Nuclear Cooperation

Even against the intense background noise of the Kosovo crisis, Russia and the United States have managed to attend to some important mutual business. Witness the recent signing of an agreement under which the US will buy enriched uranium removed from Russian nuclear warheads, converting it into fuel for nuclear power plants.

That was one step in a 1993 pact designed to reduce the dangers of proliferation posed by Russia's huge arsenal of nuclear weapons. The deal ran into problems because of the fluctuating price of the uranium. But those problems have been gradually ironed out. Russia now anticipates selling 500 metric tons of uranium to the US for $12 billion - a significant financial boost to a country teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

The other steps in the pact involve setting up centers in Russia and the US to deal with nuclear safety and environmental issues, including the disposal of nuclear waste.

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On that front, Washington took an important step on its own by opening a depository in New Mexico for waste from the various federal nuclear-weapons plants and labs. The massive amounts of waste built up at these locations has been an unresolved problem for decades.

The disposal site, in a salt cavern near Carlsbad, N.M., has generated protest, and safety concerns of local people must be taken into account. But there is no ideal solution for nuclear waste. A stable underground facility removed from heavily populated areas is a reasonable option.

The US needs to move forward and show that these wastes can safely be transported and stored. What's learned will be of value both to Americans and their Russian partners.

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