July 12, 2006

U.S. senators oppose Russia nuclear deal at G8

By Tom Doggett

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Top lawmakers on the U.S. Senate
Energy Committee told President George W. Bush on Wednesday
they would oppose a deal allowing Russia to sell more highly
enriched uranium as fuel to U.S. nuclear power plants.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he will urge Bush
at this weekend's rich nations' meeting in St. Petersburg to
alter two supply agreements in order for Russia to ship more
enriched uranium to the United States.

Russia signed agreements with the United States in 1992
that stipulate that no additional Russian nuclear fuel supplies
beyond those derived from dismantled Russian nuclear weapons
will be delivered to U.S. utilities with nuclear reactors.

Russia already supplies about half the enriched uranium
used by U.S. nuclear power plants and the lawmakers said
allowing Russia to "dump" more of the fuel in the U.S. market
could scuttle construction of two planned American uranium
enrichment facilities.

Republican Pete Domenici, who chairs the Senate's energy
committee, and Jeff Bingaman, the top Democrat on the panel,
said they are against changing the supply agreements.

"Any changes proposed in either agreement would have the
potential of making the U.S. more dependent on foreign sources
of nuclear fuel at a time when domestic sources are being
developed," they said in a letter to Bush.

"Additionally, Russian access to the U.S. market at this
time is likely to result in market destabilization potentially
jeopardizing resurgence of the nuclear-related industry," the
lawmakers warned.

A senior Bush administration official at a briefing on the
G8 meeting on Tuesday declined to comment on what nuclear
issues may be agreed to between the United States and Russia at
the summit.

The two U.S. uranium enrichment facilities have a combined
price tag of $3.2 billion and would be located in New Mexico,
which Domenici and Bingaman both represent, and in Ohio.

Ohio's two Republican senators, Mike DeWine and George
Voinovich, also signed the letter against allowing in more
Russian enriched uranium.

By 2013, the two facilities could provide half of the
enriched uranium required by U.S. nuclear power reactors, the
lawmakers said.

The senators suggested that the U.S. government examine the
options for uranium fuel supplies after 2013.

Putin doesn't want to wait that long. In answers to

questions posted on the Kremlin's Web site, Putin said he
was against U.S. "discriminatory" restrictions on the sale of
Russian nuclear fuel and will raise the issue with Bush when
they meet at the G8.

"The only thing we want is equal competition on external
markets, including the American market," Putin said.