DATE=9/2/2000 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA/U-S/PLUTONIUM (L) NUMBER=2-266083 BYLINE=EVE CONANT DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: // Re-running w/clarification in introduction /// INTRO: U-S Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov have formally signed (EDS: Friday (9-1), both in Moscow by Russian P-M, and in Washington by VP Gore) an agreement for each country to destroy 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium. Moscow correspondent Eve Conant reports the agreement calls for both countries to convert the plutonium into a form that cannot be used for nuclear weapons. TEXT: With the final signing, the two nations have brought into effect a deal that will destroy a total of 68 tons of weapons-grade plutonium, enough to make thousands of nuclear weapons. The deal was first agreed in Moscow between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U-S President Bill Clinton during their summit meeting in June. U-S officials have estimated it will take up to 20 years to complete the project. The disposal facilities for the plutonium must be ready to start functioning by the year 2007, with a minimum disposal rate of two tons per year. The Russian disposal plan is estimated to cost more than one-point-seven-billion dollars. The U-S program is expected to cost approximately four-billion dollars. All 34 tons of the Russian weapons-grade plutonium is to be converted into fuel for use in civilian nuclear power reactors. However, both Russian and Western environmentalists argue Russia should not be allowed to use the plutonium as fuel, but should instead dispose of it as waste. According to the deal, none of the fuel produced by weapons-grade plutonium can leave Russia without consent of the United States. The process will be monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency and both sides have agreed to make the process fully transparent. In the past, Western leaders and environmentalists had questioned Moscow's commitment to safely store the weapons-grade plutonium and to keep it from being sold abroad. (Signed) NEB/EC/DW/JP 02-Sep-2000 19:29 PM EDT (02-Sep-2000 2329 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .