MOSCOW -- Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed the head of the country's rocket forces yesterday, signaling an apparent resolution of a bitter internal dispute over the future of the armed forces in the former superpower.
Vladimir Yakovlev, head of the strategic rocket forces, had argued vigorously over the last year for maintaining the preeminent role of Russia's nuclear arsenal, butting heads with Anatoly Kvashnin, the head of the general staff who advocated steep reductions in nuclear missiles to free up money to modernize conventional forces.
Putin replaced Yakovlev with Nikolai Solovtsov, head of the Peter the Great military academy, and the position was downgraded from commander in chief to commander, another indication that Putin has sided with those who believe nuclear forces should not be an independent branch of the military.
The move completes the purge of Kvashnin's main internal rivals. A month ago, Putin dismissed Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, another former head of the strategic rocket forces who had clashed with Kvashnin. return to menu
B. Russian-Chinese Cooperation
1. Russian Forces Help China In Mock Conflict
The Washington Times
April 30, 2001
(for personal use only)
Russian military forces intervened in a mock nuclear conflict between China and the United States over Taiwan during strategic exercises that included Russian preparations to use nuclear weapons on U.S. forces in Asia, The Washington Times has learned.
The strategic exercises took place in late February and included practice bombing runs with Russian Tu-22 Backfire bombers that flew close to Japanese airspace, according to defense officials familiar with a National Security Agency analysis of the Russian war games.
"The Russians were practicing nuclear intervention against U.S. troops on Taiwan," said an intelligence official familiar with classified reports on the exercise.
In Moscow yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin met Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan as part of preparations for the signing of a treaty of friendship and cooperation between the two countries in July.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the treaty "will play a great role in enriching the relations between our countries in all spheres." The pact also "will further strategic stability and security around the world," he said.
Disclosure of the Russia-China strategic military cooperation comes as the Bush administration is hardening its views on China.
President Bush last week shifted away from past ambiguity on whether the United States would defend Taiwan in a conflict. The president said the United States would do "whatever it takes" to defend the island. U.S. officials said Beijing interpreted that statement as a willingness by the United States to use both conventional and nuclear forces in a conflict over Taiwan.
A major strategy review now being conducted for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld will recommend a major strategic shift from Europe to Asia, specifically to deal with the emerging threat of China, according to Pentagon officials familiar with an early draft.
According to the NSA assessment of the February Russian war games, the Russians practiced fighting in Europe and Asia during one of the largest exercises in the past decade, the officials said. The intelligence report was based on communications among Russian forces during the maneuvers Feb. 12 to 16.
"The Asia scenario began with a Chinese military attack on Taiwan that was followed by the use of U.S. ground troops" on the island, said one official.
Next, China escalated the conflict by firing tactical nuclear missiles on the U.S. troops in Taiwan, prompting U.S. nuclear strikes on Chinese forces.
Russian nuclear forces then threatened to use nuclear missile strikes on U.S. forces in the region, including strikes on troops in South Korea and Japan.
Japan´s military sent jet interceptors to confront two Russian Tu-22 bombers and two Su-27 fighter-bombers that Tokyo said had violated Japanese airspace. Russia denied there were any violations of Japanese airspace.
A U.S. intelligence official familiar with the NSA analysis said the Tu-22s, which are equipped with long-range nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, were part of the Russian intervention on behalf of China during the simulated conflict over Taiwan. A second intelligence official, however, said he was unaware of the "Taiwan angle."
The European exercise involved a conflict between Russian and NATO forces a scenario practiced in past exercises.
The Asian exercise was the first time Russian forces had practiced fighting the United States in the Pacific region. It also shows the growing strategic partnership between China and Russia.
Russia and China have been moving closer together in what many analysts see as an anti-U.S. alliance. Moscow feels threatened by NATO's inclusion two years ago of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, and China has begun turning against what it calls "U.S. hegemonism" since the 1999 U.S. air war against Yugoslavia. The Balkan conflict also angered Beijing because of the accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, which China's government believes was an intentional U.S. attack.
Intelligence officials said that during the strategic exercises Russia test-fired three strategic nuclear missiles, from land-based mobile launchers and from a submarine.
Senior Russian officials, including Mr. Putin and Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, activated the Russian nuclear command and control suitcase known as a "cheget," officials said.
Marshal Sergeyev, the Russian defense minister, announced Feb. 19 that "all the designated targets were hit by the strategic missiles which were launched, as a training exercise, during the recent live firings," the official Itar-Tass news agency reported.
Two days later, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov met in Moscow with Zhang Wannian, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission. The two discussed "military-technical cooperation," according to official Russian press reports.
The two officials said military sales from Russia to China would increase 25 percent annually.
Rick Fisher, a specialist on the Chinese military with the Jamestown Foundation, said the Russian exercise on behalf of China is "completely realistic" based on the growth of Russian-Chinese military, technical and diplomatic cooperation over the past decade.
"If the report is true, it would appear to track with Russian reports last year that Russia will sell China new regional strategic weapons like the Oscar-class nuclear cruise missile submarine, Akula-class nuclear attack sub and the Tu-22M Backfire bomber," Mr. Fisher said. "All of this coming together would mean no more peace dividend and the beginning of the next Cold War."
Bruce Blair, a strategic nuclear specialist with the Center for Defense Information, said the Russian-Chinese military exercise, if true, would be a sharp departure from past Russian nuclear exercises.
"I'm not aware of any change in Russian-Chinese relations that would indicate any movement toward preparation for cooperation in nuclear operations, or in political commitment that would justify that intervention," Mr. Blair said in an interview.
"It does illustrate Russia's reliance on nuclear weapons and the growing nuclear tension between the United States and China," Mr. Blair said. "And in a way it is consistent with this notion that we are going to focus more on China in our nuclear planning."
Mr. Blair said he believes the Pentagon strategy review will result in increasing the number of options and targeting of U.S. nuclear weapons on China, which currently is very limited.
U.S. nuclear targeting of Russia probably will decrease by 50 percent from current planning involving strategic land-based, sea-based and aerial nuclear weapons.
Russia recently revised its nuclear doctrine to lower the threshold for using nuclear weapons in conflicts.
The change was made to compensate for the poor state of Russian conventional forces, which have declined sharply since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. return to menu
2. Russia and China to sign deal
The Financial Times
April 30, 2001
(for personal use only)
Russia and China confirmed on Sunday they would sign a "friendship and co-operation treaty" when Chinese president Jiang Zemin visits Moscow in July.
The treaty, though expected to be largely declaratory, may symbolise a real shift in the foreign policies of both countries if they are drawn closer by tensions in their respective relations with the US.
Russia and China both oppose US missile defence plans. Russia is worried by the possibility of further NATO enlargement. China is angered by US support for Taiwan.
Quoting Chinese diplomatic sources, the Russian news agency Itar-Tass said China and Russia had come to see themselves as "the main roadblock in the way of Washington's global policy of spreading its influence".
Western diplomats add, however, that Russia may want to push the idea of a Russian-Chinese alliance, genuine or not, as a means of increasing pressure on America to abandon plans for missile defence.
Itar-Tass also reported, citing Chinese sources, that China was seeking "an expansion in military co-operation" with Russia, "prompted among other things by a US decision to supply Taiwan with a big batch of weapons". China is already the biggest market for Russian arms, believed to account for half Russia's $4bn (E4.4bn) annual exports.
Russia has made clear repeatedly, since President Vladimir Putin took power last year, that it views increased arms exports as a legitimate way of reviving its economy.
The Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, confirmed on Sunday that "military-technical co-operation" was one of three main themes discussed in a meeting with his visiting Chinese counterpart, Tang Jiaxuan. The others were trade and economic relations, and cultural and humanitarian co-operation, Mr. Ivanov said.
Mr. Putin added a warm endorsement of Russian-Chinese relations when he welcomed Mr. Tang for talks at the Kremlin. "There are practically no problems troubling our relationship," he said.
Later Mr. Tang played down a possible irritant, the arrest in Russia last month of a Russian scientist accused of passing secrets to China. Mr. Tang said it would "in no way affect normal co operation between Russia and China".
In a further eastward tilt Russia has been cultivating relations with North Korea. On Friday ministers signed deals on military co-operation and defence-industry co-operation with Kim Il Chol, North Korean defence minister, who was visiting Moscow.
North Korea's arsenal includes Soviet-made tanks, warplanes and submarines, which Russian analysts say have fallen into deep disrepair. The agreements may provide for repair and modernisation. return to menu
3. Russia strengthens Asian ties
David R. Sands
The Washington Times
May 01, 2001
(for personal use only)
Russia under President Vladimir Putin has decided that, despite strong U.S. objections, the arms customer is always right.
A warm welcome in Moscow for Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan over the weekend and the signing of a new weapons deal with North Korea last week are just the latest demonstrations that Mr. Putin´s Russia is willing to challenge U.S. foreign policy priorities in the search for badly needed export markets.
"For Russia, the military-industrial complex supports a lot of workers and their families at a very difficult time for the economy," said Alexander Lukin, an instructor at the Institute for International Affairs in Moscow and now a visiting fellow at Washington´s Brookings Institution.
"This should really be seen as a social issue, something I don't think is really understood in the United States," he said.
Chinese diplomats in Russia told the Itar-Tass news agency that expanded military cooperation was a key agenda item for Mr. Tang during his visit. The Washington Times reported yesterday that the cooperation has deepened to the extent that Russian forces participated in Chinese military exercises simulating a full-scale U.S.-China clash over Taiwan.
The North Korean deal, announced Friday during a Moscow visit by Foreign Minister Kim Il choi, would allow Pyongyang to repair and modernize Soviet-era tanks, fighter planes and submarines, Russian sources said.
Russia also has announced increased military cooperation with Iran, including a major arms deal last month, over the explicit objections of the State Department. The Iranian deals came shortly after Russia repudiated a secret understanding with the Clinton administration to restrict weapons sales to Iran.
As with other weapons deals that Russia has signed in recent months with what the U.S. government considers "rogue" states, the sales to Tehran were a mix of business and geopolitics, said Brenda Shaffer, research director of Harvard's Caspian Studies Program and author of a forthcoming book on warming Russian-Iranian ties. Iran, she noted, has been notably restrained in its criticism of the Russian campaign against Islamic separatist groups in Chechnya, and Russia has promised to aid Tehran's civil nuclear power industry.
Russia and Iran "share a number of compatible interests in the broad area between and near them -- central Asia, Caucasus, Afghanistan, the Middle East -- and a mutual perception of a need to combat what they have termed a unipolar international system, meaning U.S. hegemony," said the Harvard researcher.
Ariel Cohen and James Phillips, researchers at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, said in a recent analysis that money and politics have both played a role in Mr. Putin´s aggressive courting of Tehran.
"Moscow has two strategic goals in pursuing a military relationship with Iran: keeping its own military-industrial complex solvent and building a coalition in Eurasia to counterbalance U.S. military superiority," they wrote.
At a time when Mr. Putin still has not received a formal invitation to meet the new U.S. president in Washington, diplomatic traffic with China -- Moscow's single largest arms export market -- has increased sharply. Mr. Tang was in Moscow putting the final touches on a strengthened "friendship and cooperation" treaty.
Chinese President Jiang Zemin will travel to Moscow in July to sign the new friendship treaty, and Prime Minister Zhu Rongji also plans a trip to Russia before the end of the year.
Mr. Putin is set to travel to China twice, once to take part in a regional forum on central Asia issues and a second time to attend the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Shanghai in October. Mr. Putin´s first trip abroad after taking office last year was to Beijing, and he also traveled to Pyongyang last summer. He is set to welcome North Korean leader Kim Jong-il for a return visit sometime later this year.
Mr. Lukin said one force driving closer Russia-China ties was clearly a shared concern about U.S. foreign policy moves, from the United States´ leading role in NATO's Kosovo conflict to President Bush's recent decision to upgrade American arms sales to Taiwan.
"I don't see it as a purely anti-American alliance, but that doesn't mean that U.S. policy did not contribute to developments here," he said. The warming ties are a sharp change from the frosty Cold War relations between the two countries. China and the Soviet Union briefly came to blows over border and struggled for dominance as the world's two leading communist powers.
"There are practically no problems troubling our relationship," Mr. Putin said as he welcomed Mr. Tang to the Kremlin for talks Sunday. return to menu
C. Russian-North Korean Cooperation
1. Russia-North Korea: Pyongyang Eyes More Arms
Inter Press Service
April 30, 2001
(for personal use only)
For the first time in years, Russia is exploring military cooperation with North Korea, although upgrading Pyongyang's arms systems may have wider security repercussions.
The Soviet Union was a close ally of reclusive North Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War, which resulted in the division of the peninsula between the communist North and the U.S.-backed South.
Yet relations between Moscow and Pyongyang have been less cordial since the 1991 collapse of Soviet rule and Russia's turbulent transition to the market economy.
"Good relations with North Korea are important for general stability on Russia's Far Eastern borders," Dr. Alexey Voskresensky, professor of the Moscow-based Institute of International Relations, said in an interview.
Russia, Pyongyang's neighbor along a narrow land border near Vladivostok, has sharply downgraded its ties with North Korea in the past decade. In turn, there has been a corresponding increase in Russian trade links with South Korea, which is still technically at war with North Korea.
However, when the North Korean defense minister, Vice-Marshal Kim Il-chol, visited Moscow on Apr 26-28, a deal on bilateral cooperation in the defense industry and military equipment was signed.
During Kim's visit, the two governments also signed a so-called "framework inter-governmental agreement on cooperation in military industry" and a deal between two defense ministries.
Not surprisingly, Pyongyang's representatives are turning to Moscow seeking to modernize the North Korean army. Nearly all weapons used by the North Korean military are obsolete Soviet-made models or domestically manufactured arms produced under Soviet licenses.
For instance, North Korea's armed forces have 50 missiles, 2,300 tanks, 10,000 pieces of artillery, 50 naval vessels and 23 diesel submarines. All these pieces of military hardware, supplied during the Soviet era, have long become obsolete and need urgent modernization.
Moreover, the discussion of renewed Russian arms sales to Pyongyang takes place at the time of profound changes on the Korean peninsula.
Over the past year, North Korea's leaders have reached out to the outside world in a manner not seen before, including a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korea's participation in regional diplomatic meetings.
Pyongyang has also forged diplomatic ties with many countries over the last year, and hosted a visit by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright under the Clinton administration.
The first-ever summit between the two Korean leaders in June 2000 led to a blueprint for economic cooperation and exchanges leading to eventual reunification.
Russia's Ilya Klebanov, deputy prime minister in charge of military-industrial complex, was quoted by official RIA news agency as saying that the "framework agreement" with Pyongyang would not affect Moscow's relations with South Korea. Russia wants successful negotiations between North and South Korea, he added.
Russia's newly appointed civilian defense minister Sergei Ivanov and Kim Il-chol discussed bilateral "military-technical" cooperation, as well as international security concerns. Few details were disclosed, though Ivanov said that "framework agreement" involves the training of North Korean officers in Russian military schools.
In the wake of Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Pyongyang in July last year, Russia is ready for continued dialogue with North Korea "on the basis of equality and mutual benefit," said Ivanov.
Russia remains one of the few countries with extensive representation in Pyongyang and Putin has said Moscow intends to play a role on the divided peninsula. Putin's visit to North Korea last year made him the first Kremlin leader ever to visit Pyongyang.
Putin invited Pyongyang's "Dear Leader," Kim Jong-il, to visit Russia in 2001 in a trip slated for April. However, the two sides say preparations for the visit are still underway.
In talks with Putin last July, North Korean leader Kim reportedly offered to abandon his country's missile program if the United States agreed to launch North Korean satellites. But South Korean media subsequently quoted Kim as saying that the offer was just a joke, and foreign diplomats were left wondering what the real import of that offer was.
Today, the discussion of upgrading North Korea's arms systems with Russian weapons and expertise could further fuel disputes between the United States and Russia over Washington's proposed missile defence system.
The United States, which has 37,000 troops in South Korea, is developing a missile defence system aimed at protecting against possible missile attacks by "rogue states" like North Korea. But critics like Russia and China criticise the plan as destabilising.
Nonetheless, Ivanov was quoted as saying by the RIA that cooperation between Russia and North Korea may contribute to general stabilization in Asia-Pacific region.
Moscow and Pyongyang have signed a new bilateral treaty to replace an outmoded Soviet-era accord in place since 1961. However, bilateral trade turnover has been below 100 million U.S. dollars within the past few years.
The drop has been blamed mainly on North Korea's economic crisis and its unpaid debts to Russia. Russia exports petroleum products, timber, coal, machinery, ferrous metals and chemical fertilizers, while North Korean shipments of consumer goods have dropped.
Investment links have come to a standstill, and bureaucratic obstacles in the reclusive communist state and its undeveloped legal and banking systems hinder economic cooperation.
However, Pyongyang in recent years has indicated willingness to get involved in high-profile projects. In 1997, North Korea reportedly agreed to carry a pipeline exporting Russian natural gas from Siberia to South Korea and thence to Japan. Pyongyang's agreement was vital to the project for a 5,000-km pipeline to export gas from Siberia.
Moreover, Moscow has said it might be willing to repay its nearly 2 billion U.S. dollar debt to Seoul by investments into the modernization of North Korea's energy system and the construction of Korea's North- South railway, to be connected with Russia's Trans-Siberian railway.
Railway and pipeline transport corridors may well provide substance to economic cooperation between Russia and North Korea, Voskresensky argues. But it remains to be seen whether Pyongyang will prioritize economic ties in its relations with Russia, or maintain arms sales as its main concern, he says. return to menu
D. Plutonium Disposition
1. Plutonium Disposal the Third Way.
Allison Macfarlane, Frank von Hippel, Jungmin Kang and Robert Nelson
Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Vol. 57, No. 3
(for personal use only)
If all the "excess" plutonium from dismantled weapons were measured in units of 8 kilograms-the amount the International Atomic Energy Agency considers sufficient to make a Nagasaki-type bomb-then there is enough excess weapons plutonium to build about 9,000 bombs, and enough plutonium separated from spent reactor fuel to build another 25,000.
As worrisome as it is to have so much material stored in weapons-usable form, even more is on the way. To date, the United States and Russia have each declared 34 metric tons of weapons plutonium as excess, but they will have another 100 tons to dispose of if they are serious about reducing their arsenals from tens of thousands to thousands of warheads each.
The U.S. government plans to process its declared excess at the Energy Department's Savannah River Site, where much of its weapons plutonium was produced. In Russia, the plan is to store the material in a high-security facility being built at the Mayak plutonium complex in the Ural mountains (with about $500 million in U.S. assistance). The Russian plutonium will probably be processed into nuclear fuel at the same location.
Meanwhile, the reprocessing of spent fuel from European, Japanese, and Russian light-water reactors continues to separate more civilian plutonium (which differs in its mix of isotopes but is weapons-usable). These stockpiles-totaling about 200 metric tons today and still growing-are located primarily at three large spent-fuel reprocessing complexes: Cogema's facility at La Hague, France; British Nuclear Fuels Limited's (bnfl) Sellafield plant in Cumbria, England; and Mayak. Japan is building a reprocessing complex at Rokkasho on the northern island of Hokkaido.
In 1994 a National Academy of Sciences report described U.S. and Russian stockpiles of excess weapons plutonium as "a clear and present danger to national and international security." A 1998 Royal Society report concluded that, even in a country as stable as Britain, "The chance that the stocks of [civil] plutonium might, at some stage, be accessed for illicit weapons production is of extreme concern."
It is becoming increasingly apparent, however, that the two plans for disposing of plutonium put forth so far-recycling it in mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (mox) fuel or immobilizing it along with highly radioactive waste-may be insufficient.
The mixed-oxide route is impeded in key countries by a lack of suitable types of reactors. The immobilization-with-radioactive-waste approach is opposed by the reprocessing industries, which generate and control most of the liquid radioactive waste that could be used for this purpose.
Recently, a proposal for a "third way" was put forward by analysts at the Öko Institute in Germany. What follows is a description and extension of that proposal.
Some civilian plutonium is being recycled into mox fuel for use in light-water reactors in Western Europe and Japan. France, Belgium, and Britain have all built mox fuel-fabrication facilities. Plutonium recycling is proceeding relatively smoothly in Belgium, France, and Switzerland.
But controversy and delays have dogged virtually every stage of German and Japanese programs. Public and political opposition forced Germany to abandon a domestic mox fabrication plant, and mixed-oxide fuel has yet to be loaded into any of Japan's commercial power reactors. At the end of 1999, nearly 50 tons of separated plutonium belonging to these two countries was stored at reprocessing facilities in France and Britain.
The United States and Russia say they intend to dispose of most of their excess weapons plutonium in mixed-oxide fuel as well The U.S. government is in the R&D and pre-licensing phase of a disposition program that is expected to cost about $4 billion. It expects to incorporate 25 tons of plutonium taken from weapons into mox fuel rods for burning in commercial power reactors.
The United States and its G7 partners have agreed to help fund the construction of a mox fuel-fabrication plant in Russia and modifications of five of Russia's power reactors to allow them to burn mox (at a total cost of at least $2 billion). So far, however, they have committed only about $500 million.
Using five to eight reactors, Russia will only be able to burn enough mox to dispose of about 2 tons of plutonium each year, and Russia could easily need to dispose of another 100 excess tons of weapons and civilian plutonium. Unless an additional method is made available, the process of plutonium disposal, with its attendant risks of plutonium theft, would drag on indefinitely- for decades beyond the expected lifetimes of Russia's current reactor fleet.
Neither Britain nor Russia has decided how to dispose of its separated civilian plutonium, and those stocks are expected to grow to about 115 and 40 tons respectively by the end of the decade. Britain has only one suitable reactor, and Russia's handful of light-water reactors will be fully occupied for their remaining lifetimes burning fuel made from excess weapons plutonium.
These two countries' remaining power reactors are graphite-moderated descendants of Enrico Fermi's original "pile." The net cost of recycling plutonium in those reactors would be as much as several times higher because the concentration of plutonium in their fuel would be limited to less than half that in light-water reactor fuel. Both the British and Russian nuclear establishments are now using the problem of disposing of their plutonium stockpiles as an argument for building a new generation of reactors.
One way to increase the speed at which mox could be burned would be for countries with excess plutonium but little light-water-reactor capacity to ship the fuel to other countries. Potential recipients would include the United States, France, Japan, and Germany, all of which have large fleets of modern light-water reactors and either have or plan mox programs.
But such an idea is not practical. The U.S. government will have a hard enough time persuading the public that it should be allowed to burn its own plutonium in civilian reactors, let alone mox from overseas. The French government has rejected the idea of importing mox from Russia, in large part because it would cut into the domestic market for its government-owned national fuel-cycle company. Japan has its own excess plutonium to dispose of.
Germany's politically embattled nuclear utilities believe they might reap some potential domestic public-relations benefit by helping Russia get rid of its excess weapons plutonium-and both German and Swiss utilities might be able to ease their spent-fuel disposal problems if Russia would take back spent mox fuel. But this plan is no more likely to win public acceptance in Germany than it would in the United States.
Canada might be willing to use Russian mox in its heavy-water reactors, but more fuel would have to be fabricated because of the lower plutonium concentration in the fuel. The cost savings from the displacement of the unenriched fuel also would be much less than that from displacing low-enriched light-water-reactor fuel. As a result, the subsidy required from the G7 nations for the production of the mox fuel would have to be much higher.
According to its current plans, the United States intends to "immobilize" 16 tons of excess plutonium, including 5 tons from its defunct breeder-reactor development program, using the "can-in-canister" approach.
The plan is to embed the plutonium into ceramic disks 2.6 inches in diameter and 1 inch high, which then will be stacked, canned, and placed in steel frames inside 10-foot tall canisters. Molten glass, loaded with concentrated radioactive waste, will be poured into the canisters, surrounding the immobilized plutonium and creating an intense field of gamma radiation. This radioactive waste has been stored-some of it for nearly 50 years-awaiting disposal at the Savannah River Site, where it was generated in the process of producing plutonium for U.S. nuclear weapons. In the unlikely event that everything goes according to plan-funds for the Savannah River vitrification plant were omitted from the Energy Department's draft budget for fiscal 2002-the United States could begin filling canisters in 2008, eventually disposing of plutonium via this route and in mox at a combined rate of 5 tons a year.
Treating plutonium as waste material is anathema to the reprocessing industry, which is already under siege for financial as well as environmental and nonproliferation reasons. German utilities have agreed to cease delivering spent fuel for reprocessing in Britain and France after mid-2005; Belgian utilities have already made their last shipment. British and French power producers are complaining about the cost of reprocessing. Russia's smaller commercial reprocessing operation is also losing customers.
If reprocessing in Europe and Russia comes to an end in the next decade, the option of immobilizing plutonium with high-level reprocessing waste could come to an end soon thereafter, because the reprocessing industry would be under pressure to glassify its highly radioactive reprocessing waste as soon as possible.
By the end of the decade, an enormous supply of plutonium will still remain to be disposed of.
A "third way"?
In 1999, the Öko Institute, an independent German environmental think tank, came up with a third way to dispose of plutonium-fabricating it into rods of "storage mox." Like mox fuel, storage mox would be fashioned into small cylindrical ceramic pellets (0.4 inches in diameter) that would be sealed in long zirconium-alloy or stainless-steel tubes. Instead of being used to fuel reactors, storage-mox rods would be mixed in with spent fuel rods headed for geological burial.
Storage mox would be cheaper to produce than mox fuel, because it would not have to be made to the same standards. It could also contain at least twice as much plutonium as the 5 to 8 percent of plutonium in mox fuel, which would reduce the cost of disposal and double the plutonium throughput of mox fuel-fabrication plants. The cost savings would be roughly equivalent to the amount that could be earned by using mox fuel to replace low-enriched uranium fuel. Therefore, the net costs of disposal of plutonium in storage mox and fuel mox would be about the same.
Criticality problems-from the increased concentration of plutonium-could be avoided by mixing neutron-absorbing gadolinium and hafnium with the plutonium, as is already planned for the U.S. can-in-canister immobilization approach.
Storage mox could therefore be a viable option for countries that need another disposal option.
From a nonproliferation point of view, the principal concern about storage mox is that it might be relatively easy to recover the plutonium that it contains-the same concern that has dogged the U.S. can-in-canister approach.
We have carried out a preliminary assessment of how difficult it would be to retrieve storage mox if it were mixed in with spent fuel in the sort of cask that will be used for the burial of Germany's spent fuel. The Pollux cask is massive, standing more than 18 feet tall and with a diameter of about 5 feet. Its layered cast iron and stainless steel walls are a foot-and-a- half thick and its empty weight is about 60 tons.
Once the cask was placed in a deep underground repository, it would be exceedingly difficult to retrieve and extract the plutonium. We therefore focused on the question of how long it would take to extract storage mox if the cask had not yet been buried:
Potential plutonium thieves would first need to penetrate site security and locate a disposal cask, which would be difficult to open. The outer lid, weighing about 2.7 tons, would be bolted on. A middle lid, weighing a quarter of a ton, would be welded on. And an inner lid, weighing nearly another ton, would be screwed on.
If the thieves successfully removed the lids, they would also have removed the radiation shielding that the lids provide. Without shielding, they would have about 10 minutes to remove the mox rods before they were exposed to a lethal dose of radiation.
The thieves' job would be greatly simplified if they could somehow move the cask to a "hot cell," where there would be equipment for extracting the rods remotely behind thick radiation shielding, or if they could take it to a deep spent-fuel storage pool where water would provide shielding. Heavy equipment would be needed to lift the cask, so casks containing storage mox would need to be kept behind massive barriers engineered to make moving them difficult and time consuming.
It would also take some time to separate the storage mox from the spent-fuel rods with which they were mixed. If all the rods looked the same, each one would have to be pulled out and a gamma counter swiped along it to determine whether it contained highly radioactive fission products or just plutonium, which emits relatively little penetrating radiation. There would be 2,000 to 3,000 rods in a Pollux container; if 10 percent of the rods were storage mox rods and the thieves were willing to settle for only enough plutonium to make a single nuclear explosive, they would have to sort through about 300 rods.
The task could be made more difficult if the rods were physically attached to the spent fuel rods. Because of the high levels of ionizing radiation in the cask, the "glue" would most likely have to be a low-melting-temperature metal such as lead. The trick would be to get the metal to adhere so tightly to the cladding on the rods that an end would break off before a rod could be pulled out.
With these physical barriers, in combination with multiple layers of intrusion sensors and closed-circuit television monitored by more than one surveillance agency, it would be nearly impossible to escape with either a cask or the storage mox rods it contained before being detected and apprehended.
Even with a metallic glue, however, if the country filling the casks decided to recover the plutonium for weapons, it could probably retrieve the storage mox from a cask stored on the surface within a day or so. For example, the cask could be heated to the melting temperature of the binder material and holes drilled to drain it out. The same approach could be used to drain out the radioactive glass in the can-in-canister disposition method.
However, converting plutonium to storage mox and placing it in a massive container mixed with highly radioactive waste or spent fuel is clearly preferable to storing it indefinitely in a separated form.
The government-owned reprocessing companies in Britain, France, and Russia will oppose storage mox, just as they oppose immobilization with radioactive waste. It contradicts their argument for recycling plutonium in reactors because of its energy value. But if the outlook for reprocessing continues to fade, these companies will begin to focus more on opportunities for their mox fuel-fabrication plants. Producing storage mox or some other immobilized form from the more than 200 tons of separated plutonium for which a mixed-oxide fuel option may not be available would provide these facilities with an additional decade of activity.
In the early 1990s, the United States pressed other countries to reduce their stockpiles of separated plutonium. The result was the "Guidelines for the Management of Plutonium" agreed to in 1997 by Belgium, China, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, Switzerland, Britain, and the United States. The guidelines call for "balancing supply and demand, including demand for reasonable working stocks for nuclear operations, as soon as practical."
However, neither the French nor British reprocessing company has slowed its plutonium-separation activities to allow their foreign customers to catch up with their backlogs of separated plutonium. Nor have the British or Russian reprocessors seriously considered how to dispose of their own stockpiles. Japan continues building its own large reprocessing plant despite its large and growing stockpiles of separated plutonium in France and Britain.
The renewed debate about plutonium policy-especially in Britain and Germany-could create the opportunity to push for an orderly phase-out of reprocessing and an acceleration of plutonium disposal. With the United States committed to disposing of nearly half of its weapon-grade plutonium and all of its non-weapon-grade plutonium, a renewed campaign should have increased credibility. A realistic objective would be an agreement to eliminate the world's excess plutonium stockpiles within 25 years.
Allison Macfarlane is a senior research associate in the Security Studies Program at mit. Frank von Hippel is a professor of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. Jungmin Kang, a nuclear engineer in South Korea, participated in this work as a research associate at Princeton. Robert Nelson is a member of Princeton's research staff. return to menu
E. Nuclear Reactor Safety
1. Nuclear Reactor Shut Down In Ukraine
The Associated Press
April 28, 2001
(for personal use only)
A nuclear reactor at a Ukrainian power plant was shut down following a hydrogen leak Saturday, officials said
Reactor No. 3 at the Yuzhnaya plant, a Soviet-designed VVER-1000 model, was stopped early in the day, the state Energoatom nuclear company said. It gave no further details but reported no increased radiation levels.
The incident came two days after Ukraine marked the 15th anniversary of the reactor explosion and fire at Chernobyl, the world's worst nuclear accident. The last working reactor at the ill-fated plant was closed in December 2000.
That left Ukraine with four nuclear power plants and 13 operational reactors, which are frequently shut down over malfunctions or for repairs but still provide about 40 percent of the former Soviet republic's electricity.
Ukraine had hoped for an influx of Western money to complete building two new reactors, which it sees as compensation for Chernobyl's lost power. But with the aid largely delayed, officials including President Leonid Kuchma say the country may have no choice but to complete construction by itself. return to menu
F. U.S. Nuclear Forces
1. U.S. Considers Shift In Nuclear Targets Defenses to Focus on China, Experts Say
The Washington Post
April 29, 2001
(for personal use only)
The Bush administration is considering major changes in America's nuclear posture, including slashing the number of strategic warheads, taking most B-52 and B-2 bombers out of the nuclear force and shifting some targets from Russia to China, according to administration officials and independent experts.
President Bush is scheduled to outline his goals for building missile defenses and reducing nuclear weapons in a speech Tuesday at the National Defense University at Fort McNair. But officials said the speech would deal with these subjects only in general terms and probably would not go much beyond Bush's campaign promises to cut the U.S. nuclear arsenal while developing a missile shield to protect the United States and its allies.
Meanwhile, an inter-agency review of nuclear strategy and weaponry, one of several reviews of the military ordered by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, is generating specific ideas as it moves closer to completion in June.
The Pentagon, some officials said, is prepared to cut the number of strategic warheads from about 7,500 today to below 2,500 if the president changes the formal guidance on what nuclear forces are needed to meet the declining threat from Russia, the smaller but growing challenge from China, and the limited danger posed by nations such as Iraq, North Korea and Iran.
The Air Force, in particular, may absorb major changes, such as switching most B-2 and B-52 bombers to conventional missions. This was proposed in 1997, when the Clinton administration discussed reducing to 2,500 warheads.
In addition, the Air Force may "de-alert," or lower the readiness of, its 50 MX "Peacekeeper" intercontinental ballistic missiles, each carrying 10 warheads. They are scheduled to be withdrawn by 2007 under the second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START II.
The Navy also may reduce its fleet of Trident ballistic missile submarines from 18 to as few as 10. "You may see some changes" in the submarines' operations announced by Bush on Tuesday, a senior administration official said.
Bush said during the election campaign that some cuts could be made unilaterally, and other senior officials have said the administration intends to gradually move away from the Cold War system of negotiated, equal reductions and mutual verification procedures.
One Bush adviser, former Reagan administration nuclear strategist Richard Perle, claimed this month that U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty was "imminent." Asked about that comment, a White House official described Perle as "an adviser and not a spokesman."
Another senior administration official said there was no need to withdraw from the treaty, which bans national missile defenses, for at least a year, because it would take that long to begin building the first elements of a missile shield.
However, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told the House International Relations Committee on Thursday that the United States would no longer participate in the U.S.-Russian Standing Consultative Commission, the group that regularly has met to discuss potential violations of the ABM Treaty.
Instead, Powell said, he would meet in three weeks with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to emphasize "our total commitment to missile defense programs."
Bruce Blair, president of the Center for Defense Information, an independent organization, said yesterday he expects that the Bush administration's new guidance to the Pentagon on nuclear weapons needs "to shift away from Russia and toward China," with perhaps "a 50 percent reduction in Russian targets and a 100 percent increase in China targets."
Blair said the shift might entail basing more Trident submarines on the West Coast and placing some B-2s in Guam.
A strong indication of the administration's thinking came in a January report by a panel of national security experts that called for sharp reductions in strategic nuclear forces, lower alert rates for remaining ICBMs, and freedom to develop and test smaller warheads.
The panel, brought together by the National Institute for Public Policy, included Stephen J. Hadley, now Bush's deputy national security adviser; Robert Joseph, a member of the National Security Council staff with responsibility for nuclear weapons and arms control; Stephen Cambone, who has been nominated to be deputy undersecretary of defense for policy; and William Schneider Jr., a Rumsfeld adviser.
The panel cited the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which the Senate rejected last year, as a prime example of Cold War arms control agreements "negotiated in good faith [that] can become harmful to national security when they effectively preclude the U.S. capability to adapt to changing times." return to menu