Efforts by the United States and Russia to bilaterally reduce their weapons plutonium stockpiles are currently stalled following a U.S. decision to dilute and bury excess plutonium in a geologic repository. Russia has derided this approach as impermanent and easily reversible. Conversely, many analysts contend that the recovery of buried plutonium would require large-scale mining operations, rendering it observable and preventable. Here, we show that the use of advanced mining techniques overlooked in prior analysis (namely, salt solution mining and in situ leaching) would enable the rapid, clandestine recovery of buried plutonium. Burial would therefore yield a novel plutonium geologic resource. We attribute the persistence of international technical controversy over the permanence of plutonium burial to state-level divergence in U.S. and Russian technological framings of plutonium and geologic repositories—distinct socially constructed understandings of the meanings, uses, and risks of these technologies.
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