MUSLYUMOVO, Russia -- Nikolai Gidenko is one of the last of the "liquidators." He earned the title as a Red Army draftee in the 1950s, building a dam on the Techa River, sometimes immersed up to his knees in water.
What Gidenko didn't know then was that the Techa River was a nuclear waste dump, a river of radioactivity carrying contamination from the top-secret nuclear facility down the road. Today, Gidenko receives 200 rubles a month -- less than $8 -- as compensation for the radiation to which he was exposed. In his dying village of 4,500 people, there are six cemeteries, five of them already full.
Which makes it all the more surprising when Gidenko answers with an unhesitating yes when asked if he favors the latest plan of Russia's cash-poor leaders: creating a haven for the world's nuclear leftovers. In exchange for what the government estimates could be a $21 billion windfall, the Russians intend to open their doors to more than 20,000 tons of spent fuel from foreign nuclear reactors for storage and possible reprocessing. Some of it is likely to end up in Gidenko's back yard.
Nationwide, the proposal has spurred the biggest grass-roots opposition movement in Russia's 10 years of democracy. But here in this region of the Ural Mountains almost 1,000 miles east of Moscow that environmentalists call "the most polluted place on Earth," with more radioactive waste than 20 Chernobyls, local leaders are lobbying heavily to make sure they receive their share of the radioactive paycheck.
"I am in favor of importing the nuclear waste," Gidenko said last week in his wooden cottage as the temperature outside hit 20 degrees below zero. "They will reprocess it into fuel, and it will be cheaper for the population. They claim that electricity will be free."
As Russia ventures into nuclear capitalism, Gidenko is not the only one dreaming of the benefits that foreign waste will bring. With the apparent support of President Vladimir Putin, the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, gave preliminary approval to the nuclear imports in December. Despite public opinion polls that show more than 90 percent of Russians oppose the plan, more than 90 percent of the lawmakers voted for it.
"They have dollar signs in their eyes," said activist Natalya Mironova, who belongs to an environmental movement that gathered an unprecedented 2 1/2 million signatures for a national referendum to block the foreign waste, only to see the Central Election Commission invalidate just enough signatures to throw it off the ballot.
To opponents of the plan, the fight is a morality tale about a country whose leaders are so cynical they would mortgage their land's health for some ready cash. It is also a political puzzle of sorts: In the increasingly authoritarian politics of the Putin era, no one is sure whether, or how, public pressure can influence the small group of policymakers that will decide the matter.
At the same time, experts on both sides of the debate agree that Russia's stated reason for getting into the nuclear-waste business is legitimate: Nearly 60 years into the Atomic Age, Russia has found itself with a huge stockpile of nuclear waste from its own reactors and insufficient funds to handle it. Even without importing waste, some experts say, Russia's current storage facility near Krasnoyarsk could be full in a few years.
On the scale of environmental outrages in this already polluted country, several nuclear specialists argued, adding foreign spent fuel to that stockpile might not be as bad as the alternative: a nuclear waste storage crisis and no resources to deal with it.
"Our problem is we have no money," said Nikolai Ponomarev-Stepnoi, deputy director of the Kurchatov Institute, the leading Russian state nuclear research facility on the outskirts of Moscow where still more nuclear waste awaits a permanent home.
A Profitable Enterprise
Taking in spent fuel from abroad is the only commercially sensible way to proceed, he said. There is a market, and those countries that will be the first to step into this market will be the ones to get the most profit. Considering that these services fetch high prices, if we react quickly we can earn such money as will help us deal with our spent fuel, as well as accepting somebody else's spent fuel."
There are, however, numerous logistical -- and diplomatic -- problems with Russia's entry into this business. Most significant is whether Russia intends to recycle the fuel for use in nuclear power stations or simply store it.
The United States is adamantly opposed to reprocessing spent fuel because the process extracts plutonium that could be used in nuclear weapons. As much as 70 percent of the world's spent nuclear fuel originated in U.S.-designed reactors, so even though it sits at nuclear power plants from Asia to Western Europe, the contracts give the United States final say on where it ends up. If Washington doesn't approve, Russia's $21 billion dream will go unrealized.
In Russia, however, the Atomic Energy Ministry and its backers have talked almost exclusively about reprocessing the spent fuel, not about storing it.
"The Russians seem completely blind to this issue," said a former Clinton administration official who handled the talks. Even so, the official said, U.S. policymakers have been sharply divided, with the Energy Department looking on Russia's import scheme favorably and the State Department insisting that it is "crazy to take more nuclear matter into a country still unable to deal with nuclear waste it already has."
Added the official: "The storage crisis is real. The only question is whether Russia should be the site."
The United States stores spent fuel on-site at nuclear reactors, many of which are expected to run out of storage space within 10 years. Congress is considering a proposal to establish a permanent nuclear waste repository in the Nevada desert.
In Moscow, critics say the Atomic Energy Ministry's plan is to use the foreign funds not for storage, or even to clean up existing environmental disaster zones like the one in Muslyumovo, but to finance nuclear empire-building. Already, the ministry has announced plans to finish 10 new nuclear reactors over the next decade -- without specifying where the funds will come from.
"The atomic ministry is acquiring the power it had in Soviet days, when it was an empire inside the empire, untouchable by anyone," said Alexei Yablokov, a founder of Russia's modern-day environmental movement. "But in reality, the ministry lacks money to finance its grand plans. To get the money, they will have to store this nuclear waste. Of course, it's very difficult for them to explain to people that we are taking for storage everybody's waste. So they pretend they will be reprocessing it and gaining valuable resources."
The government's nuclear safety commission has publicly feuded with the ministry in hopes of blocking the foreign-waste proposal. "They use the seemingly noble explanation that Russia is unable to resolve our situation with nuclear wastes without receiving this money. We don't mind this in principle. But the true object is to use these funds from the import of spent fuel from abroad to continue developing nuclear energy," said Andrei Kislov, head of the commission's department of nuclear fuel cycle enterprises.
Such policy nuances are lost here in the Urals, where nuclear pork-barrel politics has taken hold in anticipation that Mayak, the secret nuclear facility up the river from the tainted village of Muslyumovo, will be the recipient of the foreign spent fuel.
Indeed, a paycheck that may never come has already been spent hundreds of times over in the course of this public relations campaign. In the local capital of Chelyabinsk, a government-run newspaper proclaimed that "billions of dollars for the region" await only State Duma approval. The article even divvied up the area's supposed winnings: $3.8 billion for "ecological rehabilitation projects," $2.6 billion for modernizing the Mayak complex and $3.6 billion for "the region's needs."
By this accounting, the government would spend $10 billion of the $21 billion windfall here -- a highly unrealistic scenario.
But that doesn't stop Chelyabinsk Deputy Gov. Gennady Podtyosov from reeling off a list of still more specific benefits for his region. In an interview, he offered a dizzying array of ways to spend the foreign proceeds: rehabilitating the land, building housing for evacuees from the Techa River area, building hospitals and schools, paving roads and laying gas pipes.
Wages Worth the Risk
Two hours north of Chelyabinsk, in the closed city of Ozersk, the same argument is being made to the 10,000-plus workers at the Mayak nuclear plant. Mayak produced the plutonium for the first Soviet nuclear bomb and is still Russia's most important nuclear facility. It houses the country's only factory for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel -- though it is equipped to work only with fuel from Soviet-built reactors. Accepting spent fuel from other countries will require a major upgrade that Mayak cannot afford.
"They say, 'It is necessary to do this. Then everyone will live here like in a fairy tale,' " said Nadezhda Kutepova, a sociologist in Ozersk. Her father came here to clean up a 1957 explosion that was the second-largest nuclear accident in history; he died 20 years later of colon cancer.
Inside the city of more than 80,000 residents, she said, nostalgia flourishes for Soviet times, when the dangers of working at the nuclear plant were accompanied by higher wages, unrationed food and such luxuries as candy. In the poor neighboring villages, they had a name for the Mayak workers: chocoladniki.
"In Ozersk, people think those golden times will return," she said. "No one is thinking about the ecological damage; no one is thinking about nuclear weapons. We are only interested in our wages."
In a rare interview, Mayak General Director Vitaly Sadovnikov portrayed the proposal as a matter of economic survival for his underemployed plant. "Mayak is definitely interested in such an activity, as any enterprise is interested in work," he said.
Mayak's nuclear catastrophes -- the 1949-56 dumping in the Techa River, the 1957 explosion and a 1967 cloud of radioactive dust from a nuclear waste-filled lake -- have exposed more than 450,000 people to dangerously high levels of radiation, according to scientists who have studied them. The environmental disasters were a state secret until the waning days of communism, but today Sadovnikov insists that safety is no longer an issue at his plant.
Instead, he spoke only of "certain errors" and "certain consequences of the previous work of Mayak." Critics of the proposal to import spent nuclear fuel, he said, are guilty of "radiophobia."
But there are indications of such radiophobia even among Mayak's relatively privileged workers. In a survey Kutepova conducted of 700 Ozersk residents last fall, 64 percent said they were against the proposal. "But they will not speak up," she said. "There is a code of silence. Yes, my father died. Yes, my relatives are ill. But I'll be paid my wages and I'll be silent."
Ramses Faizullin decided not to be silent. The 16-year-old lives in one of the villages near Mayak that was relocated -- all 750 people -- from the banks of the Techa River years before he was born. Even so, Faizullin was born with radiation disease; his head is abnormally large and he coughs incessantly. Three times last year he was so sick he had to be hospitalized. His mother said she didn't even know the word "radiation" until after he was born.
In December, Faizullin wrote a letter to Putin and the State Duma pleading with them to block the import of spent fuel. "I do not want to have children like myself," he wrote. "We have suffered our fill from this radiation as it is; every week, they bury somebody in our village." return to menu
2. Nuclear Power: A Tainted Future?
Charles Digges and Barnaby Thompson
The St. Petersburg Times
February 9, 2001
(for personal use only)
A little over six years ago, Norwegian environmental activist Tomas Nilsen recalls standing on the Russian-Finnish border, trying to halt the passage of a cargo train loaded with Finnish nuclear waste into Russia.
The train, as he described it in a telephone interview from the Oslo offices of the environmental group Bellona, differed little in appearance from a standard, rundown cargo train - except for the heavy presence of armed Finnish military guards who were along for the ride.
Nilsen's group - positioned on the Finnish side - was arrested almost immediately. After the train trundled through customs, his colleagues on the Russian side said the guard gave way to a much, much smaller group.
"While we could get nowhere near the train in Finland, the security in Russia was far more lax."
As a result of the outcry surrounding the existence of such shipments, the Finnish parliament passed a law forbidding the export of its nuclear waste to foreign countries for disposal ever again. The State Duma also outlawed such imports shortly after.
But an aggressive campaign by Russia's Nuclear Minister Yevgeny Adamov to repeal that law - amid popular, though little governmental, protest - looks set to succeed later this month. Adamov has recast waste imports as a money spinner that would net Russia's beleaguered nuclear sector $21 billion over the next 10 years. He has also said such a sum could be used to revamp old reactors, build new ones, and clean up contaminated areas.
But some experts have speculated this money will be used for other purposes - from the development of a highly controversial plutonium-based civilian nuclear economy, to military applications that could eventually be brought to bear on Chechen rebels.
In short, the host of dangers to Russia that could be caused by a few waste imports are almost immeasurable, according to authorities both outside and within the Russian nuclear industry.
TRAINS OF WASTE
Strikingly, Gosatomnadzor, Russia's own nuclear regulatory body, has opposed the waste-import bill ever since its inception.
The agency's opposition, however, has meant as little to the Nuclear Power Ministry, or Minatom, as the outcry of the general public, characterized by the ministry as too ill informed to understand the technical aspects of the nuclear industry
"Minatom has furnished us with hardly any information whatsoever," said one Gosatomnadzor official charged with reviewing the import bill.
"We have asked for documents time and time again," said the official, who requested anonymity, in a telephone interview Thursday.
"They have sent us next to nothing, and what they do send is entirely unreasonable. They have no idea what routes the waste will follow, or how it will be transported - they have, in short, no sense of what is involved."
Comments posted on the Bellona Web site (www.bellona.no) from Gosatomnadzor's head, Yury Vishnevsky, were even more dispirited.
In his view, any of the proceeds garnered from the imports would be "either eaten up or tolen."
Nevertheless, the regulatory agency did prepare a small number of vaguely worded amendments, published on its own Web site, that will be submitted with the import law or the final reading. But the amendments clearly boil down to a set of simple customs regulations. To whit: Russia has the right to turn back any shipment Gosatomnadzor inspectors deem to be too dangerous to be transported, or which pose a threat to Russia's environment.
According to Igor Kudrik, a nuclear-industry expert at Bellona, the agency's status has een gutted, in a war of economics versus safety.
Nilsen said the most pressing dangers in transporting nuclear waste are presented by derailments or collisions. Any mishap would require large-scale and extremely expensive cleanup operations
"All soil in the affected area would have to be dug up and disposed of as nuclear waste," said Nilsen.
"These trains will also be traveling through some of the most populated areas of Russia, so a spill could displace thousands of people."
THE PLUTONIUM FACTOR
If what some experts foresee in Adamov's import plans hold true, the price Minatom plans to charge for importing, and storing or reprocessing spent fuel - which yields plutonium, uranium, and liquid waste - could be one small part of an ambitious whole: the creation of a plutonium-based energy economy.
Experts say this has been a preoccupation of the Russian nuclear industry since the 1950s.
All that Russia needs for this is the money to develop a generation of special reactors called breeders - which, in brief, produce more plutonium than is fed to them - and the facilities to fabricate a special mixed-oxide fuel, or MOX.
Under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Russia will be getting a MOX-fabrication plant as part of a very different plan that is meant to reduce the amount of surplus weapons-grade plutonium Russia now holds.
If the MOX fuel is burned in a retrofitted VVER-1000 reactor - Russia has seven of these - the plutonium is gradually rendered inert. A roughly similar program will be followed in the United States. If, however, MOX is run through a breeder, the plutonium becomes purer.
Presently, Russia has one breeder reactor that, at today's rates, cost $918 million to build. If Adamov's $21 billion waste-import plan reaches fruition, Russia would have the resources to build several breeders, plus a MOX plant to feed them with.
The public-relations image of MOX fuel took a hammering in 1999, when a shipment of the material to Japan - now the world's foremost purchaser of MOX - from Britain raised an international outcry.
The supplier, the Sellafield nuclear power station operated by British Nuclear Fuels Limited, was found to have falsified quality-control data on the fuel, and although two armed ships eventually delivered the tainted MOX to Japan, the British and Japanese governments agreed to send the fuel back to Britain.
At present, it is still sitting in Japan. (Ironically, Japan became interested in MOX after an accident at its Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor following a sodium coolant leak in 1995.)
Taking surplus weapons-grade plutonium and burning it as MOX in Russia's VVER-1000 reactors is central to the U.S.-Russia agreement. But according to Edwin Lyman, science director of the Washington-based Nuclear Control Institute, those reactors are not up to the job.
"VVER-1000 reactors have problems processing the uranium fuel they were intended to use," he said in a recent telephone interview. For a variety of technical reasons, burning MOX in such a reactor is much more difficult to control, "and the margin of error ... is extremely narrow."
"It is a documented fact that Russia observes some of the worst standards of up-keep on its reactors imaginable," said Richard Rosenthal, the NCI's executive director. He added that any accident resulting from MOX use in a VVER-1000 would increase the risk of cancer in the affected area by 25 percent more than what the Chernobyl disaster managed.
"Putting plutonium into a VVER-1000 is a terrible idea."
While the DOE may shrug off such dangers, there is one aspect of the deal with Russia that is strangely missing: As of yet, no one is accepting liability should something go wrong.
According to the DOE's Laura Holgate, who brokered the plan, these questions will be addressed at a Group of Eight meeting this summer in Genoa, Italy. But it has been a major sticking-point so far.
THE TERRORIST THREAT
Other factors worrying observers of Adamov's import plan involve the vulnerability to terrorists of a train laden with nuclear waste. Though much of the waste shipped is virtually useless for the urposes of building a large nuclear device, Lyman underscored that "one can make a so-called dirty' nuclear bomb out of spent fuel."
Such fears have been a preoccupation of Western nuclear disposition organizations since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
"It takes a ball of plutonium the size of an orange to make a bomb more powerful than the one that destroyed Nagasaki," said Rosenthal. He added that trains carrying any of the nuclear material, be it spent fuel or MOX, would have to be guarded with "military force."
It is a familiar stance. For a few years from 1992 onward, the Western press was full of reports of the possible smuggling of fissile and other radioactive (but not necessarily weapons-usable) material. One notable report was an investigation carried out by the Frontline program from U.S. Public Broadcasting Service in November 1996, which detailed some of the biggest scares to that date.
On Nov. 23, 1995, a reporter for NTV claimed to have received a tip-off from Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev, and uncovered a package containing cesium-137 buried under some leaves in Izmailovsky Park in northeast Moscow.
. On Dec. 14, 1994, 2.7 kilograms of uranium-235 was seized by police in Prague. According to the Frontline investigation, the supplier of the material, an Eduard Baranov from Obninsk, had been involved in a number of similar smuggling incidents of "loose nuke" material.
Another Frontline report in 1999 revealed how U.S. agents were offered a chance to by small nuclear devices from two Lithuanians, who allegedly had links to a mysterious scientific institute in St. Petersburg, as well as to then Defense Minister Pavel Grachev.
But a DOE source who requested anonymity said that for all the fear that Russia's nuclear arsenal would slowly fall into the hands of the highest rogue state bidder, "not one bomb has been lost."
The source added that the MOX would be transported in the U.S. program via the same transportation infrastructure that kept nuclear arms on the move.
"I would assume that the Russians have a similar infrastructure," the source said.
But Bellona's Nilsen pointed out that such internal infrastructures are hard to locate because they run on secret schedules.
"This will not be so with international shipments," he said. "Protesters can get scheduling information and protest, pointing out those ships or trains that contain waste."
Another theory as to why Russia wants to import spent nuclear fuel was put forward by Moscow-based defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer, in a column he wrote for The St. Petersburg Times on Jan. 9.
"In April 1999, the Security Council (President Vladimir Putin was the secretary of the Security Council at that time) ordered the Nuclear Power Ministry to speed up the development of a new generation of nuclear weapons, including so-called 'penetrators,'" Felgenhauer wrote.
"These weapons are designed to burrow down tens of meters underground before exploding. The Security Council also ordered the development of a new generation of very low-yield tactical, battlefield nuclear weapons.
"Immediately after Putin announced the Security Council decision, Adamov began to clamor for foreign nuclear waste and a bill was introduced in the Duma."
This theory was confirmed by Paul Beaver, a spokesman for Jane's, the highly respected defense, aerospace and transportation information group, in an interview from London on Wednesday.
"The British have a penetrator called Broach, which is being looked at by the French and the Americans," he said, "[but] it's one piece of technology the Russians are short of."
"In order to build a penetrator, you need depleted uranium, which means you need spent nuclear fuel. The Russians also need this for their anti-tank weapons - and it's also used in cruise missiles and guided bombs."
"One of the reasons they are so interested is because of the problems they have had hitting targets effectively in Chechnya."
If so, Felgenhauer noted, the irony is rich. All the West's financial help - selling spent fuel, and helping Russia with the MOX deal - will be used to build nuclear weapons that could be used against it. return to menu
B. Russian-Iranian Relations
1. Iran Arms Deal Nears
February 11, 2001
(for personal use only)
The head of the arms export monopoly has said Moscow could sign a deal on military-technical cooperation with Iran before the end of the year, Interfax reported Sunday.
Viktor Komardin, head of Rosoboronexport, said arms deals with Iran could eventually net Moscow up to $300 million a year, and that Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev had discussed "concrete questions" on a visit to Tehran last December.
Russia told the United States last year that Moscow no longer felt bound by the terms of a 1995 deal to curtail weapons sales to Iran. return to menu
2. Iranian President to Visit Russia in March
February 9, 2001
(for personal use only)
MOSCOW, Feb 9, 2001 -- (Reuters) Moderate Iranian President Mohammad Khatami will pay an official visit to Russia in March, Interfax news agency quoted Foreign Ministry sources as saying on Thursday.
The United States has been worried by warming ties between Russia and Iran, which Washington views as one of the "rogue nations" against which it needs a new missile defense shield.
The agency said the exact date of the visit, the first by an Iranian head of state, would be announced simultaneously in Moscow and Tehran 10 days before Khatami's arrival.
Interfax said the Iranian president was likely to travel to Moscow after a planned meeting of five Caspian Sea littoral states in Turkmenistan in early March.
Both the Foreign Ministry and the Kremlin declined comment on the report.
The diplomats quoted by Interfax said Khatami and Russian President Vladimir Putin would discuss cooperation to ease tensions in hot spots in the area.
Moscow has repeatedly unnerved the United States by pushing for closer economic and military ties with Tehran, which Washington sees as a potential missile menace.
The United States is particularly concerned by Russia's contract to build a nuclear power station in Iran's Gulf port of Bushehr. Moscow says its deals with Tehran are within international legal norms and pose no threat to third parties.
Putin and Khatami are also scheduled to sign a broad agreement detailing principles of cooperation, Interfax said. return to menu
C. Russian-Indian Nuclear Cooperation
1. AEC chief welcomes Russia's offer on nuclear reactors
February 12, 2001
(for personal use only)
TARAPUR, FEB. 11. The Atomic Energy Commission Chairman, Dr. Anil Kakodkar, has welcomed the Russian proposal for four more 1000 MW nuclear reactors for Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu.
There were provisions in the MoU signed with Russia for getting the four reactors in addition to the two units for Koodankulam site, but "lot of work needs to be done in this regard," he said.
The project report for the two units was ready and construction would begin by June, he said at a press conference here.
Describing the demand made by the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Prime Minister, Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, to double up the nuclear power generation target for the year 2020 to 40,000 MW as a modest one, Mr. Kakodkar said "but the country has to first generate the kind of money required."
Talking about the low enriched fuel for the Tarapur Atomic Power Station, he said the Chinese supply would continue and efforts were on to procure from other countries also.
The Nuclear Power Corporation CMD, Mr. V.K. Chaturvedi, said they were upgrading the TAPS 1 and 2 to maintain safety as stipulated by international regulatory body.
Asked if any change of design was required for the future nuclear plants to withstand earthquakes, Mr. Kakodkar said there was no need to change the design as the NPCIL's standard would take care of seismic potential after a study of seismic history of the region. return to menu
D. U.S. - Russian Relations
1. Powell Seen Meeting Ivanov Soon to Discuss Defense
February 10, 2001
(for personal use only)
WASHINGTON, Feb 10, 2001 -- (Reuters) U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell hopes to meet Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov this month for the new Bush administration's first face-to-face encounter with Russia, Powell's spokesman said on Friday.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said U.S. plans for a missile defense system would be among subjects for discussion if the meeting with Ivanov can be arranged during Powell's February 23-27 trip to the Middle East and Belgium. The proposed National Missile Defense (NMD) is fiercely opposed by Russia and China.
Boucher said Norwegian Foreign Minister Thorbjoern Hagland on Friday asked Powell, who took office January 20, when he would get a chance to consult with Ivanov on the system that in theory would use missiles to blast other missiles out of the sky.
"The secretary told him what I've told you before: 'We hope to see him soon,'" Boucher told a news briefing.
"It may be possible to make some arrangements for that to happen during the course of this trip that is coming up, but the arrangements are still being made," he added.
Russia opposes the defensive system, fearing it would reduce the effectiveness of its own arsenal of thousands of weapons.
Boucher said Powell was looking forward to discussing the system, and many other subjects, when he meets Ivanov.
Norway and other European countries want the United States to get Russia's agreement to amend the Soviet-U.S. Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) of 1972 before building the system.
Unlike the previous Clinton administration, which tried for months to get Russia to amend the ABM that prohibits building such a system, the Bush administration regards the pact as history.
Norway, a proponent of ABM and fearful of anything that might destabilize relations with its neighbor Russia, hosted U.S.-Russian missile talks during the Clinton administration.
Hagland told Reuters in a telephone interview that he had the impression from his meeting on Friday that Powell was committed to consulting with allies and critics, but they had not had enough time to get into details on how he would do this, or on the fate of ABM.
AMPLE OPPORTUNITY FOR CONSULTATION
Powell told a news conference there would be ample opportunity for consultation while Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld looked into technologies for NMD, which is in the early stages of development but could be land- or sea-based.
"It would be irresponsible of us not to move forward with technologies that have the possibility of being able to stop these kinds of weapons," Powell said.
Asked if the U.S. determination to move ahead with NMD while convincing other countries of its wisdom reflected the "humility" with which he has said he wants to exercise American power, Powell denied the policy was "arrogant."
"Humility can coexist with principle, and our principle and our belief is that this adds to deterrence. This is the right thing to do," he said.
"We are going to consult with our allies to hear their concerns, but we are not going to get knocked off the track of moving in this direction as long as the technology points us in that direction," Powell added.
"We're trying to convey the power of our position to the rest of the world, and at the same time hear from them, hear from our European allies, hear from China and Russia particularly, and see if we can convince them that there is a cooperative way to approach this that will benefit all of us."
Supporters of ABM see it as a cornerstone of arms control agreements. Critics of the missile defense say it would prompt other countries to acquire more weapons of mass destruction rather than reducing nuclear tensions.
The United States says efforts by countries including North Korea, Iran and Iraq mean it must take steps now to shield itself from future threats. NMD proponents argue the United States has a moral responsibility to explore its technological ability to defend its people and its allies. return to menu
E. Plutonium Disposition
1. Seeking the Holy Grail For Nuclear Power
By Charles Digges and Barnaby Thompson
The Moscow Times
February 12, 2001
(for personal use only)
ST. PETERSBURG - Government plans to import and reprocess spent nuclear fuel have caused something of a stir in recent months. As the Nuclear Power Ministry claims potential revenues of billions of dollars, its critics have loudly voiced their concerns on safety issues, financial viability and nuclear accidents in the past. Meanwhile, Russia and the United States are set to implement another billion-dollar agreement to develop special fuel using weapons-grade plutonium and burn it in existing nuclear reactors. At first glance, the two projects seem to contradict one another. Reprocessing the imported spent nuclear fuel will give Russia uranium, liquid waste and plutonium. Yet the agreement with the United States appears predicated on nonproliferation - reducing the world's stocks of plutonium. But interviews with experts and government officials here and in America show that Russia has a long-term vision: the acquisition - at Western expense - of an infrastructure that would allow Russia to abandon traditional uranium energy sources in favor of a more dangerous, but potentially inexhaustible, supply of plutonium fuel. In other words, Russia is in pursuit of something that has always eluded the nuclear world: a closed-cycle, self-perpetuating nuclear energy system based on plutonium. All it needs is the cash. And both the above plans fit into that scheme.
Left Hand, Right Hand
With the plutonium disposition agreement signed last summer by President Vladimir Putin and then-U.S. President Bill Clinton, the U.S. Department of Energy, or DOE, is seeking to reduce surplus weapons-grade plutonium in both countries by destroying 34 tons in the United States and 34 tons in Russia. (Former President Boris Yeltsin said in 1997 that Russia has about 50 tons of surplus weapons-grade plutonium stored in dismantled warheads, about half of the total surplus in the world.)
While this agreement was being thrashed out, Nuclear Power Minister Yevgeny Adamov was campaigning vociferously for a pet project he has been discussing for several years - the paid import of nuclear waste from other countries for disposal and reprocessing in Russia. So confident was Adamov that the State Duma would support him, he struck a deal in December with a nuclear power plant in Bulgaria to import a shipment of nuclear waste from the plant, before the law allowing Russia to accept such imports had even cleared its first reading. It passed that first reading a few days later, and it is expected to fare just as well at its final reading this month.
In a country that cannot keep up with its own mounting nuclear waste, however, such a program sounded to many activists like madness. Environmentalists demanded the question be put to a nationwide referendum, and collected 2.5 million signatures - well above the required 2 million - on a petition to get the process going. The Central Elections Commission, however, disqualified 800,000 of the signatures over what appeared to be minor technicalities. In several instances, signatures were disqualified because the signatories used "incorrect" abbreviations for their addresses, for example. Adamov, meanwhile, has managed to shout down any critics in government by showing the bottom line: Russia's cashapped nuclear industry could make $21 billion over the next 10 to 15 years by charging other nations a fee for taking nuclear waste off their hands. The money would go on increasing the country's nuclear industry, upping its share of energy production from the current 14 percent to 30 percent in 2030, improving salaries and living conditions for nuclear workers, and providing for programs to clean up the various leaks and spills that have blighted Russia's reputation in this field.
In interviews, the DOE said it has no argument with Russia's import plans. According to officials there, the imports would have "no connection" with the DOE's project because, among other reasons, they would do little to enhance Russia's weapons-grade plutonium stocks once reprocessed.
Officials pointed out that the United States has dibs on 94 percent of spent nuclear fuel worldwide - it either possesses it outright, or has consent rights to it in other countries. Adamov can't get his hands on a significant amount of spent fuel without U.S. say-so. Nonetheless, the DOE's stance makes it clear that Washington will not stand in Adamov's way. The DOE's job, as it sees it, is to dispose of the agreed-upon 68 tons of weapons plutonium over the next 25 years. Whatever happens to the Russian imports is the business of Russia.
Connecting Trains and MOX
Whether or not the DOE acknowledges it, however, its own plutonium-disposition plan - when enacted in the context of the Nuclear Power Ministry's waste-import program - may set the stage for a situation in which Russia not only doesn't deplete its plutonium base, but is given the basic tools by Western countries to increase its plutonium stock infinitely, and virtually for free.
The centerpiece of the DOE's plutonium disposition plan, the department's web site says, is the production of a mixed-oxide nuclear fuel, or MOX, a mixture of plutonium oxide and uranium oxide. This fuel would then be burned, on the Russian side, in retrofitted VVER-1000 type reactors, a standard nuclear-power block known as a light-water reactor. Russia has seven of these reactors, which were designed to use uranium, not MOX fuel.
In early January, however, the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research released a report that raised a number of technical and security problems with MOX. First, while MOX reactors exist in a number of European countries, they use commercial, reactor-grade plutonium, rather than weapons-grade. (Both categories can be used to make a nuclear bomb, although the yield with reactor-grade material is much less predictable.)
A test to see whether weapons-grade plutonium can be used in MOX fuel is about to start at the Chalk River laboratories in Canada. Initial results will be available in four years. If successful, plans to convert Russian light-water reactors to burn MOX will likely go ahead. The IEER report was highly critical of the concept, saying MOX experiments in Japan and Europe during the 1980s found light-water reactors increase plutonium isotopes, effectively making the plutonium unfit for repeated use as fuel. This method of destroying the plutonium was selected by the Nuclear Power Ministry and its DOE counterparts, said the DOE's Laura Holgate, who brokered the disposition accord, because the Russian side steadfastly refused to consider immobilization - that is, burial of fuel in special ceramic chambers."I've sat across the negotiating table from [the Nuclear Power Ministry], and they consider plutonium to be a viable resource," said Holgate in a telephone interview from Washington last week.
"The only way they will agree to get rid of it is by burning it in a reactor. If plutonium disposition is to be a reality with the Russians, immobilization is out of the question." To take the MOX route and burn the plutonium, Russia needs approximately $1.7 billion to convert its reactors and to build, or transport from elsewhere, a plant to fabricate MOX fuel. Though more costly than immobilization, it will at least meet the disposition goal.
The MOX agreement has been hailed as a route to a safer world, an aid to disarmament, a barrier to "loose nukes," as well as a way of generating more electricity in Russia and thus fulfilling Adamov's stated plans. But experts say that these issues are a sideshow to the real plan. If Russia gets a MOX fuel production facility, it will have made serious inroads into securing a self-perpetuating, plutonium-based economy.
"The U.S. Department of Energy's MOX-producing plans would create a plutonium economy for Russia and stand the plutonium economy of the world on its head," said Edwin Lyman, scientific director of the Nuclear Control Institute, a Washington-based nuclear energy watchdog organization.
Lyman said further that Holgate's assertion that Russia won't capitulate to an immobilization plan is "a smoke screen."
"Western countries [participating in the plutonium disposition plan] see it as a business deal - with a veneer of social responsibility."
The MOX plan would give Russia a MOX production plant for free, probably by dismantling an unfinished one from Hanau in Germany and rebuilding it here. Regardless of whether or not Russia's light-water reactors are converted, the country could earn money by exporting MOX fuel. Importing spent fuel is a further source of money, at the same time, as its reprocessing would produce more plutonium. In short, Russia would get the cash, the technology and the fuel, without spending a ruble. All this leads in one direction, analysts say: the construction of a new generation of Russian breeder reactors. "This has been the philosophy [of Russian nuclear agencies] going back to the Soviet Union," said Adrian Collings, an industry expert with the London-based Uranium Institute, a nonprofit, nongovernmental nuclear forum.
Breeder reactors were built to answer the problem of what to do when supplies of uranium ran out. In short, they are designed to create more fuel than they consume by converting a nonfissile isotope of uranium into fissile plutonium, which can then be used as fuel.
However, as the IEER report states, the idea never really worked because breeder reactors proved tricky and expensive to run. At the same time, the price of uranium steadily declined, making the reprocessing of spent fuel to extract plutonium uneconomical by comparison.
With a ready stock of military plutonium, however, the breeder reactor could run on MOX fuel - technically a far better means than converted light-water reactors. As MOX fuel passes through a light-water reactor, its energy supply is reduced.
This doesn't happen with the breeder. In fact, a breeder reactor can actually increase the purity of the plutonium during the reaction process. Nothing about breeder reactors is written into the U.S.-Russia agreement on MOX fuel. But as stated above, in order to build a closed plutonium economy, Russia needs - aside from the Western-funded MOX-fabrication facility - breeders, and the cash with which to build them. The latter, recalling Adamov's spent-fuel import program, could already be taken care of. According to the IEER report, the cost of Russia's only existing breeder reactor, the BN-600 located at the Mayak reprocessing facility, in the Chelyabinsk region, would be $918 million if translated into today's terms. Should Adamov's plans reach fruition, Russia would feasibly have the money to build several breeders.
Nuclear Power Ministry spokesman Yury Bespalko said in a recent telephone interview from Moscow that Russia has had a so-called BREST breeder reactor on the drawing board for some years. This reactor is designed to create plutonium on a one-to-one ratio, which would make it, for lack of a better term, a perpetual-motion machine. Bespalko would provide no further details, and Lyman was skeptical that the Russians could get the reactor to work.
But Collings at the Uranium Institute said that the Russians were well versed in breeder technology, describing the BN-600 reactor as "highly successful." "Russia has enormous nuclear-research capabilities at the laboratory level," he said.
One voice of dissent, published on the Norwegian environmental group Bellona's web site, came from Alexei Yablokov, a former Yeltsin environmental adviser, who said the Russians would be unlikely to attempt a breeder economy, opting instead for cheaper fresh uranium and a host of new light-water reactors.
And a DOE official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the United States would refuse any technical cooperation on any breeder programs in Russia as long as Russia continued supporting the development of a nuclear energy program in Iran. Other alternatives available to the United States, said the official, were to pressure Russia's potential waste disposal client states - like Switzerland, Taiwan, South Korea and Eastern European states such as Bulgaria - into not letting go of their spent fuel. But when the MOX plan is through, that still leaves Russia 16 tons of weapons-grade plutonium declared surplus, another 30 tons of separated commercial plutonium stored at Mayak, plus waste disposal contracts that may exist without U.S. knowledge, said NCI's executive director Richard Rosenthal.
Summing up their objections to the DOE's plutonium-disposition plan, Arjun Makhijani, the author of the critical IEER report, wrote: "The net result will be that the first military plutonium will be used in the MOX plant, decreasing the military plutonium stock, while commercial reprocessing increases the commercial plutonium stock.
"Then the military-origin MOX spent fuel can be reprocessed while already separated commercial plutonium is fabricated into MOX fuel. In the meantime, more breeder reactors would be built. All but the last element would be financed with Western money.
"This seems to be the plan that [the Nuclear Power Ministry] is banking on." return to menu
1. Russia Welcomes U.S. Intention to Cut Missiles
February 10, 2001
(for personal use only)
MOSCOW, Feb 10, 2001 -- (Reuters) Russian defense officials welcomed President George Bush's intention to cut the number of U.S. strategic missiles and said Moscow was ready for talks on coordinated arms cuts, Interfax news agency reported on Saturday.
But it quoted "military-diplomatic sources" as saying Moscow still opposed any changes to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, which stands on the way of the "Son of Star Wars" National Missile Defense (NMD) system planned by the Bush administration.
A senior U.S. official told Reuters on Friday that Bush would carry out a review of the U.S. nuclear arsenal with an eye towards unilaterally cutting it to 2,000 warheads from more than 7,000.
"We are ready to start immediate talks with the United States on further arms reductions and seek constructive ways to maintain a strategic stability," Interfax quoted the sources as saying.
"Military-diplomatic sources" normally refer to the Russian Defense Ministry's foreign relations department.
Under the U.S.-Russian START-2 treaty signed in 1993, Moscow and Washington committed themselves to cutting the number of nuclear warheads to 3,500 for each country.
Russia and the United States have discussed plans to cut the number of warheads to 2,500 in the new START-3 treaty. Russia's proposal to reduce the number to 1,500 has prompted little enthusiasm in Washington so far.
Plans for talks on mutual arms cuts have been overshadowed by Bush's strong commitment to the NMD to protect the United States from potential missile attacks from "rogue states", but which is prohibited by the ABM pact.
Russia and China staunchly oppose any changes to the ABM treaty, which they see as the cornerstone of all subsequent disarmament deals. Washington has signalled it was ready to break with the ABM pact if Russia did not agree to change it.
Many U.S. allies in Europe have expressed concern that conflict over the ABM treaty could trigger a new arms race and urged Bush to consult Moscow before proceeding.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was planning to discuss NMD plans with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov soon, his spokesman said on Friday.
The NMD will also be high on the agenda of German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer who is due in Moscow on Monday.
Sources quoted by Interfax made clear Moscow was not ready to surrender the ABM pact.
"Russia's position on the issue remains unchanged," they said. "As soon as Washington makes a first step in implementing the NMD system, Moscow will make its own steps in response."
Russian officials have said that if Washington pushed ahead with the NMD, Russia could withdraw from most of disarmament deals of the last three decades.
Russian Defense Minister Igor Ivanov also said Moscow could dust off defense technologies designed in 1980s to counteract Star Wars-like space defense plans drafted by the United States under President Ronald Reagan but never carried out. return to menu
G. Russia Nuclear Cooperation
1. Russia Set to Build Nuclear Reactor in Myanmar
Agence France Presse
February 10, 2001
(for personal use only)
MOSCOW, Feb 10, 2001 -- (Agence France Presse) Russia will begin talks with Myanmar on building a nuclear reactor in the South Asian country for scientific purposes, a government spokesman said here Friday.
If Myanmar's authorities agree to the deal, Russia's nuclear energy ministry will present appropriate proposals to the Russian government, the spokesman was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.
The Myanmar junta is accused by the United States and other Western opponents of carrying out a string of human rights abuses, and crushing all political opposition.
However, Russian officials said earlier that Moscow considers Myanmar a promising partner in Asia and the Pacific region. return to menu
H. Nonproliferation Policy and Implentation
1. Ukraine Says Won't Build Nuclear Weapons With Russia
Agence France Presse
February 12, 2001
(for personal use only)
KIEV, Feb 12, 2001 -- (Agence France Presse) A senior Ukrainian official said Sunday that his and country and Russia were not planning on building nuclear weapons together, undermining remarks made by a junior minister in the defense ministry.
"Neither Russia nor Ukraine is currently thinking about jointly making nuclear warhead carriers," the head of the government's commission in charge of military manufacturing, Volodimir Gorbulin, told the UT-1 television channel.
That contrasted with a remark by a junior defense minister Friday who said Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma would discuss the joint construction of intercontinental ballistic missiles when they hold a 24-hour summit in Kiev late Sunday.
The minister suggested the missiles could be used to carry nuclear warheads.
Monday, Putin and Kuchma are to visit a factory that, in Soviet times, used to be one of the biggest missile factories in the world. It now builds trams and satellite launcher rockets.
Ukraine renounced the use of nuclear weapons after winning independence in 1991 and all its nuclear missiles -- estimated at some 1,500 -- were transported to Russia in 1996. return to menu