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Nuclear News - 04/24/01
RANSAC Nuclear News, April 24, 2001
Compiled by Kelly Turner


A. Loose Nukes
    1. Two Naval Officers Nabbed For Selling Radioactive Goods, Alexander Arkhipov, Itar-Tass (04/23/01)
B. Nuclear Waste
    1. Russia To Earn £20bn As Nuclear Waste Dump, Patrick Cockburn, The Independent (UK) (04/23/01)
    2. Russian, French Ministers Discuss Spent Fuel Issue, Veronika Voskoboinikova, Itar-Tass (04/23/01)
C. Nuclear Cities
    1. Hard Times, Scary Choices in Russia, Richard Morin and Claudia Deane, The Washington Post (04/24/01)
    2. Report Finds Low Salaries For Russian Weapons Workers: Some Wish To Leave, Others Moonlight To Make Ends Meet, Glenn Roberts Jr., Oakland Tribune (04/22/01)
D. US Nuclear Stockpile
    1. New Nukes, William M. Arkin, The Washington Post (04/23/01)
    2. U.S. Considers Developing Low-Yield Nuclear Bomb, Walter Pincus, The Washington Post (04/22/01)
E. Russian Relations
    1. Russia Wants Warmer U.S. Relations, Vladimir Isachenkov, Associated Press (04/20/01)
F. Plutonium Disposition
    1. Plutonium Disposition: Non-Proliferation or Industry Welfare? Thomas Sköld, European Security Review, Issue 5, Centre for European Security and Disarmament (04/01)

A. Loose Nukes

1.
Two Naval Officers Nabbed For Selling Radioactive Goods
Alexander Arkhipov
Itar-Tass
April 23, 2001
(for personal use only)


PETROPAVLOVSK-KAMCHATSKY, Russian Far East - Two naval officers were detained in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky in an attempt to sell articles, containing radioactive substances.

According to a report by military prosecutor of the Petropoavlovsk-Kamchatsky garrison Yuri Sazonov, the officers supposedly tried to sell components of a nuclear power plant of a N-submarine.

The radioactive goods, seized as a result of a joint operation by the Kamchatka Region police department, the regional branch of the Russian Federal Security Service and the military prosecutor's office, were handed over for an examination. A criminal case will be instituted by its results.

According to Sazonov, the trend for committing crimes of this kind by servicemen is traced from the start of 2000. This is the fifth attempt in Kamchatka by soldiers, sailors and officers to improve their material position by trading military property.
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B. Nuclear Waste

1.
Russia To Earn £20bn As Nuclear Waste Dump
Patrick Cockburn
The Independent (UK)
April 23, 2001
(for personal use only)


A sealed train may soon cross the Russian frontier heading for Siberia carrying the first consignment of 20,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel for storage and reprocessing, under a bill now sailing through parliament in Moscow. Russia hopes to earn $20bn (£14bn) over a decade as a dumping ground for the world's nuclear waste, a move which experts warn could be catastrophic.

Professor Alexey Yablokov, once head of environmental affairs under President Boris Yeltsin, believes that Russia does not have the equipment to transport, store or reprocess the spent nuclear fuel safely.

He says: "It's the most polluting type of technology. The dirtiest part of the radioactive cycle is the reprocessing. We store the waste underground, and then it ends up in the Arctic Ocean somewhere."

The motive for using Siberia as the world's nuclear garbage dump is simple enough. Prof Yablokov claims "the Ministry of Atomic Energy has always been a state within a state and people there dream of making fast and easy money." The government, unable to find funds to invest in the nuclear industry, hopes this will solve Russia's problems.

Vladimir Kuznetsov, formerly an inspector for Russia's state agency for nuclear safety, Gosatomnadzor, says that Russia can offer lower prices than anybody else to get rid of nuclear waste only because it uses out-of-date technology and ill-trained personnel. He gives a chilling example of the type of accident he believes will happen more frequently in future.

Ten years ago, he was sent to inspect a nuclear accident at the Ignalina power station in what is now Lithuania. He found that technicians had been told, as an experiment, to take a 24ft-long dummy nuclear rod and cut it into smaller pieces so it would be easier to transport. Unfortunately, the technicians made a small mistake. The dummy rod was coloured silver. Those that had been used in the reactor turn black. Two technicians involved in the experiment chose the black one to cut up and shortly afterwards were flown to Moscow with acute radioactive poisoning.

The Atomic Energy Ministry is a notoriously secretive organisation and few outsiders are allowed to see its budget. Mr. Kuznetsov points to the low price it charges Ukraine for reprocessing fuel from its nuclear power stations as deeply suspicious.

He says: "We are currently charging Ukrainians $400-450 for reprocessing a kilo of nuclear waste compared to the $2,000 a kilo Japan pays to France. Not only does Ukraine pay only a quarter of the cost to the Japanese but part of that is in barter. The reason for the price difference is laxer safety standards in Russia."

The Atomic Energy Ministry estimates there are 200,000 kilos of spent nuclear fuel in the world. If it can import 10 per cent of this it could earn $20bn over 10 to 15 years. This would enable it to build new power plants, launch a radioactive clean up and build new reprocessing and storage facilities. There would even be money to pay taxes.

But Prof Yablokov claims the Ministry's plans to protect the environment change every few months. The two existing storage and reprocessing facilities in Siberia are almost full to capacity. At Mayak, in the southern Urals, the ground water is already highly polluted and the reprocessing plant was, in any case, designed to deal with fuel from nuclear submarines. Nor is it clear the nuclear fuel rods would be transported to Siberia given that Russia has only a single four-wagon train equipped to transport them.

Despite these problems the Atomic Energy Ministry, strongly backed by the Kremlin, has ridden roughshod over any opposition. It has contemptuously ignored Gosatomnadzor, which says that the import ban should not be lifted until new facilities are built. The Ministry even refuses to answer its letters. The agency also doubts if any of the revenues from importing nuclear waste will be used to increase safety.
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2.
Russian, French Ministers Discuss Spent Fuel Issue
Veronika Voskoboinikova
Itar-Tass
April 23, 2001
(for personal use only)


Russian Nuclear Power Minister Alexander Rumyantsev met visiting French Minister for Scientific Research Roger-Gegard Schwartzenberg on Monday.

They discussed two major nuclear energy issues, or treatment of so-called irradiated nuclear fuel and the building of the world's first thermonuclear reactor, the Nuclear Power Ministry's press service told Itar-Tass.

Rumyantsev informed the French minister about the planned change of Russian legislation which is to allow import of spent nuclear fuel from Western nuclear power plants for temporary storage and reprocessing in Russia.

Rumyantsev and Schwarzenberg also discussed the international thermonuclear reactor project which in particular involves European Union countries, Japan, Canada and Kazakhstan.

The sides are considering a country in which the reactor will be located. Japan, Canada and France are being discussed as options. Russia does not object to the reactor's being built in France, Rumyantsev said. The building is to start in 2003.
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C. Nuclear Cities

1.
Hard Times, Scary Choices in Russia
Richard Morin and Claudia Deane
The Washington Post
April 24, 2001
(for personal use only)


In the 1940s and '50s, Russia's 10 "nuclear cities" were places of relative privilege in the former Soviet Union. Scientists living in these isolated, nameless towns not found on any map were rewarded for their work on nuclear weapons development with good wages and access to scarce consumer goods.

That was then.

Now, six in 10 nuclear experts earn less than $50 per month, and roughly the same number have to moonlight to get by, according to a groundbreaking survey of 500 specialists working in the nuclear cities. The survey was commissioned by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"If you're a top manager at Los Alamos, you make about 100 times more than you make if you're a top manager in Russia," said Jon Wolfsthal, an associate in Carnegie's Non-Proliferation Project.

"Their economic hardship dramatically increases the risk that they will be forced to sell their skills or materials at hand to the highest bidder," Wolfsthal and Alexander Pikayev wrote in the report's introduction.

More than one in 10 experts said they would like to work outside Russia, and 6 percent said they would move "any place at all." What would they do once they got there? "What they do best, which is make weapons," Wolfsthal said.

Aside from the risk of secret-saturated scientists settling in dangerous places such as Iraq or North Korea, there is the problem of whether there would be anyone left to mind the nuclear store. Private business is proving to be an irresistible lure for many specialists, and migration to the nuclear cities is on the wane.

The report, authored by Russian sociologist Valentin Tikhonov, is available on Carnegie's Web site (www.ceip.org) and will be officially released in early May.
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2.
Report Finds Low Salaries For Russian Weapons Workers: Some Wish To Leave, Others Moonlight To Make Ends Meet
Glenn Roberts Jr.
Oakland Tribune
April 22, 2001
(for personal use only)


About 14 percent of surveyed Russian nuclear weapons workers are willing to work abroad, and about 60 percent are moonlighting to supplement their meager salaries, a study concludes.

Prepared by the Non-Proliferation Project of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the survey was conducted in 1999 and included the responses of about 740 workers at Russian nuclear weapons research cities and missile sites.

About 100 workers from Snezhinsk, a nuclear city that is a sister city to Livermore, participated in the study. The existence of Snezhinsk, an isolated research city in the Ural Mountains, about 1,200 miles east of Moscow, was a Russian-kept secret until the close of the Cold War.

Access to Snezhinsk and other Russian nuclear cities is strictly limited, though cooperative programs launched by the United States have sought to lift some of the restrictions and provide new jobs for weapons scientists and new safety measures for nuclear materials.

Workers from Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and community representatives from the city of Livermore have worked to create new industries in Snezhinsk to steer Russian workers away from weapons research and keep them from leaving the country.

Jon Wolfsthal, an associate for the Carnegie Non-Proliferation Project, said that the impetus for the study, released in late March, was the lack of solid data on the risk of Russian scientists fleeing the country to assist other nations in developing nuclear capabilities.

"Unless we understand what the situation is, we can't design programs to try to address it," Wolfsthal said.

Titled "Russia's Nuclear and Missile Complex: The Human Factor in Proliferation," the report concludes that the qualifications of nuclear specialists has declined at Russian nuclear cities, and their pay has remained relatively level for the past decade while the cost of living "has risen considerably."

"Without the needed investment in facilities, education and living standards, Russia might face serious problems with the safety and reliability of its nuclear arsenal in the years ahead," the report states.

Valentin Tikhonov, a Russian sociologist specializing in migration issues, conducted the study for the Carnegie endowment. Carnegie maintains a center in Moscow, Russia.

Wolfsthal said that proposals by the United States to greatly reduce support for nonproliferation programs with Russia could heighten the risk that Russian weapons expertise and materials could leak out to foreign nations.

"At a time when the situation is getting worse, the Bush administration is proposing essentially that we walk away," he said. The Carnegie Endowment, a nonprofit organization, provides information and analyses of efforts to curb the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Wolfsthal also said the survey seems to suggest that the working conditions in nuclear cities and missile sites are "rapidly deteriorating."

"It's a picture that you or I would never want to live in. These are the cream of the Russian crop - the crown jewels -- and they make less than janitors in the United States. And they know that they make less than janitors," he said.

The survey found that about 60 percent of surveyed weapons specialists receive monthly pay that is equivalent to less than $50 in the United States, and only 3 percent receive the equivalent of $100-$125.

"Regular pay has ceased to be the main source of livelihood, giving way to money made by moonlight. In most cases incomes earned through outside work are either comparable to or higher than regular pay," the survey concludes.

That entrepreneurial spirit could be either a positive sign or a warning: weapons workers appear eager to find other occupations in industry, though it could also represent a danger that they might be willing to take their expertise elsewhere if the price is right, he said.

Even so, the study found that there is a shrinking number of Russian weapons workers who are willing to emigrate to other countries, and most of the emigration in the past decade has been to Israel, Germany and the United States.

And workers were most opposed to working in Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Iran and North Korea, in that order, the study found, and the number of nuclear employees who want to work abroad is about one-fifth to one-sixth the level in 1992.
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D. US Nuclear Stockpile

1.
New Nukes
William M. Arkin
The Washington Post
April 23, 2001
(for personal use only)


The Pentagon is now daring to utter words that were suppressed during the Clinton years: new nukes.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Franklin J. "Judd" Blaisdell revealed at a Capitol Hill seminar on April 6 that exploration of a new "Minuteman IV" intercontinental ballistic missile has begun. Meanwhile, the Navy is calculating the longevity of its own submarine missiles and the need for a Trident III.

With a Congressionally mandated nuclear posture review, and a nuclear "study" constituted by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld barely beginning, one might think this talk signaled the ascendancy of nuclear forces in the U.S. arsenal. In fact, these blasts of honesty merely reflect the reality that if the United States is going to possess nuclear weapons in the future, current systems will eventually have to be replaced.

But some zealots are taking the opportunity to dust off proposals to develop "mini-nukes" for Third World combat. These advocates misread the Bush Pentagon and underestimate the degree to which their newfound candor comes at a price. The military services are not likely to support spending lots of money on nuclear weapons because it will likely come out of their conventional weapons budgets.

Stagnation as Policy

The Clinton Pentagon conducted in its own nuclear posture review in 1994, concluding that they believed nuclear weapons would likely be with us forever. Thus the basic design of forces remained untouched, and a "hedge" force was built in reserve to ensure growth and resurgence were U.S.- Russian relations to sour.

Criticism of this de facto policy of nuclear stagnation mounted from all directions. Arms control advocates decried the absence of reductions and the lack of vision. Nuclear advocates denounced the contradiction of an avowed devotion to nuclear weapons while suppressing research and development of new weapons. But none of the flak had much impact.

Clinton's policy brilliantly turned nuclear weapons into a non-issue, though not necessarily by design. The American public largely forgot about nuclear weapons, at least American ones. And nuclear issues were more and more segregated, even within the U.S. military.

The Air Force, as the service most associated with nukes, has been most affected. The dominating days of the nuclear oriented Strategic Air Command are over. SAC was disestablished in 1991, replaced by U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), a unified command of all the services. Today, STRATCOM lives or dies by nuclear weapons. The Air Force, on the other hand, is almost completely oriented towards warfare ala Iraq and Yugoslavia, and thus has a greater stake in denuclearization.

If some in the Air Force had their way, the hallowed design of the nuclear "triad," the force of land-based intercontinental missiles, strategic submarines, and heavy bombers which have been the core of U.S. nuclear forces since the 1960's, would get an update. B-1, B-2, and B-52 heavy bombers, which have shown their conventional military relevance in the Gulf War and Yugoslavia, would be unshackled from nuclear responsibilities.

According to officers on the air staff in the Pentagon, the new triad would include land- and submarine-based nuclear missiles as the first "leg," with missile defenses and non-nuclear forces as the second and third legs. New ways would be found to incorporate bombers armed with precision guided weapons, future "directed energy" weapons, and cyber-warfare techniques into the non-nuclear leg.

Resistance Ahead

Back in February, when about 60 nuclear specialists and contractors met in Crystal City, Virginia, just blocks from the Pentagon to kick off the Air Forces preparations for a nuclear posture review, there was much discussion about whether such radical redesigns were really going to happen.

Even representatives of Space Command, where there is a growing constituency for space weapons, did not use the word "nuclear." "Nukes are not considered a usable viable weapon by anyone anymore," says a retired Air Force officer working under contract with Space Command. Various laboratory representatives did attend the meeting to market their new "mini-nuke," a low-yield nuclear weapon intended to "deter" rogue nation use of chemical or biological weapons. Their efforts were notable because the pitch went against the now-dominant view that nuclear weapons should be further reduced in number and prominence.

Many arms control advocates are expressing alarm that the Bush team is pushing nuclear renewal and mini-nukes. But Dr. Steven A. Maaranen, a Los Alamos laboratory political scientist who has been appointed chair of Donald Rumsfeld's nuclear study, has consistently written about and espoused the view of the importance of conventional forces.

"If the United States pursues a course of action that requires some continuing reliance on nuclear weapons," Maaranen wrote in a National Research Council study in 1997, "[it] should do its utmost to retain an adequate conventional force posture and superior conventional force technology." The United States should try to place nuclear weapons in the background, Maaranen said, adding that "few would disagree that conventional forces will play a greater part in deterrence in the future."

In a talk given at Los Alamos last December, Maaranen again expressed approval for the "silent role" nuclear weapons have assumed since the end of the Cold War, saying that the threat posed by North Korea and Iran has been overstated. This is not the kind of argument that is used to justify the development of mini-nukes.

Given the cost of the Bush administration's coveted missile defense system, hundreds of billions of dollars in nuclear expenses looms over the horizon. The "bill payer" for missile defenses and nuclear renewal, Air Force officers lament, will be conventional military capabilities. In that, nuclear advocates will face strong opposition from the new dominant thinkers in the military services.
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2.
U.S. Considers Developing Low-Yield Nuclear Bomb
Walter Pincus
The Washington Post
April 22, 2001
(for personal use only)


The Defense Department is studying whether to develop a new, low-yield nuclear weapon with an earth-penetrating nose cone that could knock out hardened or deeply buried targets, according to administration and congressional sources.

Such a weapon has long been sought by nuclear-weapon scientists and some military strategists, including key members of the Bush administration, as a way of reaching targets hidden deep underground without incurring huge collateral damage.

Advocates also say that by developing such smaller nuclear weapons, the United States could safely reduce its current stockpile of 6,000 much more powerful warheads.

Interest in low-yield weapons has been rising with concern that Iraq's Saddam Hussein could hide his biological and chemical arsenals in underground bunkers.

Another target that has drawn attention is Russia's long-term construction of a nuclear-war command center under Yamental mountain.

One senior adviser to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the Iraqi leader would not be deterred by current U.S. nuclear weapons "because he knows a U.S. president would not drop a 100-kiloton bomb on Baghdad" and destroy the entire city and its population to reach Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.

The prospect that the Pentagon would recommend the Bush administration develop a new, low-yield nuclear weapon has become the focus of attention for groups committed to traditional arms control. The Federation of American Scientists plans to release a report this week that argues that "adding low-yield warheads to the world's nuclear inventory simply makes their eventual use more likely."

A report on the Pentagon study is to be sent to Congress in July.

Seven years ago, Congress barred research and development of a low-yield precision-guided nuclear weapon, out of concern that it would blur the line between conventional and nuclear weapons.

But an amendment last year to the defense authorization bill by Sens. John Warner, R-Va., and Wayne Allard, R-Colo., required the Pentagon to study how to defeat hardened and deeply buried targets. The Defense Department was specifically asked to determine what weapons might be needed, including low-yield nuclear devices.

The Energy Department, which controls the nuclear labs, is assisting the Pentagon.

The July report is due at the same time a review of U.S. strategic nuclear-deterrence policy, ordered by Rumsfeld, could be completed. That study deals with offensive and defensive systems, nuclear as well as conventional, administration sources said.

In a paper presented last month, Paul Robinson, head of Sandia Nuclear Laboratories, said he believed "low-yield weapons with highly accurate delivery systems" would be desirable "for deterrence in the non-Russian world." Robinson said the devices could help decision-makers "contemplate the destruction of some buried or hidden targets while being mindful of the need to minimize collateral damage."

Stephen Younger, chief of nuclear-weapon research at Los Alamos National Laboratory, suggested in a paper last summer that accurate, low-yield nuclear weapons could be better suited to attacking buried concrete bunkers and mobile missiles than today's U.S. arsenal of silo-busting weapons. Each of those weapons has the explosive power of 30 Hiroshima bombs.
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E. U.S. - Russian Relations

1.
Russia Wants Warmer U.S. Relations
Vladimir Isachenkov
Associated Press
April 20, 2001
(for personal use only)


MOSCOW (AP) - Russia wants to put bumpy relations with the United States back on track without abandoning its insistence that the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty be preserved, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Friday.

"We would have liked to see a different start in relations with the new American administration. But what has happened has happened, and we cannot reverse it," Ivanov said in a speech summing up the 10-year history of Russia's post-Soviet foreign policy.

Many analysts say Russian-American relations are at their lowest point since the 1991 Soviet collapse. Irritants include sharp divisions over Washington's plans to develop a limited national missile defense system, Russia's nuclear energy and weapons deals with Iran and a recent spy scandal resulting in the tit-for-tat expulsions of Russian and American diplomats.

The Kremlin has urged an early meeting between President Vladimir Putin (news - web sites) and President Bush (news - web sites), but Washington has kept Moscow at arm's length. The two leaders aren't likely to meet until July, on the sidelines of a summit of the Group of Eight industrial nations in Genoa, Italy.

Ivanov said he would convey Moscow's desire to engage in "constructive dialogue" during his talks with Secretary of State Colin Powell (news - web sites) scheduled for next month in Washington. "Confrontation isn't in our interests," he said. "We are prepared not only to defend our approaches, but also to consider attentively the concerns, the well-founded concerns, which the American side may have," Ivanov said, apparently referring to Washington's worries about possible missile threats from such countries as North Korea (news - web sites) and Iran.

"We are ready to jointly pinpoint and assess the existing or potential threats and work out countermeasures if necessary."

At the same time, Ivanov indicated that Moscow would stand its ground on missile defense.

"We must solve these problems without destroying the 1972 ABM treaty and, correspondingly, the entire system of disarmament and arms control agreements," Ivanov said, repeating a Russian proposal for a Europe-wide missile shield.

Without naming the United States, Ivanov said that "now, in the era of globalization, no country, no matter how powerful and influential, can direct world policy alone."

Ivanov underlined that Moscow's top foreign policy priority now was improving ties with Europe as well as with the former Soviet republics.

Russia has toned down its criticism of the United States while waiting to see what direction Washington will take, said Alexander Pikayev, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

But Pikayev said Russia's hopes to drive a wedge between the United States and Europe over missile defense are unrealistic.

"The Europeans fear worsening of the U.S.-Russian relations, but they also feel reluctant to meddle into the missile defense dispute. Instead of supporting Russia, they are likely to urge it to make concessions to the United States," Pikayev said.
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F. Plutonium Disposition

1.
Plutonium Disposition: Non-Proliferation or Industry Welfare?
Thomas Sköld
European Security Review, Issue 5
Centre for European Security and Disarmament
April 2001
(for personal use only)


The EU is about to participate in an international effort to finance a non-proliferation measure in Russia that aims to render excess nuclear weapons plutonium less attractive for bomb-making purposes. Russia plans to process the plutonium into nuclear fuel and recycle it in power reactors, but lacks the funds. While the plutonium disposition goal is welcomed by the non-proliferation community, the selected programme is criticised by many for being counterproductive to non-proliferation goals and merely serving nuclear industry interests.

The EU and Plutonium Disposition

In accordance with the EU Common Strategy on Russia, the Council adopted a Joint Action in December 1999 establishing a Cooperation Programme for Non-proliferation and Disarmament in Russia. The initiative put the Commission in charge of managing 8 900 000 Euros (for 1999 and 2000) to support a chemical weapons destruction project in Gorny as well as a set of scientific studies on Russian plutonium disposition. These studies, involving the Commission Joint Research Centre and four European companies with plutonium-reprocessing technology , address the feasibility of burning weapons-grade plutonium in Russian nuclear reactors.

The non-proliferation goal of plutonium disposition is to make weapons-grade plutonium less attractive for bomb making by modifying it so that its quality is similar to that of spent nuclear fuel, which is highly radioactive and hard to handle. One way to reach this 'spent fuel standard' is to process the plutonium into nuclear fuel by mixing it with uranium, which results in Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX), and burning it in power reactors. Russia prefers the MOX option as it views its plutonium as a valuable energy resource. It is also the option preferred by the western nuclear industry, which would inevitably play an instrumental part in building up the infrastructure required to process Russia's plutonium.

The EU Commission, faced with industry pressure, has held discussions with Minatom (the Russian Nuclear Energy Ministry) on how their excess weapons plutonium could be used in reactors since the early 1990s. It was finally decided at the G8 Summit in Okinawa last year that the EU should support a plutonium disposition programme proposed by Russia and the United States, which is based on MOX fabrication. European support for the scheme was further rallied in a recent series of gatherings including the Plutonium 2000 conference held in Brussels last October, the joint Commission-EU Presidency conferences on non-proliferation and disarmament efforts on 8-9 March and, most recently, at a meeting of the G8 working group on plutonium disposition held on 4-5 April in Berlin. The extent of the EU's financial contribution to this programme will be clarified in the financing plan to be agreed by the next G8 meeting in Genoa in June.

Concerns About MOX

Opponents to MOX say it is counter-productive from a non-proliferation standpoint and maintain that it will actually increase rather than decrease the risk that plutonium ends up in a bomb. The main argument against MOX is that it introduces plutonium into the civil nuclear fuel cycle, which increases the risk of the diversion of the plutonium while it is being fabricated into fuel and transported around the world. Indeed, US non-proliferation policy discourages the commercial use of plutonium throughout the world for exactly this reason. Some say that the plutonium will be even less protected than it is now, under military control. According to Wilhelm Gmelin, head of Safeguards at Euratom, a MOX fabrication plant will need more safeguarding than if the plutonium was to remain in storage.

A second proliferation concern is that Russia has clearly stated its intent to recycle military plutonium perpetually in its civilian nuclear fuel cycle and to export plutonium-based fuel. The 'policy paradox' of this project is that by recycling the plutonium in the commercial fuel cycle, the plutonium would not stay in the desired form of spent fuel after being burnt. Rather, it would be separated from the spent fuel - thus being ready for weapons use - before it is processed once again into MOX. Thus, the Russian intention to recycle military plutonium ultimately undermines any non-proliferation benefits of the MOX option.

There are also considerable economic obstacles to implementing the MOX plan. The estimated cost of the project has continued to escalate, and since the unprofitability of the scheme is generally acknowledged, it has not attracted any private funding. Moreover, even the initial government funding for the project remains uncertain. NuclearFuel, a nuclear industry magazine, noted that 'there is broad scepticism that funding can be squeezed from the government budgets in the name of disarmament.'

In a letter delivered to the Okinawa G8 Summit, 72 European, Asian and North American NGOs protested against the proposed US-Russia MOX programme, citing major technical safety concerns, health, and environmental risks posed by the poor state of Russia's reactors. (footnote) Moreover, an OECD report on MOX points to other potential obstacles in its conclusion that 'a number of complex and interrelated non-technical factors such as non-proliferation, public acceptability, economics, environmental impact and infrastructure would inevitably play a central role in thoroughly developing, implementing and completing the technical options'.

Ignoring Alternatives

Opponents of MOX favour what they insist is a cheaper, faster and safer alternative: vitrification. This involves blending weapons-grade plutonium with high-level radioactive waste and storing it in glass. Vitrification is already used in France and the UK for radioactive waste storage and would achieve the 'spent fuel standard' goal with fewer processing steps than the MOX option. It would be less costly to implement and avoids the numerous nuclear safety concerns related to the burning of weapons-grade plutonium in civil reactors. Finally, the vitrification method reduces the risks of proliferation through theft since it does not require, as MOX does, that plutonium be processed in various facilities or be transported around the world.

Despite strong evidence that vitrification brings more non-proliferation benefits and fewer implementation obstacles, it has received little attention. Before the EU decides to finance the risky MOX non-proliferation measure for the wrong reasons, it should conduct a comprehensive and independent assessment of the best methods to achieve the plutonium disposition policy goals.
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