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Nuclear News - 10/11/99
RANSAC Nuclear News, 11 October 1999


A.  U.S.  – Russia General

  1. US, Russia Pursue Non-Proliferation Plan of Action, ItarTass (10/09/99)
B.  Russian Nuclear Forces
  1. Russia To Equip Second Topol-M Unit, RFE/RL(10/11/99)
C.  Nuclear Power Industry
  1.  Increase in Nuclear-Generated Electricity, ItarTass (10/06/99)
  2.  Where Is the Next Chernobyl? Newsweek(10/16/99)
D  CTBT
  1. False Fears About a Test Ban, Washington Post(10/10/99)
E.  START
  1.  Russia Pushing for START II Treaty, AssociatedPress (10/08/99)

A. U.S. – Russia General

1.
US, Russia Pursue Non-Proliferation Plan of Action
         Itar Tass
         October 9, 1999
         (for personal useonly)

WASHINGTON, October 9 (Itar-Tass) - The United States and Russia arepursuing the non-proliferation plan of action approved by the two states'sgovernments, a non-proliferation and national security aide to the US energysecretary, Rosa Gottemuller, told reporters on Friday.

She accompanied Energy Secretary Bill Richardson during his recent visitto Russia, where he held talks with Nuclear Power Minister Yevgeny Adamov.

Gottemuller said Richardson and Adamov in particular addressed the rangeof measures in the field of non-proliferation of nuclear materials andtechnologies.

This work involves diplomat and technical experts of Russia and theUnited States. Their efforts aim at "clarifying some aspects of cooperation"of Russia with other countries, in the first place with Iran, and abolishingconcerns over sales of nuclear technologies and materials on the internationalmarket.

Russia is a member of the Group of Nuclear Suppliers, Gottemuller said,and the US Enbergy Department is trying to reach an understanding withRussian partners on expectable dangers of exports of certain technologiesthat can be used in nuclear weapons programmes outright or that have dualpurposes.

Gottemuller said the US administration is still concerned over Russia'scooperation with Iran "in some fields".

Richardson said at his meeting with Adamov that this cooperation shouldnot go beyond the boundaries of construction of the first reactor of theBushere nuclear power plant, as it was agreed a few years ago at a meetingof US Vice President Albert Gore and Russia's former Prime Minister ViktorChernomyrdin.

In general, the US administration thinks the non-proliferation and exportcontrol problem of Russia can be solved only by the Russian government,and the joint "plan of action" should be helpful to this.

The plan was developed by Adamov and the US energy secretary's armsand international security aide John Holam.

The plan was adopted after the US administration imposed sanctions onRussia's Energy Engineering Institute and Mendeleyev Chemical-TechnologicalInstitute .

Washington was suspicious that the two research centers' cooperationwith Iran assists its developing nuclear weapons.

Moscow disagreed, but embarked on the search for a compromise. The Russiangovernment hopes that implementation of the "plan of action" will facilitatethe US' lifting its sanctions against the two Russian research centers.

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B. Russian Nuclear Forces

1.
Russia To Equip Second Topol-M Unit
        RFE/RL
        October 11, 1999
        (for personal use only)

Deputy Defense Minister Colonel General Aleksandr Kosovan told journalistson 8 October that in the second half of December, another strategic rocketregiment will be equipped with the Topol-M ballistic missile, Interfaxreported. Like the first such regiment, equipped in December 1998, thissecond unit will have 10 Topol- M missiles. The report did not specifywhere the second unit is located.

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C. Nuclear Power Industry

1.
Increase in Nuclear-Generated Electricity
         Itar Tass
         October 6, 1999
         (for personal useonly)

St Petersburg, 6th October, (ITAR-TASS) -- Russian nuclear power stationshave this year increased the generation of electricity by some 13 per centcompared with last year. Russian Deputy Atomic Energy Minister Bulat Nigmatulinsaid today at a conference in St Petersburg on the problems of developingatomic power engineering in Russia and the CIS on the threshold of the21st century that, during the first nine months of this year, the 29 Russiannuclear power units had generated 10bn kilowatt-hours of electricity morethan during the same period last year. He forecast that, in 1999 as a whole,the Russian nuclear industry would produce 118bn kilowatt-hours of electricity- 15bn kilowatt-hours of electricity more than in 1998. The deputy ministernoted that the increase in generation would enable 6m tonnes of ideal fuelto be saved.

The Russian nuclear industry's main task was to extend the lifetimeof the first-generation power units, which have been operating for over20-25 years. Nuclear power engineering in Russia would only survive ifthe working life of these units was extended by 10 years.

Nigmatulin added that it was a question of 12 of the 29 power unitsin Russian nuclear power stations. He said that it was impossible to closedown the units, the service life of which expires at the start of the nextdecade, since there would then be a considerable power shortfall, and therewas no money for building new stations.

"Starting to design and build new power stations for the long term withreactors like the VVER-640 and VVER-1000 [VVER = light-water reactor orLWR] is only realistic when we can extend the service life of thefirst-generationunits and put unfinished installations into production," the deputy atomicenergy minister said.

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2.
Where Is the Next Chernobyl?
        Rod Nordland
        Newsweek
        October 16, 1999
        (for personal use only)

Heroin addicts at the controls, unexplained cancer epidemics. NEWSWEEKvisits once-secret plants behind the old Iron Curtain. The picture isn'tpretty.

Visitors to Sosnovy-Bor, a distant suburb of St. Petersburg, can't saythey aren't warned. The town hall boasts a digital Geiger counter, displayinglocal radiation levels in large red letters. That's because Sosnovy-Bor'sonly industry is the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant (LNPP), with its fourmassive reactors. When NEWSWEEK visited the plant early this year, it lookedlike an abandoned construction site. Rusting cranes loomed like mutantinsects over piles of building materials, seemingly abandoned. They aresupposed to be used to revamp the plant's safety systems, an overhaul originallyscheduled for completion by the end of the year. But that has been postponeduntil 2001. "If the ruble crisis goes on," says spokesman Karl Rendel,"it seems pretty clear it won't be done even by then." The LNPP is aChernobyl-typepower station ” only much more dangerous.
 
If Chernobyl had happened here, many of the 4 million people of St.Petersburg would have been hit with a massive dose of radiation. Outsiderscan enter the plant only with permission from Russia's nuclear-regulatoryagency, Minatom, which rarely grants it. (The FSB, successor to the KGBintelligence service, must sign off too.) At the time of NEWSWEEK's visit,only three of the four reactors were in operation ” one was due to be shutdown permanently because of a 1992 leak of radioactive iodine and inertgases.

Visitors to the LNPP remove their shoes and don plastic booties andprotective overclothing, but this seems intended mainly for the amusementof the staff. In the Block 2 Reactor Containment Room, for instance, manyemployees don't wear any protective gear at all ” or even dosimeters, thedevice that measures radiation. (During a brief visit, a NEWSWEEK photographer'spersonal monitor pegged off the scale, far above permissible limits.) "Whenwe were kids, we used to go swimming in the effluent [the waste water fromthe plant cooling systems] because the water was so warm," boasts ViktorLyubimov, 22, a technician who works in the reactor-core area.

Officials at LNPP are touchy about suggestions that their plant couldbecome another Chernobyl, and say a meltdown can't happen here. "What wecall the human factor is really very important," says technical directorViktor Romanov, referring to the importance of worker morale in maintaininggood safety practices. "You can't underestimate this. It is what you dependon." Yet plant workers routinely get their government paychecks as muchas six months late. And during the past two years, critics of the planthave discovered that at least three LNPP employees were heroin addicts.One of them died of an overdose last winter, the others were sent to rehab.Russian environmentalists claim at least one addict had access to the vitalcontrol room of the facility, and others to radioactive-waste-storagefacilities.Alex Epichin, deputy chief safety engineer, confirmed the heroin cases,but insisted that "none of them had a critical position."

That's hardly reassuring, especially after Japan's serious accidenttwo weeks ago. There, a country where the manufacturing sector is builton precision and discipline, well-paid workers casually broke every rulein the book ”and two of them will probably pay with their lives. By mixinga huge amount of highly enriched uranium in buckets, they set off a "criticalityevent" ” an out-of-control chain reaction that forced authorities to order300,000 nearby residents indoors. Upgraded last week from a level 4 incidentto a level 5 on the International Nuclear Event Scale (the world's worstnuclear disaster, the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown, rated a 7), the Tokaimuraleak was serious. And other nuclear accidents have become dangerouslycommonplace.Last week Japan reported yet another leak, while South Korea made newswith a spill that exposed 22 nuclear workers to low-level radiation. TheInternational Atomic Energy Agency says that there were 508 nuclear "incidents"between 1993 and last October alone, an average of more than one for eachof the world's 434 operating nuclear power plants.

Behind the mishaps is a simple fact. Nuclear-power generation is wellinto its middle age. At plants around the globe, pipes, vats and controlshave worn down dangerously, vastly increasing the chances of mishaps, bothminor and major. Industry executives insist that nuclear power in Asia,Western Europe and the United States remains safe. But the public is nolonger buying it. "Now, many European countries are saying that the riskis unacceptably too high," says Mohamed ElBaradei, the International AtomicEnergy Agency's chief. Nuclear-reactor orders and start-ups ranged from20 to 40 per year in the 1980s; in 1997 there were just two new orders,and five start-ups worldwide. Last year construction began on only fournew nuclear reactors, in China, Taiwan and Japan. And output from U.S.nuclear plants has declined dramatically in recent years with tough newregulations. "There's no real future for the nuclear industry,'' says HelenWallace, a physicist and Greenpeace campaigner in England. ''It's clearnuclear power is on its way out.''

Yet that's easier said than done. Some 16 percent of the world's powernow comes from nuclear plants. One third of Europe's electric productionis generated by nuclear power. In some countries, the figure is far higher;France gets about three quarters of its power from nukes. That kind ofdependence makes it impossible for governments to simply turn off the juice.

But it isn't the state of the plants in France, America or even Japanthat keeps nuclear experts awake at night. It's what is going on in theformer Soviet Union. Of the 58 Soviet-era reactors still functioning, 15of them are the RBMK-type reactors, identical in design to Chernobyl. Althoughthe Chernobyl explosion was the result of human error ” a decision by plantoperators to run a disastrously risky test that had never been tried before”the design of the plant was also a major factor. RBMK reactors, which aregraphite-cooled and usually designed to produce weapons-grade plutoniumas well as electric energy, have a tendency to get hotter when somethinggoes wrong in the reactor core. Western plants are usually water-cooled,and tend to lose heat during an accident, making them easier to bring undercontrol.

The West is worried enough about these aging plants to have ponied upat least $2 billion so far to improve safety and training. But most expertsagree that the only way to really make them safe is to shut them down.The U.S. Department of Energy has compiled a secret list of the world'sseven most dangerous plants: all are in the former Soviet bloc. ''ManySoviet-designed reactors... pose significant safety risks because of inherentdesign deficiencies, deteriorating economies, political turmoil and weakregulatory oversight,'' the agency said in a 1995 report. ''As a class,these reactors continue to experience serious incidents, raising the specterof another accident akin to Chernobyl.''

Or worse. Oleg Bodrov, who runs the Green World environmental groupin Sosnovy-Bor, has photos he says were smuggled out of the LNPP by workers.They show cracks 70 feet long and eight inches wide in the thick cementof the building used to store highly radioactive waste products. "In justthis one building there's enough hot waste to make 40 Chernobyls. And it'sonly 20 years old," Bodrov says. "What will it be like in 100 to 200 years?"

People who live near these old plants are already living with the disastrouseffects of radiation poisoning. Just ask the residents of Chelyabinsk,in the Ural Mountains of Western Siberia. The region is ringed with nuclearfacilities, but the most notorious is the Mayak Production Association,a reprocessing plant located about 50 miles outside of Chelyabinsk, neara town
called Novogorny. In 1957, there was a mysterious explosion of thehighly toxic radioactive isotope strontium-90 at Mayak, which injured 450residents and workers; another 28,000 were officially classified as ''affected"by the releases. Since then, there have been half a dozen fatal incidents,including a 1967 explosion of cesium-137, a highly dangerous isotope, thatspewed radioactive particles over a large area. "And those are just someof the ones we know about," says Nathalie Mironova of the Movement forNuclear Safety in Chelyabinsk. She says officials have admitted to accidentalreleases of radiation three times higher than the amount that escaped fromChernobyl, ''and I think it's probably 10 times higher."
 
The mayor of Novogorny, Aleksandr Genilo, says his small city stilldraws its drinking water from Karachai Lake, where the complex dumps itsradioactive waste. "There is 15 times the limit of strontium-90 in thesoil, 38 times the limit of cesium-137, 10 times the plutonium limit. Butthe authorities don't believe that when the wind blows, people here allget headaches. They say it's just radiophobia." The day after NEWSWEEKinterviewed Mayor Genilo, Russian security police questioned him and otherlocals about what they had said. Officials at Minatom, meanwhile, deniedNEWSWEEK permission to visit Mayak itself.

Russian authorities have plenty to hide. A medical doctor in a villagenear Mayak, Timirbai Galyulin, says nearly every member of his family hassome chronic medical problem; his youngest granddaughter was born withonly six fingers. "We don't have concrete statistics to prove it," he says."But I was born in 1939 and there used to be 50 people in the village myage, and now no more than 10 are left, and most of them are oncologicalcases." At the Novogorny hospital, the medical director, who would onlygive his name as Yuri G., says there hasn't been a single normal birththere in two years. "In a population of 10,000, we have 30 or 40 new casesof cancer every year." Dr. G. says he fears retaliation from officialsfor talking about the problem. A local school director, Tabris Mingazin,says, "We are all victims here." At his school, chronic illnesses are socommon that a third of his 230 students are out sick on any given day.Researchers from Mayak came and tested the children's blood, but neverdivulged the results. Says the mayor: "Novogorny should be evacuated."

Few Western countries would tolerate a Mayak or LNPP in their midst,but their own aging nuclear plants still have plenty of problems of theirown. At Britain's Sellafield nuclear-power site, a complex of eight reactorsand two reprocessing plants, there were 27 level 1 and 2 incidents in 1998and 1999” compared with just 32 worldwide in 1997. Three workers therewere fired last month for allegedly falsifying safety checks on plutonium.Sellafield is home to the world's first commercial nuclear reactor; openedin 1956 by a then youthful Queen Elizabeth II, the facility was designedto run for 25 years. It's now pushing 43, and still going. Britain, meanwhile,has become the first European country to actually decommission a reactor,the Dounreay plant near Thurso on Scotland's northern coast. The cleanupand shutdown process will take up to 100 years and cost $740 million.Authoritiesacted after acknowledging that waste-storage units were leaking and afterfinding mysterious "hot" particles on local beaches earlier this year.The sandlike particles are radioactive enough to blister someone who saton them, and dangerous enough to kill a child who swallowed them. Officialssay they don't know how they escaped the plant.
 
That's one of the big problems with nuclear energy; there's a lot thateven the experts don't know. "There's an almost allergic reaction toradioactivity;it's the fear of the unknown," says the IAEA's ElBaradei. He is a proponentof the industry, but when asked if another Chernobyl could happen, he hedges."I don't think so. Safety has improved throughout the world. But thereare no guarantees. And there's absolutely no reason for complacency. Wehave to do our best and cross our fin-gers." For the people living nearMayak, Sellafield, Sosnovy-Bor ” or anywhere else on earth, really ” crossedfingers are hardly enough.

With Stefan Theil in Berlin and Scott Johnson in Paris

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D. CTBT

1.
False Fears About a Test Ban
        Ray Kidder, Lynn Sykes andFrank von Hippel
        Washington Post
        October 10, 1999
        (for personal use only)

More than 80 percent of the American people want a permanent ban onnuclear weapons tests, and support outside the United States is at leastas high. This public support, sustained over 45 years, has powered themovement that persuaded the governments of 154 nations to sign a ComprehensiveTest Ban Treaty, now awaiting ratification in the U.S. Senate.

The arguments against the test ban treaty today are the same as thosethat opponents used to slow its progress for 40 years: the fear that othercountries will cheat and be able to reap advantages from small clandestinetests, and the belief that the only way to make sure that a nuclear weaponworks is to test it.

The first argument is illustrated by a continuing controversy withinthe U.S. intelligence community as to whether Russia is conducting smallunderground nuclear tests on its Arctic test site. There have been repeatedleaks, based on spy satellite images, that Russia is continuing to carryout activities on the island of Novaya Zemlya identical to those that usedto accompany underground tests. Russian spy satellites are presumably detectingsimilar activities at the U.S. Nevada test site. The U.S. government saysthat we are carrying out permitted and essential zero-nuclear-yield("sub-critical")tests with plutonium. Russia says it is doing the same.

If the United States and other key countries ratify the test ban andthe treaty comes into force, we can request an on-site inspection by theinternational Test Ban Treaty Organization. Inspectors will be able togo to the site where the suspicious activity took place and drill intothe test chamber. If the drilling yields fresh fission products, a cheaterwill be exposed.

Still there is a possibility that a small nuclear test, carried outsecretly away from monitored test sites, might escape detection. But whatcould be gained from such a test? Very little could be gained below thethreshold for the "boosting" of fission explosives. And allegations aboutChinese nuclear spying to the contrary, boosting the yield of a fissionexplosive with the fusion of a small amount of tritium-deuterium gas wasthe key step in the development of modern compact warheads, a "secret"that has been officially declassified for decades.

Testing boosting requires a nuclear explosion with a power of at leasta few hundred tons of TNT, and full boosting gives yields of thousandsof tons. This is beyond the level that could plausibly be concealed fromU.S. seismic monitoring stations. The detection threshold would be loweredfurther if the treaty came into force and more seismic stations in othercountries could be used.

The United States has done almost no testing for nuclear weapons developmentbelow 1,000 tons of TNT, so we can be comfortable with a ban on nucleartests of all sizes.

What about the reliability argument? Here the most powerful counterwould be to make public the statistical record of the remarkable successof U.S. nuclear tests. Nearly all of them were developmental tests. Theanalyzed classified record shows that since the U.S. nuclear establishmentmastered the art of designing boosted thermonuclear weapons more than twodecades ago, there have been virtually no failures. Except for tests thatwere exploring new design concepts or testing sensitivity to extremeenvironmentalconditions, the deviations from theoretically predicted yields were remarkablysmall.

Given this level of understanding and the availability of non-nuclearmeans, such as sub-critical tests, to confirm the key properties of nuclearmaterials, there is no question that U.S. nuclear weapons can be maintainedwithout nuclear testing.

On the surface, the debate over the nuclear test ban is about technicaluncertainties. Below the surface, it is about competing priorities. Manytest ban opponents care only that the United States be unconstrained inthe development of nuclear weapons. If this country resumed testing, however,other countries would as well. They would improve their nuclear weaponsmuch more than we would and the world would be pushed back closer to nuclearweapons use.

Ray Kidder, a senior nuclear weapons physicist, retired from the LawrenceLivermore National Laboratory in 1990. Lynn Sykes, a seismologist, is professorof earth and environmental sciences at Columbia University. Frank von Hippelis a professor of public and international affairs at Princeton University.

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E. START

1.
Russia Pushing for START II Treaty
        Nick Wadhams
        Associated Press
        October 8, 1999
        (for personal use only)

MOSCOW –– Russia wants to move ahead on ratification of the START IInuclear arms reduction treaty with the United States, but remains reluctantto revise an agreement on missile defense, President Boris Yeltsin saidin a letter Friday.

In the letter to Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, Yeltsin saidRussia was making "considerable efforts" for the prompt ratification ofSTART II, which has been stalled in the Russian parliament, according topresidential spokesman Dmitry Yakushkin.

START II, ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1996, would halve the U.S.and Russian nuclear arsenals to between 3,000 warheads and 3,500 warheadseach.

The Kremlin has urged parliament's lower house to consider START IIas a priority, but Communists and other hard-liners say the treaty endangersRussia's security.

Yeltsin told Obuchi that the Russian government also was eager to negotiateon deeper cuts under a proposed START III treaty.

However, Russia is still opposed to modifying the 1972 Anti-BallisticMissile treaty, which bans the construction of a system to defend againstballistic missile attacks.

Yeltsin agreed to discuss ABM modifications sought by the United States,but still has not indicated that Russia will consent to any changes.

Moscow has said any changes could start a new arms race, while Washingtonclaims a national missile defense system would be designed to shoot downa few missiles launched by a rogue nation. It argues the system would notwork against the kind of massive attack that Russia is capable of launching.

The Russian leader also praised Russian-Japanese relations, particularlyin trade.

Russian-Japanese relations have improved in the last few years, butare still soured by a dispute over the Kuril Islands. Russia seized theKurils from Japan at the end of World War II, but both countries stillclaim the islands.

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