U.S. Sanctions Sabotaging Nuclear, Planetary Defense Cooperation With Russia
August 4, 2014 • 10:12AM

U.S.-Russia nuclear cooperation “stalls,” the New York Times reported Sunday, due to rising tensions over Ukraine. But “sabotage” would be a more accurate description. The article cites specifically an agreement between the U.S. and Russia, signed last September by U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Rosatom head, Sergei Kiriyenko, which outlined broad-ranging cooperation between scientists in nuclear science, planetary defense, and related physics fields. The “stalling” by the U.S. on implementing joint projects throws away more than 20 years of cooperation between Russian and American scientists, which, because of the overlap with military R&D in both countries, had been painstakingly crafted by scientific leaders of both nations.

The Times highlights discussions that had been underway of joint efforts on planetary defense, which it describes as “a proposal to recycle a city-busting warhead that could be aimed at an incoming earth-destroyer.” A month after the agreement was signed, the Times reports, scientists from both countries' nuclear laboratories held preliminary discussions on planetary defense. At the State Department space conference held this January, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns called for international cooperation to defend the Earth from asteroids.

The article quotes former Los Alamos Director Sieg Hecker, who has spearheaded joint U.S.-Russian nuclear/science/weapons R&D since the early 1990s, and has made multiple trips to North Korea to try to deal with that situation. Hecker, who was instrumental in setting up exchange programs, bringing Russian scientists to work on projects at Los Alamos, says last year's agreements would have provided a new phase of teamwork and technical collaboration, but were “struggling before Ukraine and have gone nowhere since.”

In addition to increased access of Russian scientists to the Los Alamos and Livermore nuclear weapons labs, what was on the table were collaborative projects at 137 American installations, including high-energy physics facilities at Brookhaven National Lab. The sanction restrictions have gone both ways:

In April, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that it had learned of a letter sent to scientists working at the Department of Energy's national laboratories, that visits of Russian scientists to the U.S. have been suspended, along with joint meetings (see April 15 briefing). Kommersant reports that as of 2012, “at least 2,000 Russian citizens were working in [the DOE] labs on a permanent basis,” most of whom left Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It adds that 6,700 Russians with exchange visitor “J visas” visited the U.S. in 2013, most of whom were scientists and postgraduate students.