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Nuclear News - 05/15/01
RANSAC Nuclear News, May 15, 2001
Compiled by Kelly Turner

A. Loose Nukes
    1. Leak Shows Nuclear Trafficking Doubled, Kirsty Scott, The Guardian (05/14/01)
B. Cooperative Threat Reduction
    1. Russia Slow to Destroy Weapons, Judith Ingram, Associated Press (05/13/01)
C. Multilateral Threat Reduction
    1. Lepse Crew Moves To 'Village', Igor Kudrik, Bellona Foundation (05/11/01)
    2. Nuclear Waste: Canada Has Squandered Millions Trying To Rescue Russia's Dangerous Reactors (G7), Tom Fennell and Paul Webster, Maclean's (forthcoming 05/21/01)
D. Plutonium Disposition
    1. Russia Approves Nuclear Fuel Plan But Demands Cash, Reuters (05/11/01)
E. Russian - Iran Cooperation
    1. Bushehr NPP To Be Put Into Commission With A Year Delay, Veronika Voskoboinikova, Itar Tass (05.11/01)
    2. Russia May Build More Nuclear Power Plant Units In Iran, Veronika Voskoboinikova, Itar Tass (05/11/01)
F. U.S. - NATO Relations
    1. U.S. And Russia Argue Over NATO Expansion, Michael Winfrey, Reuters (05/11/01)

A. Loose Nukes

Leak Shows Nuclear Trafficking Doubled
Kirsty Scott
The Guardian
May 14, 2001
(for personal use only)

The worldwide smuggling of radioactive materials has reportedly doubled in the last five years, according to a leaked United Nations study, and there are now thought to be more than 100 terrorist organisations capable of developing a rudimentary atomic bomb.

The report, drawn up by the UN's terrorism prevention branch and detailed in the Sunday Herald newspaper, reveals that since 1993 there have been 550 recorded incidents of trafficking of nuclear materials across the globe. Most of the incidents involved materials such as radioactive scrap metal but one in 10 is said to have included weapons-grade plutonium or uranium.

The study quotes the head of the UN anti-terrorism unit, Alex Schmid, as warning that much of the nuclear material in the former Soviet republics is poorly protected and the risk of some being stolen is growing.

"Time might not be on our side," Mr Schmid is reported as saying. "The amount of plutonium in the world is increasing. Vigorous efforts need to be made to keep the nuclear genie in the bottle and out of the hands of terrorists."

Mr Schmid added: "Most of the weapons-usable nuclear materials in the kilogram range are stored in nearly 400 buildings which are not all guarded in the way they should be guarded. This quantity of dangerous but potentially precious materials offers temptation for adventurers and desperados."

The 40-page report, commissioned by the international atomic energy agency, claims that there are 130 terrorist organisations listed by the US department of state as posing a potential nuclear, chemical or biological that.

They include 55 ethnic groups, 50 religious groups, 20 left-wing groups and five right-wing groups. The list includes Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaida in Afghanistan and the Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan.

A UN spokeswoman said yesterday that she could not confirm or deny the existence of the report or its findings.
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B. Cooperative Threat Reduction

Russia Slow to Destroy Weapons
Judith Ingram
Associated Press
May 13, 2001
(for personal use only)

MOSCOW (AP) - More than a year after American and Russian officials festively opened a laboratory to fine-tune techniques for destroying Russian chemical weapons, the building stands empty of all but its sophisticated scientific equipment and a security guard who warily monitors the rare visitor.

The inauguration of the lab 13 months ago at a scientific institute in southern Moscow was supposed to mean progress in Russia's efforts to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal, the world's largest, in line with the Chemical Weapons Convention. The international treaty, which Russia ratified in 1997, requires the elimination by 2012 of all stockpiles of nerve gases and compounds used in weapons of mass destruction.

But Moscow is nowhere near meeting the deadline. It has yet to start destroying the 44,000 tons of nerve and blister agents piled up in storage depots at the seven plants where they were produced. The depots are poorly protected, and the chemicals, some from World War II, are deteriorating and putting the surrounding regions at risk of severe toxic accidents.

The $21 million lab, jointly U.S.- and Russian-funded, had to close its doors soon after the opening because construction problems cropped up, Russian auditors had to inventory the building's contents and the Russian side ran short of funds. As to why it opened in the first place, officials insisting on anonymity indicated that it was necessary to demonstrate to the U.S. funders that Russia was making progress.

The lab's deputy director, Vladimir Sitnikov, now says it is set to reopen this month, which may augur a revival of efforts to destroy chemical weapons after a prolonged standstill.

The delays, caused by Russia's money problems and conflicts with international funders over the technologies to be used, have frustrated and alarmed arms control experts.

"Sooner or later there could be an accident, and with time the probability of that happening will grow geometrically," said Gennady Khromov, a veteran arms control negotiator.

In 1992, President Boris Yeltsin approved a plan to destroy the weapons, but fierce public opposition and bureaucratic wrangling thwarted it. Russian legislation banning transport of the deadly substances further complicated the project, because destruction facilities would have had to be built near each of the seven storage sites - at a cost of roughly $1 billion each.

That cost included developing complex technologies, creating multilayered security systems and building roads, hospitals and other infrastructure to compensate local populations for accepting the destruction plants.

Most local people have gradually accepted that leaving the stores in place is riskier than removing them.

"Now public opinion is turning toward accepting the principle of disarmament," said Vladimir Leonov of the Russian Green Cross, an environmental advocacy organization.

Last year, responsibility for the program switched from the Defense Ministry to the newly formed Munitions Agency whose chief, Zinovy Pak, is thought to have wide authority to cut bureaucratic squabbles.

But cost remains an obstacle. Russia has appealed repeatedly for foreign aid to supplement its meager budget for the plan, and it has won some pledges and grants from the U.S. and European governments to build two destruction facilities. The United States has released funds slowly, attempting to ensure that the destruction will be carried out in the safest way possible.

The European-funded site, in Gorny, in the Volga River region of central Russia, would be a pilot plant for destroying blister agents, Russia's oldest chemical weapons. Moscow has given them priority, since they are believed to pose the most urgent ecological threat. But the United States has urged Russia to direct its funding to a plant under construction at Shchuchiye, in the heavy industrial belt of the Ural Mountains, for handling more sophisticated nerve agents.

The United States considers these a greater threat to its own security, with experts pointing out that just a knapsack full of nerve gas could wreak havoc. Washington has concentrated its funding on that plant, tentatively scheduled to be built by 2006.

Now the Munitions Agency has proposed scaling back the goal of building destruction facilities at all seven plants. Officials are reluctant to discuss details before the new plan gets Kremlin approval, but Pak outlined the main ideas in an interview in the current issue of Russia's Nuclear Control journal.

Just three of the planned facilities would be completed and used for the entire cycle of chemical weapons destruction. At the other four sites, weapons would only be neutralized for transportation elsewhere for destruction. Munitions Agency expert Alexander Sidyakov also raised the possibility that some of the weapons would be neutralized and reprocessed, easing the pressure to completely destroy the arsenal by the 2012 deadline.

"We understand that we won't get seven facilities built," Pak was quoted as saying. "Such funds can't be found."
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C. Multilateral Threat Reduction

Lepse Crew Moves To 'Village'
Igor Kudrik
Bellona Foundation
May 11, 2001
(for personal use only)

The remediation of the nuclear storage ship Lepse is dependant on whether the EU and Russia sign multilateral agreement at the next summit.

In the middle of the shabby and littered with metal scrap base for nuclear powered icebreakers, situated in the outskirts of Murmansk, the colourful housing containers look a bit out of place. Snowflakes are dashing in the rain, wind blowing from the Kola Fjord. Bellona representatives and Murmansk Shipping Company officials, commercial operator of nuclear icebreakers, are surrounded by reporters. And there is indeed a bit of news to report. An international project aimed at providing not just a bogus radiation safety, but safety for the people crewing onboard the nuclear storage ship Lepse is completed successfully. The project is nicknamed the Lepse Village.

The project was launched and funded by Bellona Foundation and implemented in co-operation with Murmansk Shipping Company, MSCo. The housing containers were delivered by Norwegian company UNITEAM A.S.

The remediation project for the Lepse itself has been stalled without a tax exemption and liability agreement. The agreement now named Multilateral Environmental Programs in Russia, or MNEPR, should be in place to resolve those issues not only for the Lepse project, but also for other international initiatives called to solve radiation safety problems in Russia.

The crew onboard the Lepse, who now is exposed to higher than permitted levels of radiation, cannot wait for politicians to make the MNEPR deal. From now on they live in the safe Lepse Village. From there they will continue to monitor the situation onboard the Lepse ensuring it does not capsize before the international projects takes off.

The Lepse Village is a rehearsal, a small step towards the solution of the whole problem.

Bellona-Murmansk, Bellona's sister office in this part of Russia, has learned from its first hand experience how slow and hard it is to implement an international project. It took almost a year to obtain licence for tax exemption from the Russian Ministry of Economy. Then there was a whole extra pile of papers and licences required to make things moving. No wonder that the Lepse Village is one of the few international projects that have been implemented in Russia so far.

The MNEPR will be discussed during the next EU-Russia summit. To ensure the progress at the meeting EU environmental commissioner Wallström is in Moscow this week having meetings with high ranking Russian officials. The outcome of the summit will largely determine the fate of the Lepse remediation project along with other initiatives.

Lepse remediation project

From 1962 until 1981, Lepse was used as a service ship at the nuclear icebreaker base. Today, 639 spent fuel assemblies are stored on board the Lepse under highly unsatisfactory conditions. The fuel has become partially jammed in the holding tubes and is thus extremely difficult to remove.

Bellona has been discussing the Lepse project with MSCo since 1992. Russian calculations had shown that without access to remotely controlled equipment, the work to remove the spent nuclear fuel would subject 5,000 workers to the maximum permitted doses of radiation. Since this equipment was too expensive for MSCo, the company thought of the option to tow the vessel to Novaya Zemlya and dispose it there.

As a counterweight to these proposals, in the fall of 1994, Bellona presented an alternative approach of removing the spent fuel from the Lepse with the help of remote controlled technology. This solution would engender a significant reduction in the radiation doses to which workers would be exposed, but it would also be more costly. Indeed, in view of the greater cost, MSCo's response to the plan was sceptical.

In the autumn of 1994, following an environmental conference organised by Bellona and MSCo, an expert panel was formed by the EU, consisting of representatives from EU's TACIS-programme, DG XI and Norway. Upon the recommendation of the EU expert group, 18.5 million USD were appropriated for a technical solution. The technical feasibility study was financed by the TACIS programme.

The objective of the feasibility study was to investigate how spent nuclear fuel could safely be removed from Lepse and, once removed, how to manage it properly. Bids were invited for the feasibility study from the European nuclear industry. The British AEA Technology and French SGN won the tender. An international advisory group consisting of government representatives from Norway, France, the EU, the United States and Russia was established to monitor the work on the Lepse project. The project is now waiting for the Russian and EU signatures under the MNEPR agreement.
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Nuclear Waste: Canada Has Squandered Millions Trying To Rescue Russia's Dangerous Reactors (G7)
Tom Fennell and Paul Webster
May 21, 2001 (forthcoming)
(for personal use only)

In many ways the Cold War has never ended for Nadejda Kutepova. The brown-eyed, -year-old nurse lives in the closed Russian city of Ozersk, in the shadow of the Mayak reactor complex that once produced nearly all the plutonium used in the former Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal. A secret place, this city of 80,000, some 1,400 km east of Moscow on the edge of Siberia, did not even appear on maps until 1991 -- as the Soviet Union disintegrated. Today, fences topped with razor wire still keep trespassers out; Russians from elsewhere hoping to visit relatives must apply weeks in advance.

The city has another distinction. Nearby Lake Karachai is so contaminated with nuclear waste that radiation will fatally bake the bones of anyone spending an afternoon on its shore. It is, experts say, the most radioactive place on earth.

Kutepova's grandmother helped build the Mayak plant in the 1940s. After an explosion at one of the reactors in 1957 spewed radiation over a wide area, Kutepova's father, Gayeva, was ordered home from university, where he was studying engineering, to help clean up contaminated rubble. He continued to work at the plant until he died of cancer at 46. "Nobody told them about the dangers from radiation," says Kutepova. "They had orders to obey." The disease, which also killed Kutepova's grandmother at 58, still haunts Ozersk, where workers often toiled without protective clothing. Following the collapse of communism, Kutepova hoped the reactors would finally be shut down. But the complex continues to function, and may in fact expand -- ensuring that radioactive waste will continue to be dumped into Lake Karachai.

It is happening with Canada's help.

In the early 1990s, with Russia's economy disintegrating, Canada and the other members of the G-7 group of major industrial nations agreed to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the former Soviet Union's dangerously rundown nuclear sector. With memories of the 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear complex still fresh, the goal was to prevent another disaster by shutting down as many decrepit reactors as possible, stabilizing others and establishing a responsible regulatory system. Over the last 10 years, Canada has put almost $90 million into the project. But Maclean's has learned that much of that money has disappeared into the Russian bureaucracy, and in some cases was even used to expand an already dangerous industry without effecting new safeguards. Yet Canada, as part of an initiative with the other G-7 members, is now planning to give even more funds -- as much as $300 million -- to the Russian nuclear sector. In this case, the money will go to a proposed, and controversial, international program that will expand the Mayak complex. Under the plan, plutonium from nuclear weapons in Russia and the Soviet Union's former satellite countries will be shipped to the Mayak plant. There, it will be reprocessed into mixed oxides, or so-called MOX nuclear fuel. That fuel will be used in 40 new reactors now in the planning stages across Russia -- which would utilize 30-year-old technology considered unsafe by western countries.

The proposal has been condemned by some Russians. "The Canadian government wants to spend money on this dangerous plan, but pollution from the nuclear plants here will only increase," Kutepova told Maclean's. And before Canada extends Moscow any more money, Toronto Liberal MP Bill Graham, who chairs the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, says Russia should be asked to account for the missing money and explain clearly what it intends to do with Canadian financial aid in the future. Graham's committee, which grilled foreign affairs officials over the Russian debacle last week in Ottawa, will get a chance to put questions directly to Russian legislators when a delegation, headed by Gennady Seleznev, chairman of the Russian Duma, visits the Canadian capital on June 27. "The Russians say, 'Give us the money,' " said Graham. "But then you don't know where the money goes."

Have Canadian taxpayers been duped into financing the dangerous expansion of Russia's nuclear program, and continued operation of Ozersk's nuclear factories? Even top officials with the Canadian International Development Agency, the federal body that funnelled much of the money into the Russian program, admit it has largely been a failure. Some of the money has gone into the planned construction of the new reactors, considered unsafe by western experts. Or, instead of being used to shut down or refurbish decrepit Chernobyl-style Russian reactors, the funds have kept them running. It is a dangerous course. At Chernobyl in Ukraine, one of four reactors exploded on April 26, 1986, sending a massive radioactive cloud across Europe. More than 4,000 people who took part in the attempt to clean up the contaminated Chernobyl site have died, while another 40,000 are ill or disabled. And experts believe the threat of another such accident is very real.

During the communist era, Russia's nuclear industry was shrouded in secrecy. With the fall of the Soviet Union, critics hoped for more accountability. It was not to be. In 1992, Minatom, the government department that operated Russia's nuclear plants, became a commercial operation. Minatom also signed deals to export reactors to Ukraine and Iran, which is believed to be developing nuclear weapons, and China and India, both of which possess them. Critics now claim Minatom is operating beyond the reach of the government as a self-regulating, and for all intents and purposes private, company. "What started as goodwill money to stabilize the mess left by the Soviets," says Moscow-based nuclear- industry analyst Vladimir Sliyvak, "became subsidy money for Minatom to get into the business -- Soviet-style, and with Soviet-style secrecy."

Even though there were growing concerns over the lack of government control of Minatom's operations, money continued to flow in from foreign governments, including Canada's. And instead of accountability, Minatom officials have refused to answer formal letters from Canada and other G-7 countries, over exactly what safeguards will be put in place to ensure Minatom builds and operates safe reactors. None of this would have been possible, says Sliyvak, without help from Canada's taxpayers. And the fact that more financial aid from Canada is about to be swallowed up in Ozersk, he says, should set alarm bells off in Ottawa. "The Canadian government's support for the plan to send millions more to expand secret operations in Ozersk," said Sliyvak, "needs to be completely rethought."

In fact, little has changed in Russia's nuclear sector since the Soviet era, Sliyvak maintains. He points out there are still numerous Chernobyl-type reactors operating without basic safety systems in Russia and neighbouring Ukraine. (Only the three reactors that survived the blast at the Chernobyl complex have been closed.) In exchange for western financial aid, both Russia and Ukraine promised to bolster safety regulations at their nuclear plants. But Ukraine has stripped its independent nuclear regulators of power, while the Russian Duma is now considering similar legislation.

That situation deeply troubles CIDA officials. Doris Jalbert, the agency's Ottawa-based program manager for the Russian and Ukraine nuclear division, told Maclean's CIDA's $27.2-million effort in the two countries to help close the most dangerous plants, along with a $10-million push to strengthen public safety programs under the direction of nuclear regulators, have produced dismal results. While stopping short of saying the money had been wasted, Jalbert admitted the "spirit of our co-operation" was based on the hope the plants would be shut down. "It is," she said, "indeed disappointing."

In some instances the money simply seems to have disappeared. A case in point is the $12 million CIDA gave over the last five years to Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the Mississauga, Ont.-based Crown corporation that builds and markets Canadian-designed CANDU reactors. The money was intended to finance a program to increase the operating safety at Russian nuclear plants. In particular, the Canadians wanted to clean up the Leningrad Power Station, Europe's largest nuclear plant, near St. Petersburg. It has Chernobyl-style reactors, which western experts unanimously condemn as high risk. But the Leningrad plant and others continue to operate.

CIDA also gave $500,000 to Russia's nuclear regulatory agency, GAN. But legislation currently before the Russian parliament will transfer GAN's licensing powers to Minatom. In effect, Minatom would become a self-regulating company beyond the reach of government. And Jalbert acknowledges that CIDA's efforts will largely be negated if GAN is stripped of its most important powers. "This concerns us quite a bit," said Jalbert. "We strongly believe a nuclear regulatory authority should be independent."

Canadian Alliance MP and CIDA critic Deepak Obhrai places much of the blame for the funding debacle on Prime Minister Jean Chretien. While the Prime Minister's Office refused to comment, Obhrai says the decision to aid the Russians followed the election of Boris Yeltsin as president in 1991. Soon after, Yeltsin asked members of the G-7 for money to shore up Russia's failing nuclear sector. Both former prime minister Brian Mulroney and Chretien, who was elected in 1993, agreed. CIDA was subsequently ordered to provide Canada's contribution. Obhrai says the agency is stretched too thin to properly monitor where the money has gone. Given that essential weakness, he wonders, what was there to keep the Russians following "the CIDA guidelines in the first place?"

CIDA money also found its way into Ukraine's nuclear program. Some $13 million in Canadian funds went to help finance the closure of the surviving Chernobyl reactors. But Yuri Urbansky, a nuclear researcher with Ukraine's National Ecological Centre in Kiev, claims this was the result of a Faustian bargain with the Ukrainian government. Kiev only agreed to close the remaining Chernobyl reactors, he said, after winning financing from Canada and other western countries that allowed it to finish building two other Soviet-vintage reactors -- which would also not meet western standards.

In Ozersk, under the proposed international plan, the Minatom-owned nuclear facility will be expanded to produce MOX fuel. Canada has been deeply involved in the scheme from the outset: CIDA gave a $1.75-million grant to AECL in 1996 to study the feasibility of manufacturing MOX fuel at the complex. If the project goes ahead after a review this summer, western nations, including Canada, would be expected to spend up to $2.5 billion to develop the expanded facility. Canada would contribute hundreds of millions of dollars, but Graham warns that the plan should not proceed without strict oversight. "There is no question about it," the MP said. "We should not go into one of these things without complete and total monitoring and controls."

Objections to the program appear to be spreading in Canada. Foreign affairs spokesman Carl Schwenger said the department has already received more than 100 letters of concern. But he said the western countries want to help the Russian nuclear industry so it can effectively reprocess thousands of warheads, in this case, into nuclear fuel. "Our position," said Schwenger, "is that when the program is implemented in Russia there will need to be credible assurance that nuclear safety and environmental protection will receive the highest priority." Easy to say. CIDA officials may be wondering if Russia will ever live up to its nuclear promises.
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D. Plutonium Disposition

Russia Approves Nuclear Fuel Plan But Demands Cash
May 11, 2001
(for personal use only)

MOSCOW - Russia approved a treaty to turn plutonium from nuclear weapons into civilian reactor fuel on Friday, boasting of its commitment to arms reduction on a day when U.S. officials were in town pitching missile defense plans.

But Moscow said it needed billions of dollars from Washington and other Western partners to make the swords-into-plough shares program a reality.

Last summer, Russia and the U.S. signed a memorandum to each turn 34 tons of weapons plutonium into reactor fuel over 25 years, but analysts have said new White House incumbent George W. Bush may cut funding for Moscow's nuclear clean-up.

The Russian government said in a statement it had approved the agreement and passed it to parliament to become law.

"The realization of this agreement will clearly demonstrate Russia's adherence to the further development of the nuclear disarmament process and allow the development of Russian-American scientific cooperation," the statement said.

Russia said the agreement foresees large-scale international funding, including the U.S. paying at least $200 million toward building plants to store and salvage the plutonium.

"Russia would not have to begin building or modifying facilities for salvaging plutonium without the creation of an essential international fund, to allow salvaging to go ahead at a rate of two tons of weapons-grade plutonium a year," the government said in a statement.

The project aims to soothe fears that "rogue states" could somehow acquire ex-Soviet plutonium. Through the 1990s, the U.S. spent billions of dollars on programs securing Russian nuclear stockpiles against theft.

But Bush has ordered a review of such financing and Russia's Atomic Energy Ministry said last month that Western partners had only offered about $600 million of the $2 billion needed to build two vital plutonium salvaging plants in Siberia.

The government's decision to pass the bill to parliament for full ratification came as U.S. officials visited Moscow to convince Russia to accept their plans for a missile defense.

Bush says U.S. national security could be threatened by adversaries like North Korea, Iraq and Libya, who he insists could acquire a nuclear capability. The U.S. says stray ex-Soviet nuclear fuel could spark such a proliferation.

Russia, like China, says the U.S. missile shield would wreck the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and also prompt an arms race.
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E. Russia-Iran Cooperation

Bushehr NPP To Be Put Into Commission With A Year Delay
Veronika Voskoboinikova
Itar Tass
May 11, 2001
(for personal use only)

MOSCOW - The Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy is doing its best to catch up with the plan of the construction of a nuclear power plant in Bushehr, Iran. Yet the works are 12 months behind the schedule, and the plant will be put into commission approximately a year later than it was initially planned -- in 2004, Deputy Minister of Atomic Energy Yevgeny Reshetnikov has told Itar-Tass.

A reason for the delay is that Germany was the one that started the nuclear power plant construction in Bushehr. Russia signed a contract to finalize the construction in 1995 and had to start almost everything anew. "We have to combine our structures with those of Germany," and it takes much time, Reshetnikov said. Last year the lag was 16 months.

There is no doubt that Russia will meet its commitments and build the power plant, he noted.

Reshetnikov described as absurd the American claims that Russia allegedly handed over nuclear technologies to Iran. "We are building a purely peaceful object," he remarked. He said the accusations aimed to compensate the American failures in the Middle East and take hold of the atomic energy market.
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Russia May Build More Nuclear Power Plant Units In Iran
Veronika Voskoboinikova
Itar Tass
May 11, 2001
(for personal use only)

MOSCOW - Russia is holding negotiations with Iran to build at least five more nuclear power plant units in addition to the one under construction in Bushehr, Deputy Minister of Atomic Energy Yevgeny Reshetnikov told Itar-Tass on Friday.

A feasibility study of the project is being drafted. Sites for nuclear power plants are being chosen, the project cost is being assessed, and payment terms are being specified. Therefore it is unknown when the contracts will be signed, Reshetnikov said.

Bushehr, Karun and Iranian northern area near the Caspian Sea are considered as possible sites for the construction of nuclear power plants, he noted. It takes 70 months to build a power plant unit.

The project cost depends on the power plant location, design and capacity. An average world price varies from 1.5 billion dollars to 2.2 billion per one unit. "That will be the basis for the assessment of costs in Bushehr. We build everything at world prices," Reshetnikov said.

When cooperating with Iran in atomic energy, Russia does not violate any international agreements, he noted.
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F. Russia-NATO Relations

U.S. And Russia Argue Over NATO Expansion
Michael Winfrey
May 11, 2001
(for personal use only)

BRATISLAVA - The United States and Russia argued on Friday over the contentious issue of NATO enlargement that could bring the military alliance to Moscow's doorstep.

As leaders from nine ex-communist states looking to join NATO met for the second day of a conference in Bratislava focusing mainly on expansion, influential U.S. Senators Trent Lott and Jesse Helms strongly backed the move.

"We strongly endorse the emphasis on NATO enlargement -- the cornerstone of a Europe whole, free and secure," the two said in a letter addressed to the conference host, Slovak PM Mikulas Dzurinda.

"It is in America's interest that the process of NATO enlargement continues decisively. The integration of Central Europe's democracies into the alliance will secure and expand the stability and security which has spread across Europe since the end of the cold war."

Hot on the heels of the reading of the letter, Russia, which vehemently opposes NATO expansion to its borders, reacted sharply, calling it a "grave mistake."

"...we estimate NATO's enlargement plans as a grave mistake," said a Russian statement issued by Moscow's embassy in Bratislava. "...without democratic Russia, Europe cannot be whole and free."

It added that Russia considers interaction with NATO as an important element of "the new European security architecture" and a way of acting "against new challenges and risks for stability and democratic development on the continent."

One of the goals of the conference is to project a unified image of commitment by the hopefuls to try to improve chances that NATO will extend membership to more than just a few candidates at its summit next year in Prague.


Tough questions, such as instability in the Balkans, ties between the United States and Russia, and the poor military preparedness of the individual candidates still cloud the debate on NATO's expansion eastward.

The alliance has so far held back from naming potential frontrunners in the group, which includes Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia, and Albania, which began one-on-one membership talks in March.

But encouragement by the United States, which says NATO's expansion would not be limited by geography, could mean that enlargement could include more than just one or two less-problematic states, such as Slovenia and Slovakia.

NATO admitted Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic in 1999, but has since criticized its newest members for failing to bring their militaries up to speed. The current membership candidates are even further behind in defense reform.

An even stickier enlargement question is whether or not NATO will push its borders to the edge of Russia by including any of the Baltic states, Lithuania, Latvia, or Estonia.
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