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Nuclear News 12/20/99
RANSAC Nuclear News, 20 December 1999


A.  Russian Nuclear Forces

    1. Russia Says Threshold Lower For Nuclear Weapons, MartinNesirky, Reuters (12/17/99)
B.  Nuclear Waste
    1. Spent Fuel Storage Barge On Fire, Igor Kudrik, Bellona(12/17/99)
    2. IN BRIEF: Radioactive Finding, Associated Press (12/18/99)
C.  Nuclear Power Industry
    1. Soviet-Built Nukes Not Y2K Ready, Experts Say, Reuters(12/17/99)
    2. Nuclear Workers Picket Russian White House, RFE/RL(12/20/99)
D.  Plutonium Disposition
    1. Decision Expected Friday In Plutonium Shipment Dispute,Lisa Singhania, Associated Press (12/16/99)
E.  Russian Elections
    1. Russian Voters Back New Party, David Hoffman, WashingtonPost (12/20/99)

A. Russian Nuclear Forces

1.
Russia Says Threshold Lower For Nuclear Weapons
        Martin Nesirky
        Reuters
        December 17, 1999
        (for personal use only)

MOSCOW, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Russia marked the 40th anniversary of itsnuclear forces on Friday with lavish praise and a stark warning that Moscowhad been forced to lower the threshold for using atomic weapons.

Russia is no longer a superpower but still has the world's second-largestnuclear arsenal of hundreds of missiles based on land, in prowling submarinesand aboard long-range aircraft.

``Today, many thousands of missile troops are successfully carryingout a task of state importance,'' President Boris Yeltsin said in a message.

In interviews in Krasnaya Zvezda and the weekly Nezavisimoye VoyennoyeObozreniye, missile chief Vladimir Yakovlev made clear Russia's economiccrisis and new security threats had prompted a dramatic rethink about thenuclear deterrent.

``Russia, for objective reasons, is forced to lower the threshold forusing nuclear weapons, extend the nuclear deterrent to smaller-scale conflictsand openly warn potential opponents about this,'' he said in Krasnaya Zvezda.

The colonel-general said the reasons behind the shift were Russia'sfinancial crisis -- which has meant rocket forces receive about half thefunds they need -- and the emergence of regional powers armed with missilesand nuclear technology.

Officials have long said Russia is using its nuclear umbrella to letmilitary reforms proceed beneath. But Yakovlev's comments were unusuallyblunt in setting out that Moscow is prepared to use its nuclear arms ifattacked with chemical or biological weapons or outnumbered by conventionalforces.

He told Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye Russia would continue to replaceold arms with new Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missiles. Last week,Russia deployed a second batch of 10 and test-fired a silo-based Topol-M.

Defence experts say Russia may test-launch a mobile Topol-M early nextyear. Yakovlev said further down the line, an aircraft-based cruise versioncould be developed and more emphasis put on using space technology.

Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev and Russian Orthodox Patriarch AlexiyII joined Yakovlev and Yeltsin in congratulating the Strategic Rocket Forces,which have an unusually high number of servicewomen -- some 20,000, a seventhof the total in the entire armed forces.

``Not everyone can carry the heavy load of true service in the missileforces,'' the patriarch said in Krasnaya Zvezda, which was devoted to theanniversary and even printed half a page of poetry about nuclear weapons.

In the Soviet era, nuclear forces were a bastion of Communist orthodoxy.Now, Christian icons dedicated to the forces' patron saint, St Barbara,hang in the command centre.

``With our shield ready for a fight, we have warded off a war,'' reada line of the poetry in Krasnaya Zvezda. ``We have our hopes and love butRussia's interests go before.''

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B. Nuclear Waste

1.
Spent Fuel Storage Barge On Fire
        Igor Kudrik
        Bellona
        December 17, 1999
        (for personal use only)

Submarine spent fuel storage barge catches fire in the Pacific.

The PM-80 storage barge for submarine spent nuclear fuel caught fire.Four cabins were destroyed. The fire was caused by an electric short circuit.The barge (Project 326) is based at Primorye in the Russian Far East andbelongs to the Russian Pacific Fleet.

The information about the incident was reported by the local dailyVladivostokwith a reference to unofficial sources in the Pacific Fleet. PM-80 wasbuilt in 1964 and has been taken out of service. The barge had reportedlyaround 100 spent fuel assemblies onboard. The fire was put out by the crewand led to no casualties.

The Russian Navy has eight Project-326 barges split evenly between theNorthern and Pacific Fleet. Each barge is capable of holding 80 containersfor a total of 560 spent fuel assemblies. The barges are also outfittedwith three storage tanks for liquid radioactive waste. The total volumeis 230 cubic meters. The average age of the barges is more than 30 years.

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2.
IN BRIEF: Radioactive Finding
        Associated Press
        December 18, 1999
        (for personal use only)

MOSCOW -- Police found one ton of radioactive steel on the outskirtsof a closed city that is home to one of Russia's largest defense complexes,Itar-Tass said Friday.

The steel, found in a canal near the Mayak defense plant in Ozyorsk,emanated radioactivity of 500 microroentgen an hour, 50 times above normallevels.

Mayak spokesman Yevgeny Ryzhkov said the steel would only pose a dangerto human health in the case of prolonged exposure.

Police suspected thieves had taken the steel in hopes of selling itas scrap but then got rid of it once they found out it was radioactive,Itar-Tass said.

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C. Nuclear Power Industry

1.
Soviet-Built Nukes Not Y2K Ready, Experts Say
        Reuters
        December 17, 1999
        (for personal use only)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Many Soviet-designed nuclear power plants areunprepared for the Year 2000 but no systems with immediate impact on safetyare in danger of failing because of the Y2K computer glitch, a UnitedNations-backedinternational clearinghouse for Y2K data said Thursday.

Of the 68 reactor units in the nine countries of the former Soviet Union,"many ... contain non-safety related systems that are not yet Y2K compliant,"the International Y2K Cooperation Center said.

Bruce McConnell, the center's director, cited the Vienna-based InternationalAtomic Energy Agency as saying 14 of the plants of greatest concern arein Ukraine and one is in Armenia.

The report did not spell out exactly how many were lagging nor theirlocations but referred to "the urgent need for (upgrade) work to continueand for adequate funds to be made available."

"Contingency plans are in place," said the report on the readiness ofnuclear plants worldwide for the century rollover.

At issue are possible automated system mix-ups when 1999 ticks into2000 on Jan. 1. Many computers were engineered to handle only two digitsfor the year in date fields and could err or crash when "00" arrives.

Soviet-designed nuclear power plants have been a constant focus ofinternationalY2K concern, partly because of the 1986 accident at Chernobyl's No. 4 reactor.The world's worst nuclear disaster, it spewed radiation over large partsof Europe.

In advanced nuclear power plants, digital systems control operationsand monitor temperature and possible leaks. Soviet-designed models involve"very few" date-sensitive components, the International Y2K CooperationCenter said.

The center, which is based in Washington and funded by the World Bank,said Y2K-related errors could "reduce the ability of operators to analyzeand respond" to equipment problems and "degrade overall plant performancein the weeks following the date change."

"Over time, such a degradation in performance would reduce the marginsof safety and efficiency in these plants," it said.

The report -- which billed itself as having been reviewed by nuclearexperts around the world -- described grass-roots calls for a general Y2Kshutdown as "understandable."

But, it said, "We do not believe this step is generally necessary."

"Shutdowns create their own risks. In addition, we note that keepingplants on-line increases the stability of the electrical distribution grid.

"Because of the extensive Y2K work that has been done and the increasedstaffing and monitoring of nuclear power plant operations over the datechange period, we do not believe there is a net safety benefit to a generalshut down ... during the period," the report said.

Overall, it said nuclear power plants worldwide "will operate as safelyas they normally do" during the date change and the days following.

The Vienna-based IAEA, the world's nuclear watchdog, will enhance itsnormal warning and emergency notification system during the date change.It will poll its contacts in member states shortly after each country entersthe new year.

In addition, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Developmentand the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission have developed a Y2K Early WarningSystem, dubbed YEWS.

YEWS is designed to let nuclear regulators share information on thestatus of nuclear facility operations, local grid stability andtelecommunicationsduring the date transition.

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2.
Nuclear Workers Picket Russian White House
        RFE/RL
        December 20, 1999
        (for personal use only)

Workers from the Kalinin nuclear power station on 17 December picketedRussian government headquarters to demand payment of their back wages,ITAR-TASS reported. They said that non-payment of wages threatened thesafety of their plant's operation.

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D. Plutonium Disposition

1.
Decision Expected Friday In Plutonium Shipment Dispute
        Lisa Singhania
        Associated Press
        December 16, 1999
        (for personal use only)

Federal judge in Kalamazoo considers request for injunction to blockshipment.

The fate of a proposed plutonium shipment to Canada through Michiganwill likely hinge on the applicability of American environmental law incases involving foreign countries, a federal judge in Kalamazoo indicatedWednesday.

Chief Judge Richard Enslen said he will rule Friday on a request toextend a temporary restraining order he issued last week and grant a preliminaryinjunction blocking the shipment which contains 4.2 ounces – about 119grams - of plutonium.

The transport is part of the Parallex Project, a joint American-Russianexperiment to process mixed oxide fuel, a mixture of plutonium and uranium,from each country at a Canadian nuclear reactor. The fuel will be irradiatedso the plutonium cannot be used in weapons.

The United States is spending more than $20 million to pay for the entireproject, including Russian and Canadian costs.

The Department of Energy says the test is a key component in its nucleardisarmament efforts with Russia. But the six individuals and environmentalgroup who are suing the government contend the transport cannot legallyproceed because only an environmental assessment has been made, insteadof a more exhaustive environmental impact statement that they believe thelaw requires.

During the second and final day of the preliminary injunction hearingWednesday, the judge suggested his ruling will focus on the limits of U.S.law in a case that involves an experiment in Canada with plutonium fromRussia.

Enslen said he also must decide that - if the DOE violated the law -whether that violation would be serious enough to warrant a preliminaryinjunction without harming national security interests.

The DOE maintains that a more extensive study is unnecessary becausethe proposal involves a one-time shipment of a very small quantity ofradioactivematerial in a guarded, armored truck to another country for processing.

The shipment also constitutes a vital national interest because it makesgood on a commitment President Clinton made to Russian President BorisYeltsin last year, said Laura Holgate, director of the agency's Officeof Fissile Materials Disposition.

The processing is one of the ways the United States and Russia areconsideringfor disposing of their surplus plutonium.

A failure to ship the fuel "would be perceived as backing away fromour words," Holgate told the court Wednesday.

Another government witness told the court that the U.S. shipment isadequately protected, and he has no reason to believe the Russian shipmentwon't be as well.

But the plaintiffs contend the one-time shipment has to be taken incontext of broader U.S. efforts to encourage the Russians to dispose ofsurplus weapons-grade plutonium.

In addition to any safety or environmental risks that might be associatedwith the U.S. shipment, the plaintiffs say Americans stand to be affectedby the Russian shipment of mixed oxide fuel for the experiment, which willlikely travel to Canada along the Saint Lawrence Seaway.

They fear the experiment will pave the way for the Russians to sendtons of plutonium up the river to Canada, although the federal governmentsays no such plans exist.

They also point to the millions of dollars the U.S. government is spendingto subsidize the Parallex project, as well as other options for Russianplutonium disposition, as evidence the DOE's commitment warrants a morein-depth environmental study.

In court Wednesday, a witness for the plaintiffs told the court he seesno real scientific value.

"Already in Canada, we have a lot of experience with mixed oxide fuel,"said Dr. Gordon Edwards of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility,a Montreal-based nuclear watchdog group. "The purpose of this appears tobe to get experience with weapons-grade plutonium to prepare for industrialexperience. I can't see any other justification if there's not hope ofa larger program."

On Tuesday, the plaintiffs called two witnesses who both told the courtthat the government is understating the risks of transporting the plutoniumand irradiating it in Canada.

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E. Russian Elections

1.
Russian Voters Back New Party
        David Hoffman
        Washington Post
        December 20, 1999
        (for personal use only)

Gains by Centrists Over Communists Could Promote Reforms, Boost Putin

MOSCOW, Dec. 20 (Monday)—A new political party backed by the Kremlinand Prime Minister Vladimir Putin scored an unexpected success in electionsfor the lower house of parliament, as centrist and reformist parties madegains that could enable them to displace the Communists as the chamber'sdominant political force, early returns showed today.

The outcome of Sunday's election for the State Duma appeared to be yetanother major boost for Putin, who has earned wide public support in thelast four months as he has vigorously prosecuted a military offensive againstChechen separatists in southern Russia.

The vote could help solidify Putin's standing as the heir apparent toBoris Yeltsin in next summer's presidential election and lead to a new,more cooperative relationship between the Kremlin and parliament afteryears of stalemate between Yeltsin and the Communists.

The early results take into account only the half of the 450-memberchamber that is elected according to lists provided by political parties.Results for the other half, elected in individual districts, will becomeknown in coming days; candidates in these races often run as independents,then choose their factions as the new parliament is formed.

With 67.33 percent of the ballots counted early today, the Unity party,the new group endorsed by Putin, had 24.94 percent of the vote. The Communists,who had formed the largest faction in the last parliament, were slightlyahead with 24.98 percent.

Among parties likely to enter the next Duma, the Fatherland-All Russiaparty, headed by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and former prime minister YevgenyPrimakov, was in third place with 9.97 percent. The Union of Right Forces,a free-market party headed by another former prime minister, Sergei Kiriyenko,was next with 8.71 percent. Ultranationalist legislator Vladimir Zhirinovsky'sbloc had won 6.42 percent of the vote, while the centrist Yabloko party,headed by Grigory Yavlinsky, had 5.93 percent. A party must win a minimumof 5 percent of the vote to gain representation in the Duma.

Election officials said the turnout was 60 percent, slightly less thanthe 64 percent who voted four years ago, but far more than the 36 percentturnout in the last U.S. congressional election.

Created just a few months ago by a coterie of Kremlin aides, the Unityparty was the center of national attention after early returns foreshadowedits  strong showing. The party had so little in the way of staff,platforms and experience that it has been dubbed a "virtual party" by somecritics. It seemed to be disorganized even in victory; none of its leadersappeared at its election headquarters to bask in its startling success.

The party slate is headed by Sergei Shoigu, the minister for emergencysituations--natural disasters, for example--who previously had played norole in national elective politics. Its other top two candidates were AlexanderKarelin, a champion wrestler, and Alexander Gurov, a law enforcement officialunder the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev.

It was Putin's recent endorsement of Unity that sent its poll ratingssoaring. Putin was the "basic reason" the party did so well, said reformerAnatoly Chubais, who worked as top strategist for the Union of Right Forces.Without Putin, he added, "such results would have been hardly possible."

Putin, a KGB veteran who was appointed by Yeltsin on Aug. 9, now enjoysthe highest public opinion ratings of a presidential hopeful since Yeltsinin 1991.

Putin had also lent his support to the Kiriyenko party, and his influenceproved powerful today, even though he was not on the ballot.

"No one is afraid of the Communists any more and no one wants to bein opposition to Putin," said Michael McFaul of the Moscow Center of theCarnegie Endowment for International Peace. He said the election outcomewould give Putin "a perfect platform on which to launch a campaign" forthe presidency.

"Unity is indeed the party of power," acknowledged Kiriyenko, whoseown brief tenure as prime minister in 1998 was characterized by conflictwith parliament. "It gives the government possibilities to act constructively.Previously, if the government wanted to do something, it had to do it ina roundabout way. It could not get anything done directly."

Kiriyenko predicted that his party of young reformers would be ableto join with Unity and Yabloko and others to form a centrist majority inthe Duma--"a majority that will be ready to cooperate with the governmentand pass the necessary laws." But analysts said that any comprehensivecalculations about the makeup of the next parliament will have to awaitthe
outcome of the elections in individual districts, the results of whichwere uncertain early today.

In the last Duma, the Communists were the largest bloc, and when their158 seats were combined with allied groups they could often control theoutcome of legislation. A bill needs 225 votes to pass on first reading;300 votes are needed to override a presidential veto.

However, a rearrangement of parliamentary forces seemed certain afterSunday's vote. The party backed by the Kremlin in the last election—OurHome is Russia, headed by then-prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin—camein third in the 1995 vote but failed to win enough votes this time to qualifyfor seats in the chamber.

Preliminary returns also suggested that Yavlinsky's Yabloko--the mostpro-Western party in parliament, which had often cast itself in oppositionto Yeltsin--had lost some public support. The party won 6.8 percent ofthe voting for slates in 1995 but also did well in individual races andheld 45 seats in the last parliament. Several weeks ago, however, Yavlinskyexpressed
doubts about the offensive in Chechnya, and this apparently cost himat the ballot box, especially among hawkish younger voters.

The results also were a disappointment for Luzhkov and Primakov, whoseaspirations seemed to be riding high last summer. There was speculationthen that either or both of them might run for president and that theirparty could dominate parliament. But they ran a poor campaign and alsowere subjected to a no-holds-barred smear campaign by Kremlin aides andbusiness tycoon Boris Berezovsky, a power broker close to Yeltsin's innercircle.

Nonetheless, their Fatherland-All Russia party appears to have won atoehold in the Duma. Luzhkov also was reelected Moscow mayor by a largemargin, suggesting that he has preserved his local political base.

Gennady Seleznov, a Communist who was speaker of the Duma in the lastsession, was elected governor of the Moscow region. In Russia's Far East,Yevgeny Nazdratenko, a controversial and authoritarian figure, was reelectedgovernor of the huge Primorsky region.

Also unexpected today was the reappearance of the "young reformers"in parliament in the party headed by Kiriyenko. They had failed to winparty seats in the last election because of public disenchantment withmarket reform measures they had pushed, and at the outset of this yearmany thought they had little chance of crossing the 5 percent barrier.Today, Kiriyenko said, "We proved that liberal ideology is alive."

Rallying under the banner of "the Right Cause," the reformers targetedyoung voters using Western techniques. Chubais, the architect of Russia'smass privatization program, and now chief executive of the state electricityutility, said, "At the very beginning we were told, 'You guys will allget yourself buried in the same mass grave, and your cause is not the rightcause but a dead cause.' But we kept working . . ."

Chubais also seized on support for the war in Chechnya as a campaignissue, declaring his strong support for Putin and the military offensive.

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