After the Soviet Union was dissolved, it was Philip Sewell‘s job to try and find ways to collaborate with the United States’ former adversaries. He came across abandoned Russian military facilities with broken windows, unlocked gates, and not to mention, stockpiles of uranium. His discovery 20 years ago inspired the Megatons to Megawatts program, which has involved Russians turning 500 tons of uranium from decommissioned nuclear weapons into nuclear fuel for the United States.
Initially, the Russians refused the idea. “It was a matter of pride, principle and patriotism,” said Sewell when he talked with NPR. “Even though they didn’t need that excess material, [and] they didn’t have the money to protect it, they didn’t want to let go of it.” But in the end they did, for the sole reason that they needed the money. Since then, Russia has made $17 billion, which also worked out as a good deal for the US. In fact, nearly ten percent of electricity in the United States over the past fifteen years has come from dismantled nuclear bombs.
In total, 20,000 bombs’ worth of nuclear material has been shipped to the US—the last of which arrived on Tuesday. It might go down in history as one of the greatest diplomatic achievements ever, but “Russia is a totally different place today than it was twenty years ago,” says Matthew Bunn of Harvard University. ”As the Russian government is fond of saying, they’re ‘no longer on their knees.’”
That being said, this is an excellent example of two nations reaching an agreement over valuable resources without any additional bloodshed.