the Prosecutor General, and the Security Council with a demand to give the Parliament appropriate explanations. In 1998, the anti-Corruption Commission of the State Duma made a number of requests concerning the reliability of the sale of weapons-grade uranium. The government and the Prosecutor General’s office replied that there was no such agreement, as well as the sale of uranuim.
Later, the deal, which was deliberately hidden, became public. Now, the code of the agreement, its approximate content, and conditions are known.
The significance of this deal for the United States is characterized by the following figures: it has been providing half of the country’s nuclear power plant needs for nuclear fuel for almost 20 years and generating up to 10% of the total electricity produced in the United States annually. However, according to the report released by the National nuclear safety administration (NNSA) the US uranium industry has fallen into decline during the years of abundance of Russian uranium and the significant cash injection was necessary to revive it.
Russia completed its part of the Uranium deal under Putin, in 2013. The total income from the implementation of the Grand Uranium Bargain was about $17 billion. The Russian budget received $13 billion.
The Russian economy has suffered extensive damage. In reference to oil, from 1991 to 2013 the cost of a barrel increased from $40 to $120. Assuming an average value of $ 50, Russia’s revenue could be $ 750 billion, without taking into account the indirect costs of “subsidies” to the United States, which used Russian uranium for decades, spending no money on the use of its own resources.
The weapons-grade uranium sent to the United States could be used as fuel for Russian domestic nuclear power plants or sold to other countries at a market price. For example, already in 2012, Techsnabexport entered the Middle Eastern market by signing a long-term contract with Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (UAE) for the supply of Russian uranium from weapons reserves for the Baraka nuclear power plant. The delivery of a batch of enriched uranium from Russia to Japan via the Vostochny Port in October 2012 confirmed the feasibility and prospects of using new transport corridors for the supply of uranium products to various world regions.
The Grand Uranium Bargain was conceived as a de facto implementation of the START-2 Treaty, which has never been ratified. In 1997, more than 400 tons of weapons-grade uranium were extracted from Russian nuclear warheads that equals to more than 25 thousand dismantled nuclear warheads. Thus, bypassing the ratification of the START-2 Treaty, the deal makers ensured the fulfillment of the main strategic tasks of the US and NATO leadership – to accelerate Russian unilateral nuclear disarmament.
The reason that prompted the Russian government to sign the Grand Uranium Bargain in 1993 remains unclear.
Probably, Yeltsin gave way on the sale in order to convince the U.S. to turn a blind eye to the bombing of the Supreme Russian Soviet that claimed lives of 124 persons. This was a bidding — the United States received nuclear fuel for non-interference. It wasn’t a commercial decision, but a political one.
In Russia, the Grand Uranium Bargain was called the “Scam of the century”. The betrayal of the country national interests has not been properly investigated yet.
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