In March 1999 COGEMA signed an agreement with Techsnabexport, the commercial representative of the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy (Minatom), for the purchase of the uranium component of highly enriched uranium (HEU) produced by Russian nuclear weapons decommissioning. COGEMA is joined in this operation by Cameco, a Canadian uranium producer, and Nukem Inc, the US subsidiary of a German trading and engineering company. This commercial agreement has been approved by the Russian and American governments. It fits within the scope of the agreement signed in 1993 for a 20-year period, between Russia and the United States, for decommissioning nuclear weapons containing highly enriched uranium, and putting the corresponding materials on the civilian market.On 22 March 1999 Duke Engineering & Services, COGEMA, Inc. and Stone & Webster signed a contract with the Department of Energy to supply the full-scope of services required by DOE, including design, construction and licensing of a mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication facility; the fabrication of mixed-oxide fuel; and the burning of that fuel in commercial nuclear reactors. MOX fuel is a blend of uranium and plutonium oxides which is fabricated into assemblies suitable for use in nuclear reactors. The MOX initiative, a joint decision by President Clinton and Russian President Yeltsin calls for 50 tons of excess weapons-grade plutonium to be disposed of in each country and converted into forms that are resistant to reuse in nuclear weapons.
In late 1997 COGEMA and the South African Atomic Energy Corporation (AEC) agreed to end their joint program on the development of laser enrichment technology. A statement issued by the AEC said the decision to terminate the three-year-old cooperation agreement was caused primarily by its “increasing inability to meet the growing financial requirements of the program.” A spokesman for COGEMA said the decision meant that the program would now be gradually dismantled by both partners. However, he said France would continue to work on its own laser-assisted enrichment development program, SILVA. SILVA is the French acronym for AVLIS, a similar research program in the U.S., which could lead to the eventual replacement of the energy-intensive gaseous diffusion enrichment process. The main aim of the AEC-COGEMA joint program, which was financed equally by both parties, was to evaluate molecular laser isotope separation (MLIS) technology for uranium enrichment on a pilot scale, with a view to possible future application on an industrial scale. MLIS technology had already been under development by the AEC since 1983.