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Nuclear News - 09/18/00
RANSAC Nuclear News, 18 September 2000


A.  Nuclear Cities Initiative (NCI)

    1. Soviet-Era Work On Bioweapons Still Worrisome, MichaelDobbs, Washington Post (09/12/00)
B. Russian Nuclear Forces
    1. Nuclear Weapons Base Will Pay Power Bill, Bellona (09/18/00)
C. Nuclear Power Industry
    1. Nuclear Disaster Averted - Russian Power Plant Workers PraisedFor 'Heroic' Operation To Cool Reactors, Amelia Gentleman, The Observer(UK) (09/17/00)
D. Russian Nuclear Forces
    1. Message From the President to the Senate of the United States:Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive WasteManagement, The White House (09/15/00)



A. Nuclear Cities Initiative (NCI)

1.
Soviet-Era Work On Bioweapons Still Worrisome
        Michael Dobbs
        Washington Post
        September 12, 2000
        (for personal use only)

Stall in U.S. Dismantling Effort Could Pose Proliferation Threat

STEPNOGORSK, Kazakhstan—A decade ago, Alik Galiyev had a promising careeras one of the Soviet Union's leading biological weapons scientists. Togetherwith his colleagues, he helped design and construct the world's largestanthrax production plant, capable of churning out enough biological agentsto destroy all urban life on the planet.

Today, despite a $100 million U.S. program to defuse the Soviet biologicalweapons threat and engage former germ scientists in peaceful pursuits,Galiyev is angry and disillusioned. He feels that his onetime Americanenemies have devoted a lot of time and energy to dismantling his extraordinaryworkplace but have done little to convert the factory to peaceful use orprovide long-term employment for hundreds of highly skilled scientists.

"The Americans just want to destroy; they don't want to create anything,"complained Galiyev, in comments echoed by other senior scientists at thesprawling bioweapons plant on the outskirts of this crumbling Soviet-eratown on the plains of northern Kazakhstan.

While U.S. officials insisted that such remarks are unfair, the commentsreflect widespread skepticism both here and in Russia about the benefitsof cooperation with the United States on eliminating weapons of mass destruction.Senior Russian officials complained that much of the American money earmarkedfor retraining former weapons scientists has been frittered away on administrativeexpenses, and they have retaliated in tit-for-tat games with Washingtonover access to top secret weapons facilities.

The bitterness felt by Galiyev and his fellow bioweapons makers couldpose a significant new proliferation threat for the United States, independentexperts say. If the weapons makers conclude that America has nothing furtherto offer them, they could be tempted to sell their knowledge to countriessuch as Iran which, according to the Pentagon, has been attempting to recruitRussian scientists to assist with its own clandestine biological weaponsprogram.

The backlash at Stepnogorsk comes when the Clinton administration'scooperative threat reduction program--one of the centerpieces of America'spost-Cold War diplomacy--is also under attack at home. Congress has forbiddenthe Pentagon to spend any money on Soviet military conversion and has sharplycut funding for the Department of Energy's nuclear cities initiative, whichwas designed to find alternative employment for Russian weapons designers,in part because of lack of access to top secret facilities.

U.S. officials point out that they have spent $4 million on "redirectionprojects" in Stepnogorsk, including the creation of an environmental monitoringcenter that employs several dozen scientists, in addition to $5 millionon dismantling the anthrax plant. At the same time, they concede that convertingSoviet weapons facilities to civilian use has proved much more difficultthan expected. A $5.8 million plan to use part of the Stepnogorsk factoryfor civilian pharmaceutical production ended in failure in 1997, touchingoff bitter recrimination between the American and Kazakh partners.

Andrew Weber, the Pentagon official in charge of the Stepnogorsk project,insists that the United States will not abandon the 200 or so scientistswith critical proliferation knowledge who remained at the plant after thecollapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. "We have to deal with their frustrationand continue to work with them," he said. "We want these former bioweaponeersworking with us, and not with those who would exploit their knowledge forevil."

With towering fermenters that were capable of churning out two tonsof anthrax a day, enough to wipe out an entire city, Stepnogorsk is themost visible evidence of a vast biological weapons program that was a keypart of the Soviet Union's strategic arsenal. Although the United Statessuspected the Kremlin was developing bioweapons in defiance of the 1972Biological Weapons Convention, the scale of the effort became apparentonly after 1991, with the emergence of 15 new independent countries, includingKazakhstan.

Even today, much less is known about the Soviet biological weapons programthan the nuclear weapons program. While the Kazakh government has beencooperating with the United States on the dismantling of places like Stepnogorsk,Russian officials continue to conceal the full extent of their Cold Warbioweapons program. This huge facility--hundreds of times the size of anycomparable bioweapons plant anywhere in the world--remained undetectedby U.S. satellites for almost two decades.

One consequence of this lack of knowledge has been a delay in respondingto the Soviet-era bioweapons threat. The $100 million earmarked for bioweaponscounter-proliferation programs - some of which has been spent on cleaningup a former testing ground at Vozrozhdeniya Island in the Aral Sea -isminuscule compared with the $2.4 billion spent since 1991 on locking uploose nukes and providing work for Soviet nuclear scientists.

Isolated from the changes that have been sweeping big cities, such asMoscow and the former Kazakh capital of Almaty, the crumbling, half-abandonedtown of Stepnogorsk provides an eerie flashback to life in the Soviet Union.Heating pipes are patched together with pieces of fabric; concrete bunkersare covered with weeds; sidewalks and basketball courts are disappearingback into the steppe. The bioweapons plant, which cost an estimated $1billion to build, looks like an abandoned junkyard full of rusting equipment.

The mood of the scientists who used to work here matches the wretchedcircumstances of the city in which many of them spent their careers. Itis a complicated and potentially explosive mixture of shame, wounded pride,dependence on outside assistance and blind anger at the forces that havereduced them to this state.

In July, the Pentagon organized a conference in Stepnogorsk to showcaseits anti-proliferation program's successes and encourage American privateinvestment in Kazakhstan. But none of the dozen or so U.S. businessmeninvited to attend the conference showed up; there is little private sectorinterest in investing in such a remote and undeveloped place. To the embarrassmentof U.S. officials, the meeting quickly turned into a forum for the airingof bottled-up grievances by the Kazakh and Russian participants.

"We need real assistance, not just lessons in marketing," exploded YuriRufov, head of an enterprise called Biomedpreparat that was hoping to producemedicines here under a Pentagon-sponsored joint venture. "We gave up everythingwe had before, and we haven't got anything in return."

The Soviet Union began building this macabre death factory in 1982,at the height of the Cold War, a time when many Soviets were convincedthat superpower conflict was inevitable. Mobilization plans called forthe storage of up to 500 tons of anthrax--a powder-like substance thatturns to froth inside victims' lungs, depriving them of oxygen--and itsstorage in nuclear-proof underground bunkers. In the event of mobilization,the anthrax would have been loaded into bomblets and shipped out of hereon reinforced railroad cars to be placed onto SS-18 missiles aimed at theUnited States.

Stepnogorsk was part of a vast toxic archipelago that included researchcenters and testing sites, such as Vozrozhdeniya Island. "It was madnessof course, but it reflected the madness of the times," said Vladimir Repin,a bioweapons scientist at the Vector research institute in Siberia. "Rememberwe had nuclear weapons that could destroy the world 100, 200 times over.We were convinced that the Americans were doing the same things we were."

Weber, a former U.S. diplomat in Kazakhstan, has a vivid memory of hisfirst visit to the Stepnogorsk complex in 1995. By that time, Washingtonhad a good idea of what had been going on here, thanks to the testimonyof a former plant director, Ken Alibek, who defected to the United Statesin 1992. Even so, the sight of the four-story-high fermenters and airtighttesting chamber, where gruesome experiments were performed on dogs andmonkeys, was "chilling to the bone," Weber said. "It was then that I understoodfor the first time at an emotional level what Ronald Reagan had meant bythe words 'evil empire.' "

While other countries, including the United States, Iraq and Japan,have experimented with biological weapons, none came remotely near theproduction capacity of Stepnogorsk. The United States says it halted itsoffensive bioweapons program in 1972.

At first, the Stepnogorsk scientists insisted in interviews that theplant had been built for "defensive purposes," to produce vaccines in theevent of an American bioweapons attack. But, after a few drinks and saunas,they began to loosen up. "We have been hanging noodles on your ears," acknowledgedGennady Lepyoshkin, Alibek's successor as director of Stepnogorsk, usingthe Russian equivalent of "we have been pulling the wool over your eyes."

Determined to prevent "rogue states" or terrorists from gaining accessto such a killing machine, the Pentagon launched in 1996 what became knownas the "Stepnogorsk initiative" in cooperation with Kazakh authorities.The implicit bargain at the heart of the deal was that the United Stateswould assist in the retraining of former Soviet weapons scientists in returnfor the total dismantling of Kazakhstan's offensive bioweapons capability.

The conversion side of the strategy soon ran into difficulties. TheWashington entrepreneur chosen by the Pentagon to run the American sideof the joint venture to manufacture pharmaceuticals, John Allen, had goodpolitical connections but little practical experience. His Kazakh partnerssay he failed to deliver on his promises and purchased outdated equipment.Under heavy pressure from congressmen sympathetic to Allen, the Pentagonended up paying the contractor $2.1 million after he accused the U.S. governmentof breach of contract.

Allen, a former U.S. Army intelligence agent in Laos and Cambodia andReagan campaign operative, blames both the U.S. government and Lepyoshkin,the facility's director, for the failure of the joint venture. "It wasa disaster," he said. "They had no idea what their needs were. They hadnever made a pill in their life."

Vladimir Bugreyev, director of a biotechnology institute that employsmany former Stepnogorsk scientists, said Allen failed to deliver on promisesof turning the plant into a major pharmaceutical center. "With money theAmericans gave Allen, we could have built a big factory producing medicines,"he complained.

In the meantime, U.S. nonproliferation experts were busy playing a cat-and-mousegame with Iran for the hearts and minds of Soviet weapons scientists. Accordingto Pentagon officials, Iranian representatives launched an intensive effortto recruit Russian bioweapons makers, beginning in the spring of 1997,after the Russian ministry of science participated in a biotechnology exhibitin Tehran.

One place targeted for Iranian recruitment efforts was the Vector Institutein Novosibirsk, where scientists experimented with such contagious virusesas smallpox and Marburg, which causes its victims to bleed to death. Accordingto Russian officials, the Iranians made a sophisticated pitch, insistingthat their biotechnology program was strictly civilian. The approach wasrejected, in large measure because the Russians understood that cooperationwith Iran would mean an end to cooperation with the United States.

Weber said he understands the frustration of the former bioweapons makers."Just 10 years ago, these people were a pampered elite, the recipientsof extraordinary resources. Of course they feel a sense of dislocation."At the same time, he added, some of the "whining" may have been aimed atputting pressure on the U.S. to come up with more funds.

Pentagon officials said most Stepnogorsk scientists with critical proliferationknowledge are receiving assistance from the United States through academicgrant programs administered by the State Department and the Departmentof Energy. Galiyev, the former bioweapons maker, described the Americanprograms as "miserly." The programs pay an average of $35 a day for originalscientific research, a reasonable wage by Russian standards.

For the time being, the Americans seem to be keeping the Iranians andothers at bay. The Stepnogorsk plant will be torn down completely by theend of next year, but the long-term future of the scientists who work hereand in other parts of the old Soviet bioweapons establishment remains uncertain.

"We don't want to cooperate with Iran. We're not stupid. We know whatthat would mean," said Repin, of the Vector Institute. But he added: "Ofcourse, people need to feed themselves and their families. They will goto wherever the money is."
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B. Russian Nuclear Forces

1.
Nuclear Weapons Base Will Pay Power Bill
        Bellona
        September 18, 2000
        (for personal use only)

The commander of Russia's strategic nuclear forces base outside Moscowsaid last week that he would start to pay the base's depth to the powergrid company UES. The power company cut off the electricity to the baseafter months of clashes between the strategic nuclear forces and the powergrid company. UES said it had cut off non-essential electricity suppliesto the Ivanov nuclear weapons base after military leaders had repeatedlyrefused to pay accumulated debts totalling more than 19 million rubles($680.000) over the last 18 months, reports Financial Times.
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C. Nuclear Power Industry

1.
Nuclear Disaster Averted - Russian Power Plant Workers Praised For'Heroic' Operation To Cool Reactors
        Amelia Gentleman
        The Observer (UK)
        September 17, 2000
        (for personal use only)

A nuclear catastrophe - triggered by a fault in Russia's ageing electricalgrid - was averted last week thanks to a 'heroic' emergency operation bypower station workers.

Details of how one of Russia's main nuclear plants and the country'slargest plutonium-processing centre came close to disaster emerged slowly,prompting new alarm in a country still reeling from a string of disasters.

Nuclear experts said 'courageous' workers at the Beloyarsk power stationand the Mayak reprocessing plant had managed to prevent a Chernobyl-styleaccident. Environmental campaigners warned that the crumbling state ofRussia's infrastructure meant such close escapes could be expected withgrowing frequency.

Preliminary investigations showed that a short circuit in the regionalelectricity system caused a sudden blackout in three nuclear reactors inthe Urals. Its cause remains unclear, although it has been widely attributedto a fault in the poorly maintained network.

Unexpected power cuts at nuclear plants, which are designed to workceaselessly, pose a severe risk. There was controversy yesterday over whetherbuilt-in emergency electricity systems took over as they should have done.Minatom, Russia's Ministry of Atomic Energy, insisted that all back-upsystems at both sites began working in the seconds after the accident,but environmental activists reported that the standby electricity generatorsof at least one of the reactors had failed to start.

These sources say a technical hitch at the Beloyarsk plant, in the Sverdlovskregion, meant that the diesel generators built into the reactor failedto start automatically. Without a separate supply of electricity, the coolingsystem at the heart of the plant allegedly stopped working - causing thetemperature in the core reactor to soar to dangerous levels, as workerslost control over the chain reactions occurring within.

'The problem was that the diesel generators were in poor condition andso the staff on the plant needed 36 minutes to repair them to get themstarted,' said Vladimir Slivyak, co-chairman of the Ecodefence organisation,which has spent the past week gathering information about the mishap. 'Itwas up to the personnel on the plant to avert a serious nuclear accident.They worked heroically.'

Alexei Yablokov of the Centre for Ecological Problems of Russia endorsedthis view: 'We were just half an hour from another Chernobyl - had it notbeen for the professionalism of the plant staff.'

At around lunchtime on Saturday last weekend, a crash echoed from withinthe walls of the Beloyarsk compound. Local residents - many of whom werecelebrating the annual town festival - listened in horror. Most of thepeople who live in Zarechny, the settlement which has grown up around theplant, are either current or former employees - so were well equipped tojudge the gravity of the noise.

The precise cause of the sound remains unclear. Unconfirmed sourcessuggest that while technicians struggled to get the diesel generators working,they were forced to shut down the reactor manually. Residents may haveheard steam spurting suddenly from the cooling plant, as pressure in thesystem mounted.

One of the immediate results of the shutdown at Beloyarsk was a powerfailure at the nearby Mayak processing plant in the Chelyabinsk region,where two reactors were in operation.

The potential consequences of malfunction at the vast, high-securityMayak plant are no less alarming. Scientists there take spent nuclear fuelfrom all over the former Soviet Union and convert it into weapons-gradeplutonium and high-level waste. The site is estimated to contain 120 millioncuries of radioactive waste - much of it held in liquid form in vast tanks- including seven times the amount of strontium-90 and caesium-137 thatwas released in Chernobyl.

Mayak was without power for 45 minutes and the reactors were automaticallyshut down. The head of the plant, Vitaliy Sadovnikov, told a local newspaperthat this was the worst blackout the station had faced and it was onlyhis staff's 'near-military discipline' which prevented a serious accident.

He said the back-up electricity provider, designed to cool down thereactors in the event of such an emergency, had only been started up 30minutes after the plant was brought to a halt.

But yesterday Bulat Nigmatulin, a Deputy Minister at Minatom, said thesereports were lies. 'This unpleasant situation came about because for thefirst time there was a breakdown in the local energy system,' he said.

'The atomic installations at Beloyarsk and Mayak are protected againstthis kind of accident, and on this occasion everything went exactly accordingto plan, with on-site emergency electricity sources starting up immediately.'

He said 30-minute delays would have led to explosions in the reactors.

Officials at both plants report there was no radiation contaminationas a result of the emergency shutdowns. Environmental activists in theregion continue to test the site, but are so far satisfied that this isthe case.

Although a crisis was averted, analysts agree that both mishaps aresobering examples of the ease with which a disaster could be sparked.

'The fact that the grid was down for 45 minutes is extremely alarming,because it means that control was temporarily lost in these crucial nuclearinstallations,' said Tobias Muenchmeyer, atomic energy expert with Greenpeace.

Some commentators linked the initial power cut to the campaign by Russia'selectricity monopoly to cut off those customers with outstanding debts.They speculated that by suddenly switching off one area of the grid, UnifiedEnergy Systems might have precipitated the short circuit. UES officialsdeny this, and a government commission has been set up to investigate.

State officials are eager to promote atomic energy as a means of heatingand powering their vast country. A strategy document published by Minatomin May advocated that Russia should radically increase its nuclear capacityover the next 20 years, building up to 24 new reactors.

Independent experts affirm that over the past five years the numberof emergency shutdowns in Russian reactors has dropped fourfold, and overthe past two years financing of safety monitoring has increased. But thememory of the Chernobyl disaster 14 years ago remains uncomfortably fresh.
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D. Nuclear Waste

1.
Message From the President to the Senate of the United States: Safetyof Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management
        The White House
        September 15, 2000
        (for personal use only)

TO THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES:

I transmit herewith, for Senate advice and consent to ratification,the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on theSafety of Radioactive Waste Management, done at Vienna on September 5,1997. Also transmitted for the information of the Senate is the reportof the Department of State concerning the Convention.

This Convention was adopted by a Diplomatic Conference convened by theInternational Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in September 1997 and was openedfor signature in Vienna on September 5, 1997, during the IAEA General Conference,on which date Secretary of Energy Federico Pena signed the Convention forthe United States.

The Convention is an important part of the effort to raise the levelof nuclear safety around the world. It is companion to and structured similarlyto the Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS), to which the Senate gave itsadvice and consent on March 25, 1999, and which entered into force forthe United States on July 10, 1999. The Convention establishes a seriesof broad commitments with respect to the safe management of spent fueland radioactive waste. The Convention does not delineate detailed mandatorystandards the Parties must meet, but instead Parties are to take appropriatesteps to bring heir activities into compliance with the general obligationsof the Convention.

The Convention includes safety requirements for spent fuel managementwhen the spent fuel results from the operation of civilian nuclear reactorsand radioactive waste management for wastes resulting from civilian applications.

The Convention does not apply to a Party's military radioactive wasteor spent nuclear fuel unless the Party declares it as spent nuclear fuelor radioactive waste for the purposes of the Convention, or if and whensuch waste material is permanently transferred to and managed within exclusivelycivilian programs.

The Convention contains provisions to ensure that national securityis not compromised and that Parties have absolute discretion as to whatinformation is reported on material from military sources.

The United States has initiated many steps to improve nuclear safetyworldwide in accordance with its long-standing policy to make safety anabsolute priority in the use of nuclear energy, and has supported the effortto develop both the CNS and this Convention. The Convention should encouragecountries to improve the management of spent fuel and radioactive wastedomestically and thus result in an increase in nuclear safety worldwide.

Consultations were held with representatives from States and the nuclearindustry. There are no significant new burdens or unfounded mandates forthe States or industry that should result from the Convention. Costs forimplementation of the proposed Convention will be absorbed within the existingbudgets of affected agencies.

I urge the Senate to act expeditiously in giving its advice and consentto ratification.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON

THE WHITE HOUSE, September 13, 2000.
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