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Nuclear News - 02/18/00
RANSAC Nuclear News, 18 February 2000


A. Core Conversion

    1. Pu-Production Reactors To Be Shut Down Some Time In The Future,Thomas Nilsen and Igor Kudrik, Bellona (02/15/00)
    2. Russian-U.S. Plan  To  Convert  Nuclear Reactors  Remains  In  Force  - Ministry, Interfax(02/15/00)
B.  START
    1. Nuclear Shield At Negotiated Price, Segodnya [translationfrom RIA Novosti] (02/16/00)
C.  Nuclear Waste
    1. News Briefing [Russian Reprocessing], Uranium Institute(02/15/00)
D.  Russian Nuclear Forces
    1. Decommissioned Nuke Subs May Be Used for Cargo Transportation,Itar Tass (02/18/00)
E.  Nuclear Power Industry
    1. No Reason for Acute Conflict at Leningrad Power Plant,Adamov, Itar Tass (02/18/00)
    2. Hydrogen Leaks Hit Two Russian Nuclear Plants, AgenceFrance Presse (02/17/00)
    3. Russia's Floating Nuke Plants: Cheap Now, Costly Later?,Judith Matloff, Christian Science Monitor (02/17/00)

A. Core Conversion

1.
Pu-Production Reactors To Be Shut Down Some Time In The Future
        Thomas Nilsen and Igor Kudrik
        Bellona
        February 15, 2000
        (for personal use only)

Russia has finally admitted that the joint project with the U.S. toconvert plutonium-producing reactors was a failure.

The project to convert three Russian plutonium-producing reactors referredto by Washington as a historic achievement in the arms control effortswas put in limbo early February, The Washington Post reported. The Russianinformed the Americans that the project was not viable and had to be abandoned.Instead the Russian officials said the reactors must be closed down entirely.

So far, the U.S. Congress has authorised $ 115 million for the project,of which $22 million has been spent. The reactor-converting project signedin 1996, committed Russia to halting the production of weapon-grade plutoniumby the end of the year 2000. By converting the cores of the reactors theywould no longer produce plutonium useful for nuclear weapons.

The conversion plan was originally proposed by Russians, or, to be moreprecise, by the Ministry of Nuclear Energy (Minatom). The latter arguedthat the reactors had to be kept running because they also provided heatand electricity to the nearby cities. Two of the reactors are located inSeversk (former Tomsk-7) and one is located in Zheleznogorsk (formerKrasnoyarsk-26).

Washington agreed to the project and has been sticking to it until nowdespite warnings from the Russian Nuclear Regulatory (GAN) that the threereactors posed a Chernobyl-type danger. These reactors were the prototypesto the RBMK-type units - the same design that exploded at Chernobyl in1986. The two reactors in Seversk (AD-4 and AD-5) started in 1965 and 1967respectively, while the reactor in Zheleznogorsk was launched back in 1964.

The reactors failed to obtain licence from GAN last year being unableto live up to the safety requirements. The conversion project run by Minatomand the U.S. could not obtain the licence from GAN due to the safety flawseither.

But in early February this year, even Minatom negotiators had to admitto the American delegation that had come to Moscow to proceed with talksthat the project could not be implemented. The Russian side reportedlyeven suggested building conventional sources of energy instead to substitutereactors at a total cost of $230 million, the bulk of which, under theRussian plan, would be paid by the United States.

Clinton administration officials said to The Washington Post that theywere studying the new proposal, but expressed scepticism towards the projectcost.

In the mean time, the Siberian Chemical Combine that operates two ofthe three reactors seems to have its own viewpoint on the project. Thelocal green group in Tomsk, Students' EnviroInspection, reached by BellonaWeb was confident that the new energy source would be nuclear. Theirargumentationrests on the fact that Minatom would be quite reluctant to abandon whatthey call 'nuclear scientific potential' now engaged at the two reactorskept in operation.

Whether nuclear or conventional substitutes are to be built, the timetablefor Russia joining a moratorium on the production of weapons-grade plutoniumhas automatically slipped back to at least 2004. Their operation wouldcontinue to add around 1,5 tons of plutonium to the Russian stockpilesannually.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government has formally suspended implementationof the core conversion plan until a decision is reached on how to proceed,The Washington Post wrote.
 
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2.
Russian-U.S. Plan  To  Convert  Nuclear Reactors Remains  In  Force  - Ministry
        Interfax
        February 15, 2000
        (for personal use only)

MOSCOW. Feb  15 (Interfax)  - Russia  is not pulling out  of  the Russian-U.S. project  for converting nuclearreactors producing weapons- grade plutonium into reactors adapted to civilianneeds, but will choose the option  that suits  Russia best, the Russian Atomic Energy Ministry press service has told Interfax in commentson reports in the U.S. press that Russia is planning to give up on theproject.
 
What is  meant here,  the press  service said, is finding the most acceptable way  of solving  this problem, not complete rejection of the project.
 
The Atomic  Energy Ministry takes the position that one of themain tasks to be tackled by the Russian nuclear industry is supplying heatto Seversk in  the Tomsk region and Zheleznogorsk in Krasnoyarsk territory,where  enterprises   with  nuclear  reactors producing   weapons-grade plutonium are  located. Reactors are currently  the sole  source of the heat supplied to apartmentbuildings. Shutting down these reactors would doom Seversk and Zheleznogorsk,the press service said.
 
In  addition,   the  conversion   of these   power  facilities  is complicated by a lack of funds. The Russian side can provide only 3% of the money requiredby the project.
 
Russia and  the United  States  signed  an agreement  in  1997  on terminating the  productionof weapons-grade plutonium by 2000. The U.S. has put $80 million into thisproject over this period.

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B. START

1.
Nuclear Shield At Negotiated Price
        Segodnya [translation fromRIA Novosti]
        February 16, 2000
        (for personal use only)

Russia, USA Ready to Resume the Arms Race
 
The State Duma plans to resume debates over its hardest nut -- theratification of START-2. Like before, opinions of the matter differ andthis difference has become even more pronounced after the US Congress approveda bill on the deployment of a national ABM system. If the deputies do notratify the treaty, Russia will enter a period of open nuclear confrontationwith the USA and a ruinous arms race, which the Russian economy will notsurvive.
 
On the other hand, it is impossible to ratify START-2 in its initialwording, as it was drafted on the wave of populism and does not take intoaccount Russia's current interests. Alexander PISKUNOV, the Duma deputywho attended all talks on the reduction of strategic offensive weapons,tells Segodnya correspondent Oleg ODNOKOLENKO about ways out of this dead-end.
 
Question: You prepared START-1 for ratification and attended virtuallyall negotiations on START-2, which Russia did not ratify in the seven yearsthat passed since its signing. Why?
 
Answer: There are several reasons for this.
 
The first reason is that the deadline set by the treaty (1 January2003) provides for the liquidation of our missiles before the expiry oftheir service life, which does not suit Russia and is highly burdensomeeconomically.
 
The second reason is that the treaty ceiling of 3,000-3,500 warheadsis considerably higher than we can maintain now (some 1,000-1,500).
 
The third reason is that the treaty prohibits land-based MIRVed missiles.Experts say this will deprive us of the possibility of manoeuvre and ofincreasing the number of warheads without raising the number of missiles,in case of need.
 
These drawbacks could be liquidated during the signing of START-3,if we negotiate them during the ratification of START-2.

We had this possibility back in 1993, but the opposition and some politicianspreferred to use this "unpopular" treaty as their trump card and henceput the situation on ice.
 
But this dead-locked the process. At the same time, nuclear powersresponsible for the maintenance of the non-proliferation regime sloweddown their activities. The military-industrial lobbies, which wanted todeploy a full-scale ABM system, took the upper hand in the USA. No wonderthat India and Pakistan, playing on differences in the nuclear club, haveacquired their own nuclear weapons.
 
Question: Is Russia the only lone guilty of the uncontrolled proliferationof nuclear weapons?
 
Answer: Certainly not. In the past seven years, the US stand was notedfor two trends: complete unwillingness to amend START-2 obligations, andexcessive confidence of the possibility to independently resolve the problemof nuclear proliferation.

Eventually, the USA agreed to prolong the treaty for five years in 1997,on the condition that the missiles, which are to be liquidated, would bedeactivated by 31 December 2003.
 
It was also agreed that START-3 negotiations should begin immediatelyafter the enforcement of START-2. As for the non-proliferation regime,the nuclear powers are still neglecting the problem. The USA stated, forexample, that in this situation it would be able to protect itself withthe ABM system. But this is a dangerous illusion, because different vehiclescan be used to deliver missiles.
 
Question: What should be done to reinforce the non-proliferation regime?
 
Answer: The main threat comes from the chain reaction of the appearanceof new nuclear powers. Their missiles cannot reach the USA so far, butthey can easily reach Russia, Europe and China.

Besides, this region --our "southern underbelly" -- is regarded aspotentiallyexplosive and only joint efforts, above all of nuclear powers, can preventthis threat. But France, Britain and China, whose nuclear arsenals areconsiderably smaller than the Russian and US ones, are not in a hurry tonegotiate.
 
This is why we suggested in 1993 that Russia and the USA should withoutdelay reduce their nuclear arsenals to a ceiling comparable to that ofthe other nuclear powers, which would enable us to negotiate and even elaboratecommon confidence-building measures and joint guarantees for non-nuclearstates. At the same time, we could elaborate common enforcement measuresfor the states, which became nuclear powers in violation of thenon-proliferationregime.
 
Question: What prevented this process?
 
Answer: Above all the US stand, which does not agree to limit its nucleararsenal to 1,000-1,500 warheads. The second reason is the deployment ofa full-scale ABM system in  the USA.

From the military-technical viewpoint, it is impossible to create afull-proof ABM system, as "an experimental nuclear war" would have to belaunched to test its reliability.
 
But politically, the creation of a national ABM system is a major problemconcerned with the violation of the 1972 ABM Treaty and possible refusalof some nuclear states to limit the creation of their nuclear weapons.
 
Question: What can we do in this situation?
 
Answer: I think we should ratify START-2 as a coordinated draft lawand promptly and constructively negotiate START-3 without linking it tothe ABM Treaty, which I think will once again demonstrate to the US publicour complete confidence of the military-technical uselessness of the nationalABM system.
 
Our experts have no doubts on this score, but the US taxpayers shouldbe reminded that the Star Wars programme cost them 35 billion dollars.They would have to pay about as much for a global ABM system, with theresult known in advance. For our part, we could go even further at thenegotiations, namely agree to amend the ABM Treaty in return for the liftingof certain limitations on the development of our nuclear weapons.
 
Question: Do you think your scenario is possible?
 
Answer: The implementation of my scenario depends not only on us, butalso on the USA. The worst possible scenario in this sphere would be theunilateral US violation of the ABM Treaty, our renunciation of nucleararms control agreements, and individual development of nuclear arsenalsby each nuclear power.
 
In this case, Russo-American contradictions would grow, China wouldbuild up its nuclear potential, and more countries would join the nuclearclub. Their technical immaturity and political ambitions will make themthe main threat in terms of nuclear conflicts and Chernobyl-type situations.
 
But I still hope that common sense will take the upper hand. Provided the situation is not driven into a dead-end from which there wouldbe no way out.

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C. Nuclear Waste

1.
News Briefing [Russian Reprocessing]
        Uranium Institute
        February 15, 2000
        (for personal use only)

[NB00.07-8] Reports that Russia has agreed to suspend nuclear fuelreprocessinghave been denied by Minatom minister Yevgeni Adamov. The denial followedreports of DOE's budget proposal, which includes US$100 million for a'collaborativeprogramme' with Russia as part of President Clinton's initiative to reduceproliferation risks. A major aim of this programme would be to encourageRussia to stop reprocessing, and Russia's agreement to curtail nuclearcooperation with Iran would also be a condition. Adamov has reiteratedthat Russia stands by its plans to import and reprocess spent fuel fromabroad as a revenue earner, and stressed its determination to continuewith the Bushehr reactor project in Iran. (SpentFUEL, 14 February, p2;NucNet News, 53/00, 11 February)

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D. Russian Nuclear Forces

1.
Decommissioned Nuke Subs May Be Used for Cargo Transportation
        Itar Tass
        February 18, 2000
        (for personal use only)

ARKHANGELSK, February 18 (Itar-Tass) - Several research centres in Russialook into the possibility of using decommissioned nuclear submarines forthe transportation of cargoes along the Arctic Route, Adolf Zagovalko,deputy general- director of the transport department of the Arkhangelskregional administration, told Tass on Friday.

He said peaceful uses of nuclear submarines is considered as an alternativeto convoys of vessels being assisted by icebreakers in navigating the ArcticRoute. RAO Norilsky Nikel may invest into the project and there is a shipyardsready to implement the project, the Northern machine-building enterprisein Severodvinsk specialising in the construction of nuclear submarines.However, there is a need to calculate if the undertaking will be profitable.

It is planned to readjust decommissioned nuclear submarines of the NorthernFleet, specifically, the biggest submarines of the Typhoon kind. Accordingto the press service of the regional administration, Rubin design officeof marine equipment is working on the plan to modernise Typhoon submarineso they can handle upto 10,000 tonnes of cargoes and can also be used astankers. The first Typhoon submarine has already been decommissioned andis prepared for utilisation at the Northern machine-building enterprise.It is yet uncertain if the nuclear submarine will be given a new leaseon life for peaceful uses or whether it be scrapped.

Experts believe submarines have a large advantage over traditional cargomotorships as they need not icebreakers assistance to navigate thick Arcticice that blocks the approaches to the Norilsk metallurgical complex ninemonths of the year. Moreover, a submarine's speed is several times thatof a convoy assisted by an icebreaker. However, the use of nuclear submarinesfor peaceful purposes requires, in addition to establishing economic expediency,also looking into environmental safety of the project.

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E. Nuclear Power Industry

1.
No Reason for Acute Conflict at Leningrad Power Plant, Adamov
        Itar Tass
        February 18, 2000
        (for personal use only)

MOSCOW, February 18 (Itar-Tass) - There are no reasons for acute socialconflicts at the Leningrad nuclear power plant, Nuclear Energy MinisterYevgeny Adamov said at a news conference on Friday when commenting on theintention of the power plant's personnel to go on strike.

In his words, salaries at the Leningrad nuclear power plant exceed 4,000rubles (over 140 dollars), which is several times higher than the Russianaverage. Doctors or teachers, working in populated localities near thepower plant, have a salary of about 900 rubles (about 32 dollars).

"In general, salaries in our industry are 1,000 rubles higher than inother industries of the country, and salaries at nuclear power plants exceedaverage salaries of the energy industry by 800 rubles. Nuclear scientistsalso have 600-700 rubles more than scientists of other professions," Adamovsaid.

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2.
Hydrogen Leaks Hit Two Russian Nuclear Plants
        Agence France Presse
        February 17, 2000
        (for personal use only)

MOSCOW, Feb 17, 2000 -- (Agence France Presse) Two Russian nuclear plantshave experienced hydrogen leaks but there was no risk of increasedradioactivity,the Russian news agency AVN reported on Thursday.

Maintenance work on a reactor triggered the hydrogen leak at the Smolenskplant, 300 kilometers (180 miles) west of Moscow, around 1330 GMT on Wednesday,AVN said.

Another hydrogen leak occured around 0001 GMT Thursday at a plant inKoursk, 500 kilometers south of Moscow, forcing the closure of one reactor.

No leaks of radioactivity were detected in either plant, the agencysaid.

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3.
Russia's Floating Nuke Plants: Cheap Now, Costly Later?
        Judith Matloff
        Christian Science Monitor
        February 17, 2000
        (for personal use only)

Naysayers cite potential for accidents and weapons proliferation fromRussian mobile power stations.

To Washington's consternation, Russia is building floating nuclear stationsthat are meant to bring cheap energy to remote areas - but are potentialwaterborne "Chernobyls" that easily could be raided by terrorists.

The units would serve as huge atomic batteries moored off coastlines.Each would be able to provide enough power for a town of 50,000. Constructionhas begun for components of the first mobile station, which is due to startup within four years in Pevek, 600 miles west of Alaska.

If successful, it would be followed by half a dozen more in Russia'sfar east and extreme north - and possibly others in Indonesia and thePhilippines.

This unnerves Russian ecologists, who warn that the stations equippedwith the same type of reactors as nuclear-powered icebreakers areaccident-prone.A leak during a monsoon or earthquake, or near an Arctic ice floe, couldleak radiation across the planet.

Dangerous 'ifs'

Just as dangerous, they say, is the risk of nuclear proliferation topolitically unstable or rogue countries. It would be difficult to safeguardthe units. And the uranium to be used is 60 percent enriched – which couldbe reprocessed to build bombs.

"These floating stations would be absolutely dangerous from the ecologicalpoint of view," says Andrei Yablokov, one of Russia's leading environmentalists."The project does not envisage how to guard these stations against terrorists.They could spread nuclear weapons throughout the world, changing thegeopoliticalpicture."

The project is illegal as well as hazardous, he says. He cites fourRussian federal laws that have been violated because the work is proceedingwithout requisite approval by independent environmental experts.

Other objections are cited by Vladimir Kuznetsov, a former state nuclearinspector turned whistle-blower on the project.

"Where would the nuclear waste be dumped? Who would make up the crews?Who would train them? Who would protect the stations? They could be stormedunder water. Plus there has been inadequate research into the danger ofheat emissions," he says.

Moneymaker for Russia

Officials from the Nuclear Ministry and Malaya Energetika, the stateenterprise developing the stations, refused to comment, saying that theyfeared bad press. But in the past, they have stressed convenience and lowenergy costs.

Each unit would fetch $200 million to $300 million, including transport.This is a bargain compared to the $1 billion needed to build conventionalland stations. Russian authorities insist that nuclear technology has improvedsince the 1986 accident at Chernobyl, Ukraine, when an exploded reactorkilled thousands of people.

Russian authorities say customers would not have to worry about radioactivewaste. Every 12 years the stations would be towed back to Russia to dumpit and carry out repairs. There is also the potential for powering desalinationfor drinking water via the mobile stations, something Mediterranean andAfrican countries are especially interested in.

The arguments have been enough to convince authorities where new unitsare planned after Pevek - in Dudinka (Kara Sea), Tiksy (Laptev Sea), Equekinotand Providenya (Bering Sea), Ensk (Okhotsk Sea), Vilyuchinsk (Kamchatkapeninsula) and Rudnaya Pristan (Sea of Japan).

Potential client countries

Indonesia has expressed serious interest too, pending success at Pevek.The Philippines is another possible client. Kuznetsov said other countriesregistered interest at a 1995 presentation by Russia, attended byrepresentativesfrom Algeria, Sudan, Morocco, Malaysia, India, and Egypt.

But the negatives outweigh the pluses and the US has made that clear,says Chuck Serpan, a US liaison officer with the International Atomic EnergyAgency in Vienna. "In principle it's a neat idea. But there are too manyways for it to go wrong and too few for it to go right," he says. "Theirsystems are not safe. They are old Soviet designs, only somewhat upgraded."

Indeed, Russia's naval nuclear record has been dismal. There have beenseven major accidents on nuclear submarines since the Soviets launchedtheir first 46 years ago. These incidents killed 40 people and contaminatedat least 1,000 others. Authorities report 25 icebreaker accidents since1965, with no statistics available on casualties.

That's the official story. Ecologists believe that the full extent ofnuclear damage has been covered up. The KGB-successor Federal SecurityService discourages those who spill the beans with harassment, jail, orraids. Former Navy Capt. Alexander Nikitin and Navy Capt. Grigory Paskowere arrested after exposing mishandling of radioactive materials. Theywere charged with treason but later acquitted.

Despite growing opposition, Russia appears determined to press aheadwith the floating stations. They are part of a larger strategy to increasenuclear exports, including multibillion-dollar plans to build nuclear plantsin India, China, and Iran.

Profits, not safety, are what matter to the Nuclear Ministry, says IgorForofontov, a nuclear expert from Greenpeace Russia. "Its logic is thatofficial statistics show more victims from smoking than from nuclear energy."

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