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Nuclear News - 02/14/00
RANSAC Nuclear News, 14 February 2000

A.  Core Conversion

    1. Russian Reactor Project Troubled Moscow Wants to Halt ConversionTo Civilian Use, Michael Dobbs, Washington Post (02/13/00)
    2. Russia To Abandon Nuclear Project Negotiated By Gore,Agence France Presse (02/14/00)
B.  Nuclear Waste
    1. Russia May Quit Reprocessing But End Up With More NuclearWaste, Igor Kudrik, Bellona (02/11/00)
    2. Raid Called Illegal, Associated Press (02/12/00)
    1. Russia Warned Tactical Nukes Could Threaten START III,Agence France Presse, (02/12/00)
D.  Russian Nuclear Forces
    1. Navy To Lease Nuclear-Capable Bombers From Russia, JosyJoseph, (02/09/00)

A. Core Conversion

Russian Reactor Project Troubled Moscow Wants to Halt ConversionTo Civilian Use
        Michael Dobbs
        Washington Post
        February 13, 2000
        (for personal use only)

The Russian government has told the Clinton administration it wantsto abandon a joint project to convert its remaining military atomic reactorsto purely civilian use because of delays, sharp cost overruns and warningsby nuclear experts of a possible Chernobyl-type catastrophe.

The project, announced as a "historic" achievement in 1997 after itwas negotiated between Vice President Gore and then-Russian Prime MinisterViktor Chernomyrdin, has formed a centerpiece of the Clinton administration'sarms control efforts. The agreement committed Russia to halting the productionof weapons-grade plutonium by the end of this year, ridding the world ofenough fissile material for nearly 400 new nuclear weapons every year.

Under the plan hammered out by Russian and American experts, the UnitedStates was to help Russia convert the cores of three atomic reactors sothey would no longer produce plutonium. The relatively low cost of theproject--around $80 million--enabled the administration to sell the planto a Congress skeptical of foreign assistance.

But two weeks ago, with costs spiraling and an increasingly unrealisticdeadline approaching, Russian atomic energy officials informed a visitingU.S. delegation of a surprising change in their position. Instead of convertingthe reactor cores, Russia now proposes to shut them down entirely. Energyneeds for the cities in which the reactors are located would be providedby conventional sources at a total cost of $230 million, the bulk of which,under the Russian plan, would be paid by the United States.

Clinton administration officials said they are studying the new proposal,but expressed skepticism about the projected cost, which is significantlylower than previous estimates. They acknowledged that the timetable forRussia joining a moratorium on the production of weapons-grade plutoniumhas slipped back to at least 2004, whether or not Moscow's latest planis adopted.

Independent American experts welcomed the Russian decision to abandonthe increasingly controversial plan to convert the aging reactor cores,and called on the Clinton administration to follow suit.

"This is a project that was very well intentioned but has been bungledin implementation to the point where killing it might be the best thingfor nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear safety," said Alan Kuperman, aconsultant with the Nuclear Control Institute, an independent Washingtonthink tank that has accused the administration of "an indefensible wasteof taxpayer dollars."

For some experts, the story of the U.S.-Russia plutonium negotiationsis a case study of the pitfalls of post-Cold War nuclear diplomacy, whichhave been exacerbated by the Russian economic crisis and the sometimesbyzantine process of American political decision-making.

"It illustrates both the difficulty of dealing with the Russians andthe lack of sustained White House attention, after the initial high-levelannouncement," said Matthew Bunn, a nuclear expert at Harvard Universityand former White House official dealing with nonproliferation.

The difficulties in implementing the moratorium on weapons-grade, militaryplutonium come at a time when the Clinton administration is encouragingRussia to halt production of the smaller quantities of plutonium generatedby its civilian nuclear power industry. Last week, the Department of Energyunveiled a new $100 million plan to construct storage plants for spentfuel from Russian civilian reactors that would otherwise be converted intoplutonium.

Despite the slashing of nuclear arsenals following the demise of theSoviet Union in 1991, Russia continues to produce 1.5 tons of weapons-gradeplutonium a year in three reactors. The Russians have long taken the positionthat the reactors could not be shut down immediately because, in additionto plutonium, they also produce energy for the heating and lighting needsof the Siberian cities of Seversk (formerly Tomsk-7) and Zheleznogorsk(formerly Krasnoyarsk-26).

The joint U.S.-Russian project envisaged converting the reactor coresfrom natural uranium, which produces plutonium when irradiated, to highlyenriched uranium, or HEU. After some debate, the Clinton administrationembraced the core conversion plan as the quickest and most cost-effectivemethod of halting weapons-grade plutonium production in Russia.

The project got bogged down from the start in bureaucratic rivalriesbetween the Department of Defense and Department of Energy, both of whichhave been involved in nonproliferation efforts in the former Soviet Union.Under a complex division of authority, the Pentagon eventually was maderesponsible for funding the conversion project, with the Energy Departmentproviding technical expertise.

After the collapse of the ruble in 1998, the Russian Atomic Energy Ministrybalked at paying its share of the rapidly escalating cost of the project.As a result, the U.S. share of the costs expanded from $80 million to around$300 million.

American nuclear experts who had earlier championed the moratorium onplutonium production started worrying that the conversion of the plantswould create large-scale commerce in Russia in HEU fuel elements, whichcan themselves be used for building nuclear weapons. Some experts believethat the proliferation threat posed by the production and transportationof hundreds of thousands of HEU elements to the converted facilities wouldhave been as serious as any threat posed by the continued production ofplutonium.

One of the leading opponents of the core conversion plan was Frank vonHippel, a physicist at Princeton University who had served as a scienceadviser to President Clinton. At a White House meeting last December, vonHippel told Gore foreign policy adviser Leon Fuerth that converting thereactors to HEU would "probably be worse" in terms of proliferation thandoing nothing. He called instead for the reactors to be converted tolow-enricheduranium, which cannot be used in nuclear weapons.

Perhaps the most damaging blow to the conversion project came from Russiannuclear regulators who warned of the possibility of a Chernobyl-type disasterif the plan went ahead. The two reactors at Seversk and the one at Zheleznogorskare precursors to the reactor that blew up in Chernobyl in 1986, with manyof the same underlying defects. Radiation has caused massive cracking inthe aging reactor cores, which now have to be held together with straps.

Adding credibility to these concerns is the fact that the deputy headof the Russian nuclear regulatory organization, Alexander Dmitriev, hasintimate experience with Chernobyl-type reactors and their design flaws.In conversations with American experts, Dmitriev described the reactorsas "my children" and warned that they could be further destabilized asa result of the technically unpredictable conversion process.

At first glance, the new Russian proposal to shut down the reactorsaltogether in favor of alternative sources of energy would appear to letthe U.S. administration off the hook. If the Russian cost estimates areaccurate, the United States will pay less than the $300 million that hasnow been tentatively earmarked for the conversion project. But some officials,particularly at the Pentagon, are worried that the latest Russian plancould cost more than the proposed $230 million.

"We have real questions about the $230 million figure," said a seniorPentagon official, noting that Congress so far has authorized only $115million for the project, of which $22 million has been spent.

When U.S. officials originally looked at constructing conventional powerplants in Seversk and Zheleznogorsk, they concluded that they might costas much as $1 billion, which would be virtually impossible to sell to Congress.Since then, however, the Russians have come up with less ambitious proposalsfor alternative power sources. Zheleznogorsk, in particular, boasts anabundance of hydroelectric power that could be harnessed at relativelylow cost.

Administration officials said the next step would be to commission anindependent study of the costs of supplying conventional energy to thetwo cities, and to hold further meetings with the Russian Atomic EnergyMinistry in mid-March. Meanwhile, the U.S. government has formally suspendedimplementation of the core conversion plan until a decision is reachedon how to proceed.

The Plutonium File

A U.S.-Russian plan to help Russia convert its military atomic reactorsto exclusively civilian use is unraveling. Russia makes enough plutoniuma year to produce hundreds of nuclear bombs, and the purpose of the planwas to help Russia halt production of fissile materials.

Estimated plutonium stockpiles, in tons

Military:        130
Civilian:         30
Total:           160
United States*
Military:       100 tons
Civilian:        0
Total:          100 tons
All other countries
Military:        10 tons
Civilian:         0
Total:           10 tons

How much plutonium is needed to make a nuclear weapon?

- The atomic bomb that destroyed Nagasaki in 1945 contained 13 poundsof plutonium.
- According to the Department of Energy, it is now possible to makea bomb with roughly 8 pounds of plutonium.
- Some U.S. scientists believe that 2 pounds of plutonium will suffice.
- Russia is producing 2.5 tons (or 5,000 pounds) of military and civilianplutonium a year. By the conservative estimates of the Department of Energy,this is sufficient to make 625 nuclear weapons. In other words, since theend of the Cold War, Russia has produced enough plutonium to make morethan 6,000 nuclear weapons.

*1 The United States does not produce plutonium for civilian purposes.

SOURCES: Matthew Bunn, Harvard University

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Russia To Abandon Nuclear Project Negotiated By Gore
        Agence France Presse
        February 14, 2000
        (for personal use only)

WASHINGTON, Feb 14, 2000 -- (Agence France Presse) Russia has notifiedthe United States that it wants to abandon a controversial nuclear reactorconversion project negotiated by Vice President Al Gore, The WashingtonPost reported Sunday.

The $80-million project called for U.S. assistance to Russia in convertingthe cores of three reactors in the Siberian cities of Seversk and Zheleznogorskso they would no longer produce plutonium.

However, Russian officials informed a visiting U.S. delegation two weeksago that their position with regard to the reactors had changed, the newspaperreported.

Moscow now proposes to shut the reactors down altogether and use conventionalresources to meet the cities' energy needs, according to The Post.

But the cost of the revised project would rise to $230 million payableunder the Russian plan, primarily by the United States, the report said.

The original conversion project was negotiated in 1997 by Gore andthen-RussianPrime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and was presented at that time as abreakthrough in efforts to control nuclear proliferation.

But after the 1998 collapse of the ruble the cost of implementing theaccord rose to about $300 million, according to The Post.

In addition, Russian scientists have warned that the aging Chernobyl-typereactors may not able to withstand conversion, which could result in anuclear catastrophe, the paper reported.

Given all of the problems associated with the original plan, independentU.S. nuclear experts believe that the Russian decision may be for the best,according to The Post.

The paper quotes Alan Kuperman, a consultant with the Nuclear ControlInstitute, an independent think tank, as saying that the original project"has been bungled in implementation to the point where killing it mightbe the best thing for nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear safety."

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B. Nuclear Waste

Russia May Quit Reprocessing But End Up With More Nuclear Waste
        Igor Kudrik
        February 11, 2000
        (for personal use only)

U.S. Department of Energy tries to get Russia to halt reprocessing thatgenerates plutonium; Russian Ministry of Nuclear Energy is indecisive butmay turn the Energy Department's initiative to work for foreign spent fuelimport project.

U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) has announced a new deal with RussianMinistry of Nuclear Energy, or Minatom, that might end reprocessing ofspent nuclear fuel at the Mayak plant in the southern Urals. The agreementis aimed at securing of Russia's huge civilian stockpile of plutonium,The New York Times reported.

In 1998 alone, Energy Department officials said, Russia's 29 civilianreactors produced 789 metric tons of spent fuel. Fuel from Russia's VVER-440and BN-600 reactors, as well as maritime PWR reactors is sent to the Mayakplant for reprocessing. The outcome of the reprocessing is the so-calledenergy plutonium and uranium. Minatom says it plans to use the plutoniumas a nuclear fuel, but the reactors designed for that are yet to be developed.On the other hand, the energy plutonium can as well be used to make nuclearweapon - the matter of serious concern for the U.S.

The United States through Co-operative Threat Reduction program hasbeen working to secure Russian stocks of weapons grade plutonium since1992. Department of Energy has now come up with the initiative that shouldprevent the energy plutonium falling into the wrong hands. The currentRussia's stockpiles of the energy plutonium, roughly estimated to be ashigh as 30 tons, are enough to make around 3.000 nuclear devices.

The incentive offered by DoE to Minatom is a $100 million joint researchand aid package. The package will include, given Congress approves, $20million for long-term joint research into devising civilian reactors andfuel, $5 million for research into the design and development of a permanentgeological repository to store spent nuclear fuel. $45 million for thedry storage site and security upgrades for the stockpiles of civilian plutoniumand $30 million for new efforts to safeguard material from the militarysector.

Minatom indecisive
But the bulk of the money, $75 million, will be given in exchange forRussia's decision to halt reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. This particularprecondition is quite a painful matter for Minatom. In an interview withThe New York Times Yevgeny Adamov, the Russian nuclear minister, said thatthe energy plutonium is a valuable raw material for production of plutoniumreactor fuel. He added, however, that Russia could declare a two-decademoratorium for fuel reprocessing. During the moratorium, spent fuel willbe placed in a dry store funded by the United States. The location of thedry storage facility is not determined, but Adamov, according to The NewYork Times, was leaning towards Krasnoyarsk-26 - a closed city where Russiahas a wet storage for VVER-1000 type reactors and half-built new reprocessingplant RT-2.

Officials at Minatom would not comment on Adamov's words when reachedby Bellona Web. They said their boss was to make a statement on it. Thestatement came indeed few days later and had been apparently cooked forthe domestic consumption. In an article published in Russian daily NezavisimayaGazeta, Adamov said that no agreement had been reached so far regardingthe DoE's initiative and no negotiations had been held on this subject."There is just a mutual understanding between our to countries [Russiaand the U.S.] on some questions in the nuclear field, including measuresto prevent accumulation of separated plutonium at storage sites."

In addition, Adamov said a regular thing that Washington would be wrongto believe that a $100 million assistance package would prompt Russia tohalt construction of a VVER-1000 reactor in Iran - a project that couldbe worth up to $1 billion. The U.S. has been quite nervous about the projectbelieving that it would help Iran to develop its military nuclear potential.

The Mayak plant administration reacted negatively on the DoE's initiative."We are strongly opposing this agreement," Aleksandr Suslov, deputy managerof Mayak, said to AIV, the local environmental group. "This [reprocessing]is our work and bread, we don't need doles," Suslov added.

Paving the way for spent fuel import
Regardless Adamov's sentiments in terms of reprocessing - the practiceranked by Minatom to top the list of Russia's "national prides" and referredto as economically profitable - accepting the deal from DoE would meanthat fuel imports project proceeds as Minatom wants.

The project to ship 10,000 metric tons of foreign spent fuel to Russiaand to lease storage space there for up to 40 years was initiated by AmericanNon-Proliferation Trust, (NPT). The proceeds of the lease, according toNPT, would pay for design and construction of the central Russian radwasteand spent fuel repository, for remediation of radioactively contaminatedareas in Russia and for social projects. NPT plans to raise between $6billion and $15 billion from wealthy industrialised nations trying to getthemselves rid of their spent fuel. NPT guaranteed that the fuel wouldnot be reprocessed to avoid conflict with U.S. non-proliferation policy.Minatom later expanded the proposal suggesting to ship in an unlimitedamount of fuel and argued in favour of reprocessing. Once Minatom givesits consent for moratorium on reprocessing, the projects would seem tohave no roadblocks to go on.

Currently DOE and Minatom are working on a white paper that would examinethe fuel import project. The white paper is scheduled to be completed byMarch 2000.

Should the white paper favour the project, the final drawback to removewould be the Russian environmental legislation that prohibits import ofradioactive materials into the country. Last  year, Minatom made severalunsuccessful attempts to get the Russian State Duma, the lower house ofparliament, to emend the legislation. This year, the process will be easedoff due to the fact the Duma's Environmental Committee is headed by a groupof Minatom's lobbyists.

The question remains, however, whether the United States Congress willbe pleased just by the Minatom's promise of declare moratorium on reprocessingor will demand a full halt in exchange for $100 million assistance package.

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Raid Called Illegal
        Associated Press
        February 12, 2000
        (for personal use only)

VLADIVOSTOK, Far East -- A Vladivostok court on Friday ruled that aFederal Security Service raid on a nuclear physicist's home was illegal.

FSB agents raided nuclear physicist Vladimir Soifer's home last summerand seized documents and letters regarding his investigation of the PacificFleet's practice of dumping nuclear waste in the Sea of Japan, which theyclaimed were classified.

The Vladivostok court said the search was illegal because security agentshad seized 38 items from Soifer's apartment. It ordered the return of allthe items.

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Russia Warned Tactical Nukes Could Threaten START III
        Agence France Presse
        February 12, 2000
        (for personal use only)

WASHINGTON, Feb 12, 2000 -- (Agence France Presse) A US senator on Fridaywarned Russia that failing to follow through on pledges to cut its tacticalnuclear weapons stock could threaten Congressional passage of an envisionedstrategic arms reduction pact.

Democratic Senator Kent Conrad urged Secretary of State Madeleine Albrightand other US officials to continue to press Moscow to live up to vows madeby then-president Boris Yeltsin in 1991 and 1992 on the matter.

"I think that we should send a very clear message to the Russians thatthis issue can threaten any START III accord," Conrad told Albright, whowas testifying before the Senate Budget Committee.

Conrad cited a Pentagon official as telling him that Russia still hasbetween 7,000 and 12,000 tactical nuclear weapons while the United States,following separate but parallel initiatives by Yeltsin and then-US PresidentGeorge Bush to drastically cut back on such equipment, had only 1,600.

Conrad said concerns over tactical nuclear weapons will only mount,when the two sides begin implementing the START II treaty and discuss afollow-up accord, START III.

START II, which stipulates reductions in nuclear warheads to 3,000 forRussia and 3,500 for the United States, was signed in 1993 by Yeltsin andBush, and was ratified by the US Senate in 1996. The Russian Duma has yetto ratify the accord but may do so in the coming months.

"As the number of strategic weapons comes down dramatically and we facethe prospect of even deeper cuts in strategic systems, the disparity intactical systems can become a strategic consideration," said Conrad.

"I can tell you this disparity is going to have a lot (of impact on)what we do and I think that other senators, as we discuss this, will alsohave a concern."

Albright said that while the 1991-92 pledges on both sides had not beenlegally binding and were not subject to inspections, Washington had infact reduced its tactical weapons in Europe by 80 percent.

She acknowledged that Russia had not so far lived up to its part ofthe bargain but said she and others were pushing Moscow to do so.

"We continue to be concerned about symmetry in tactical weapons," shesaid. "The Clinton administration has been pressing the Russian governmentfor clarification."

She added, though, that Moscow has been taking steps to reduce its nuclearstockpile and noted the success of US programs designed to keep Russianmilitary technology and equipment from being sold or traded to rogue states.

Albright also mentioned an agreement reached earlier this week betweenWashington and Moscow on a 100-million-dollar US scheme to prevent furtherstockpiling of plutonium processed from waste produced by civilian nuclearreactors.

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D. Russian Nuclear Forces

Navy To Lease Nuclear-Capable Bombers From Russia
        Josy Joseph
        February 9, 2000
        (for personal use only)

The Indian Navy proposes to lease at least four long-rangebomber-cum-reconnaissanceaircraft capable of undertaking nuclear strikes.

If the negotiation with the Russian Navy succeeds, the Tupolev-22M3will be the first system with the Indian Navy capable of delivering nuclearweapons.

According to sources, the navy proposes to lease at least four Tu-22M3planes to make up for the absence of its long-range and medium-rangereconnaissanceaircraft, which are slated to return to Russia for upgradation.

At present, the navy has eight Tu-142 long-range reconnaissance aircraftand five IL-38 medium-range reconnaissance aircraft. But these are to goback to Russia later this year for an upgrade, which includes the installationof better sensors, radars and improved electronic warfare systems. Theanti-submarine and anti-ship capabilities of both types of aircraft willalso be upgraded. There is also speculation that during the refit, theaircraft may be fitted with Kh-35 missiles, but that has not been decidedyet.

According to naval sources, the leasing of the Tu-22M3 would help familiarisenaval personnel with a nuclear-capable delivery system, though the aircraftwill come without nuclear weapons, and the Indian Navy too does not possessany at the moment.

The proposal for leasing Tu-22M3 aircraft was initially made duringthe visit of Russian Premier Yevgeny Primakov last year. A final agreementis yet to be reached. But sources said the proposal is to lease the aircraftfor about four years. The cash-starved Russian Navy has indicated thatit is also ready to sell the aircraft to the Indian Navy if the latterwants to continue with them. "No final decision has yet been arrived at,"a senior naval officer said.

The Tu-22M3 is an advanced long-range bomber and maritime version ofthe Tu-22M, the twin-engined medium-range bomber and maritime reconnaissanceand attack aircraft. The Tu-22M3 was first deployed with the Black SeaFleet of the erstwhile Soviet Air Force in 1985.

The original aircraft has a rotary launcher in the weapons bay for sixKh-15P (AS-16) short-range attack missiles and a provision for four moreunderwing as an alternative to the standard two Kh-22 missiles. It alsohas a single GSh-23 twin-barrelled 23mm gun.

The aircraft can carry out nuclear strikes, a conventional attack andanti-ship missions. Besides, the low-level penetration features of thenaval version ensure better survivability than all earlier Tupolev planes.

The Russian Air Force has about 100 of these aircraft while the navalaviation wing has 165. The plane has a flying range of 1,500 to 2,200 kilometresdepending on payload. It can carry up to 12 tonnes of bombs and achieveits maximum range. But the maximum payload is 24 tonnes.

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