1. Taipower Mulls Sending Radioactive Waste to Russia
Taipei Times Online
June 8, 2001
(for personal use only)
Officials of the Taiwan Power Company Taipower said yesterday that the company will consider signing an official contract for the export of nuclear waste to Russia based on an existing memorandum of understanding, as long as Russia finishes legalizing the import of such waste.
On Wednesday, the Russian Duma, the lower house of parliament approved a bill allowing the import and storage of high-level nuclear waste from abroad. Although the bill must be approved by both the Federation Council, the upper house and President Vladimir Putin, Taiwan's state-run Taipower is preparing to sign an official contract with Russia.
"As long as the new law is enacted, Taipower will reconsider an existing memorandum of understanding with Russia in order to sign an official contract," Huang Huei-yu, division head of Taipower's public affairs department, told the Taipei Times yesterday.
Huang, however, said that details of the future contract were unavailable.
Last July, when Taipower documents were first displayed by a Russian environmental group, Taipower officials confirmed that the company had signed the memorandum with the Kurchatov Institute, Russia's largest nuclear weapons research center.
But the officials stressed that the memorandum was just a preliminary plan involving just 5,000 barrels of nuclear waste.
But according to Taipower documents written in Chinese and brought to public attention by Russia-based Ecodefense on the Internet, the project incorporates technology provided by Japan-based Asia Tat Trading Co Ltd. Profits from the project have been estimated as likely to run to US$10 billion.
The documents, dated May 19, 1998, show that 200,000 barrels nuclear waste will be shipped to Russia via Japan within 10 years. Taipower will pay US$800 million, or an average of US$4,000 per barrel.
Ecodefense activists have sought to prevent the legislation authorizing the imports from passing. In Taiwan, environmentalists from Taiwan Environmental Protection Union told the Taipei Times yesterday that they had allied with their counterparts in Russia by signing a petition, which had been circulated on the Internet.
Taipower officials told the Taipei Times yesterday that its policies on nuclear waste management had not been revised. The environmental impact assessment for Taipower's project to build a final depository for nuclear waste at Wuchiu Island, near Kinmen, is still being reviewed.
Disposal of nuclear waste has long been a difficult question for Taipower, which operates Taiwan's three nuclear power plants.
It is estimated that Taipower has produced approximately 300,000 barrels of radioactive waste, including around 100,000 barrels on Orchid Island, Taitung County, which awaits disposal. return to menu
2. Russia: Import of Nuclear Waste
Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
June 6, 2001
(for personal use only)
Question: What is the U.S. view of Russia's plan to import nuclear waste? Would we allow Japanese and Korean waste, over which we have some control, to be sent to Russia?
Answer: The intent of the Duma legislation is to change Russia's ability to import irradiated foreign power reactor fuel, much of which contains U.S-origin nuclear material. U.S. law and our bilateral agreements provide that the U.S. must give its consent to any retransfer of such material. For Russia to import irradiated fuel containing U.S. origin nuclear material would require a Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation Agreement with the United States, something it does not now have.
In considering whether in the future to grant consent for retransfer, the U.S. would want to consider several factors. For instance, the U.S. would want to be assured that the transfer was for eventual disposal, and not for reprocessing, in order to avoid increases in civil stockpiles of separated plutonium. The U.S. would need to be assured that the planned transportation, storage, and disposition of the fuel complied with appropriate standards of safety and security. An especially important factor would be the nature of Russia's nuclear cooperation with third parties. return to menu
3. Societal and Technical Challenges Posed by Nuclear Waste Call for Attention by World Leaders
National Academy of Sciences
June 6, 2001
(for personal use only)
WASHINGTON -- Focused attention by world leaders is needed to address the substantial challenges posed by disposal of spent nuclear fuel from reactors and high-level radioactive waste from processing such fuel for military or energy purposes, says a new report from an international committee of the National Academies' National Research Council. The biggest challenges in achieving safe and secure storage and permanent waste disposal are societal, the committee said.
"Difficulties in garnering public support have been seriously underestimated, and opportunities to increase public involvement and to gain trust have been missed," said committee chair D. Warner North, president of NorthWorks Inc., Belmont, Calif. "Waste-management programs around the globe should direct their efforts beyond technical development to emphasize public participation in the decision-making process."
Presently, there are only two feasible options for countries to choose between for safe disposition of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste, the committee said -- storage on or near the Earth's surface, or placement in deep underground repositories. After four decades of study, the geological repository option remains the only scientifically credible, long-term solution for safely isolating waste without having to rely on active management. Although there are still some significant technical challenges, the broad consensus within the scientific and technical communities is that enough is known for countries to move forward with geological disposal. This approach is sound, the committee said, as long as it involves a step-by-step, reversible decision-making process that takes advantage of technological advances and public participation. For example, geological repositories, such as Yucca Mountain in Nevada, are intended to be controlled and monitored for many decades throughout and some time beyond their operational phase, during which retrieval of waste would be possible if required.
The Research Council initiated the study after observing that many nations were encountering significant difficulties and delays in their plans for geological disposal of nuclear waste. The world's inventory of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste is growing because of the continued use of nuclear energy, the dismantling of nuclear weapons, and an emphasis on cleaning up sites where these weapons were built. This waste needs to be secured to protect people and the environment from radiation and to prevent material that can be used to build nuclear weapons from falling into the wrong hands, the committee emphasized. And in many countries, a consensus that waste can be managed safely is a prerequisite for the use of nuclear power.
"Properly disposing of this waste will require international collaboration," said committee vice chair Charles McCombie, consultant, Gipf-Oberfrick, Switzerland. "Collaboration at the technical level already exists, but coordination at the strategic and political levels should intensify."
The committee said it believes some internationally shared surface-storage facilities or geological repositories will eventually become a reality, which could benefit nations with small nuclear programs or unfavorable geology for underground disposal.
The United States, Finland, and Sweden have plans to begin placing waste in geological repositories early in this century while other countries, such as Germany, Japan, Switzerland, China, and the United Kingdom, are considering mid-century dates. The Netherlands does not plan to implement geological disposal for at least 100 years and Canada has not made a decision. Likewise, France passed a law specifying that no decision be made before 2006. Russia has identified candidate sites for deep repositories but no timetable has been set for their construction and use. Many countries with small nuclear programs do not yet have plans for long-term disposition of their high-level waste. No country plans to permanently seal a geological repository in less than 50 years. Whether, when, and how to move toward geological disposal are societal decisions that each country must make, the committee said. Spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste have been kept at storage facilities on the surface or just underneath it since the nuclear age began more than 50 years ago. But the amount of waste, particularly spent fuel, is exceeding the current capacity of existing facilities in many countries, and some storage sites have not performed up to acceptable standards, the report says.
Most current surface-storage facilities are intended to hold waste for 50 to 100 years. If resources were dedicated to their upkeep and expansion, however, they could be a feasible waste-management option for even longer. In addition, because these facilities are designed for easy retrieval of waste, they leave the door open for future options for treatment and disposal. There is no need for nations to rush implementation of permanent disposal as long as waste is managed responsibly in safe and secure surface facilities, the committee said. On the other hand, it emphasized that it is not prudent for a country to pursue only surface storage without also pursuing geological disposition unless the nation can credibly commit to permanent monitoring and active management of surface sites.
The report was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and organizations responsible for radioactive waste management in eight other countries. The authoring committee included experts from seven countries; a roster follows. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides scientific and technical advice under a congressional charter.
The writer, a former Democratic senator from Georgia, is co-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.
Despite the broad agenda facing Presidents Bush and Putin at their Summit meeting this weekend in Slovenia, media attention has tilted toward one particular plot line: Will President Bush make progress in persuading his Russian counterpart to drop objections to U.S. missile defenses? It is a story line that is interesting and important -- but dangerously out of focus.
The clear and present danger is not from North Korean missiles that could hit America in a few years but from Russian missiles that could hit in 30 minutes, and from nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and materials in Russia and the former Soviet Union that could fall into the hands of terrorist groups. The likeliest nuclear attack against the United States would come not from a nuclear missile launched by a rogue state but from a warhead in the belly of a ship or the back of a truck delivered by a group with no return address.
President Bush's challenge, which will hover over his efforts this weekend and beyond, is to prepare for the more remote threats without leaving us more vulnerable to the immediate ones. His success should be judged not by whether he wins Russian acquiescence on missile defense but by whether he can begin to broaden and strengthen cooperation with Russia in defending against our common dangers. The goals: ensuring strategic nuclear stability, reducing the risk of accidental launch, cutting the risk of terrorist attack, countering the threat of a rogue nation's attack, and limiting the spread of weapons of mass destruction by safeguarding weapons, materials and know-how throughout the weapons complex of the former Soviet Union.
The threats we faced during the Cold War -- a Soviet nuclear strike or an invasion of Europe -- were made more dangerous by Soviet strength. The threats we face today -- accidental launch, the risk of weapons, materials and know-how falling into the wrong hands -- are made more dangerous by Russia's weakness.
We addressed the Cold War's threats by confrontation with Moscow, but today there can be no realistic plan to defend America against nuclear, chemical and biological weapons that does not depend on cooperation with Moscow. George W. Bush said as a candidate: "A great deal of Russian nuclear material cannot be accounted for. The next president must press for an accurate inventory of all this material, and we must do more. I will ask the Congress to increase substantially our assistance to dismantle as many of Russia's weapons as possible as quickly as possible." He is right -- but try doing that without Russian cooperation.
Whether the Bush team wins Russia's cooperation depends in part on how skillfully it seeks it, or whether it even wants it. It's still too early to know. The Bush administration has yet to make several pivotal decisions that will define its policy on reducing the threat from weapons of mass destruction.
First is the matter of our nuclear weapons policy. Today U.S. and Russian nuclear postures may well increase the risk both were designed to reduce. The United States has thousands of nuclear weapons on high alert, ready to launch within minutes -- essentially the same posture we had during the Cold War. Today U.S. capacity for a rapid, massive strike may well increase the chance of a Russian mistake. Stability is eroding because Russia's ability to survive a massive first strike is increasingly in doubt. Russia can no longer afford to keep its nuclear subs at sea or its land-based missiles mobile and invulnerable. This reduces Russia's confidence that its nuclear weapons can survive a first strike, which means it is more likely to launch its nuclear missiles on warning -- believing its choice may be to "use them quickly or lose them." Adding to the dangers is the fact that Russia's early warning system is seriously eroding. If the shoe were on the other foot, the United States would be alarmed by the danger of Russia's capacity for a first strike and plans to defend against the few missiles that would be left.
Our offensive posture has a huge effect on how Russia views our defensive plan. The most important element in President Bush's May 1 speech wasn't missile defense; it was his public commitment to "change the size, the composition and the character of our nuclear forces in a way that reflects the reality that the Cold War is over." If this is done right and coordinated with Russia, it could increase our security in a way that a missile defense system will not be able to achieve even 10 to 20 years down the road. These changes would also make it much more likely that Russia would agree to needed modifications in the ABM Treaty that could allow for a prudent, limited national missile defense.
A second decision facing the Bush administration is its policy on nonproliferation, particularly efforts to limit the flow of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, materials and expertise out of Russia. More than 1,000 tons of highly enriched uranium and 150 tons of plutonium still exist in the Russian nuclear complex, enough to build 60,000 to 80,000 weapons. Storage sites are poorly secured, and weapons scientists have no steady paychecks. We have already seen hostile efforts to sell, steal and recruit weapons designs, materials and know-how out of Russia. Osama bin Laden has said acquiring weapons of mass destruction is "a religious duty." We dare not risk a world where a Russian scientist can take care of his children only by endangering ours.
Earlier this year, a distinguished bipartisan task force headed by Howard Baker and Lloyd Cutler published a major report on the need to secure Russian weapons, materials and know-how, declaring it "the most urgent unmet national security threat to the United States," and calling for a four-fold funding increase for these threat-reduction efforts. The Bush budget instead cut funding 15 percent, and at least one administration official involved in the review has said we should expect further cuts. The review by President Bush must answer a fundamental question: Is keeping nuclear, chemical and biological materials out of terrorist hands a priority or an afterthought?
A third decision facing the Bush administration is the matter of missile defense. There are traps on both sides of the missile defense debate. Some insist we must have it, without regard to cost, so we will never be vulnerable to nuclear blackmail by a rogue state. They should temper their rhetoric. By declaring that we desperately need missile defenses to avoid being blackmailed by a few nuclear missiles, they may invite rogue states to believe that, even though we could identify and devastate a nation that launched a missile, we would yield to blackmail if they threatened an American city with a nuclear, chemical or biological attack with or without a ballistic missile. If we had preached that doctrine during the Cold War, could we have deterred Soviet aggression around the world?
On the opposite side, some argue against missile defense of any kind, and they seem, perhaps inadvertently, to embrace the idea that the only deterrence option for the United States and Russia is the threat of nation-ending destruction, an outmoded and increasingly dangerous concept. President Bush is right to search for a way to change this Cold War posture.
A limited missile defense has a place in a comprehensive, integrated plan of nuclear defense, but it should be seen for what it is -- a last line of defense. Our first line of defense is diplomacy, intelligence and cooperation among nations, including Russia. It would be far better to prevent a missile from being built than to wait eight to 10 years and hope we can hit it in mid-air on its way over here. It's not that we shouldn't have an insurance policy in case all else fails, but we shouldn't spend so much on the premium that we can't afford a lock for the door.
These three reviews now underway in the Bush administration address separate elements of the U.S. response to the threat from weapons of mass destruction. But they should not and must not be formulated into separate policies. They must be woven into a comprehensive defense against weapons of mass destruction -- in any form, from any source, on any vehicle, whether triggered by intent or accident. return to menu
2. U.S.-Russia Missile Warning Center Stalled
June 11, 2001
(for personal use only)
As President Bush prepares to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time to press his case for a missile defense system, a small but important U.S.-Russian cooperative project intended to lower the threat of an accidental missile launch has nearly ground to a halt over contractual disagreements.
In September 1998, the two countries agreed to create a joint center near Moscow to share ballistic missile or space launch early warning data from U.S. satellites. The United States is concerned about Russia's aging, shrinking and potentially unreliable network of missile launch warning satellites.
Indeed, in 1995, NASA launched a Black Brant XII missile off the coast of Norway to study the Northern Lights. A Russian radar 470 miles away picked up the launch. Within minutes, Russian President Boris Yeltsin had activated his "nuclear suitcase" to launch Russian missiles in the event that the spacecraft was actually a U.S. first strike from a nuclear submarine.
Adding to Yeltsin's uncertainty was the fact that Russia has less than 17 hours a day of satellite coverage over the United States, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The satellites themselves are not believed to be as sophisticated as the U.S. early warning and reconnaissance fleet, CBO said in 1998.
Had there been missile launch and warning-data sharing arrangements, Russia would have been aware either before or immediately upon launch what the missile was, and Yeltsin would not have had to begin preparations for an attack of his own.
Last summer, President Clinton and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a formal memorandum of agreement to build the "Joint Data Exchange Center" outside of Moscow. The JDEC would be manned jointly by U.S. and Russian military officers, who would each have unclassified data from their early warning satellites that could be shared between the two teams.
The information exchanged would include generic missile type; launch and location time; and launch path, impact area and time. The teams would also provide information about launches that could be misinterpreted -- like the NASA rocket in 1995.
Since June, the site -- a former kindergarten -- has been selected, $7 million appropriated by Congress, renovation blue prints drawn up and agreements reached on the daily operations of the center. A Pentagon official estimated last year that the site would be beginning work in June 2001 and would be fully operational by October 2001.
However, no physical work on the center has begun because Russian and U.S. negotiators have been hung up since February on whether U.S. contractors will have to pay taxes to the Russian government and whether they will be held liable for any injuries or damage done on the job. It is a small matter, a government official told United Press International, but one that could have far-reaching implications for current and future U.S.-Russian nuclear safety projects, like the disposition of weapons-grade plutonium in Russia and the dismantling of old nuclear submarines and warheads.
"This is the small flea on the tail of the dog of this issue," a government official close to the negotiations told UPI. "The JDEC is sort of the tiny piece of this puzzle . . . The main reason we are unwilling to accept (Russian terms) is . . . it would set a precedent. We don't want them to be able to say you found it acceptable in this agreement, so why not that one."
At issue is whether certain taxes will apply to U.S. funding on the job. Under the terms of the agreement, the United States is putting up $7 million toward the center and Russia is donating the land and structure.
"If we buy materials in Russia, we would expect to pay sales tax. But if we pay a U.S. company to do, for instance, the detailed layout of communication cables, we would not expect to have to pay a tax because we are spending our income," the official said.
More worrisome, however, is the issue of liability. If Russia begins holding U.S. companies liable for potential damages resulting from cooperative government projects, the United States is unlikely to be able to attract any contractors to take on the work, especially where there are broad health and environmental issues to contend with, as with plutonium disposition.
"When we have U.S. contractors working on things like this, the U.S. principle is that they are exempt from liabilities that would bring them under Russian law for judging liability," the official said.
The U.S. government is also concerned that by agreeing to the Russian terms on JDEC, they will open the Cooperative Threat Reduction program to the same strictures. CTR is a decade-old and very successful program that has the United States foot the bill for dismantling old Russian nuclear warheads and weapons.
"When we signed the CTR agreement the (Russian) Duma wasn't operating like a Congress. They have since built a lot of laws about the tax code. Their lawyers (from the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Taxation) say doing this would be contrary to Russian law as it has evolved the last 10 years," the official said. "In that context, what has happened with CTR has been contrary to Russian law."
The official said that whenever the United States and another country cooperate on a mutually beneficial project, indemnification and tax relief is invariably part of the package.
The official noted that the Russian foreign ministry and defense ministry are equally as frustrated as the United States over the slow pace of the JDEC, but are not willing to defy the Duma's laws to get it done.
"I still believe we can get this thing up and operating this year or early next year. But I also am fairly confident unless this is agreed at a high level, we will never get through the tangle of ministries. (The Russian negotiators) want to cover themselves because they don't want to go to the Duma and say, 'I know what the law said, but I didn't think it applied to this project.'"
The official said most of the negotiations are being handled by diplomatic cable, but he does not believe anything will change unless top officials in the United States and Russia get involved and ask the Duma to pass an exception to the tax and liabilities laws that apply.
Once construction begins, the center can be up and running in three to six months, he said.
Bush will meet Putin this Saturday in Slovenia to discuss U.S. missile defense plans and nuclear proliferation, among other topics. return to menu
C. Plutonium Disposition
1. Russia-US Plutonium Elimination Agreement to Breed More Pu
June 5, 2001
(for personal use only)
Russia and the United States signed an agreement on decommissioning of 68 tonnes of weapon-grade plutonium, split evenly between the two countries, on September 1st 2000. To implement the program, Russia needs around $2.1bn, but neither Russia, nor the West have provided the funds so far. Despite this fact, the Russian government has introduced in the State Duma a bill, regulating plutonium elimination by converting it into MOX-fuel.
The bill repeats the main errors of the Russia-US agreement. It calls for burning of plutonium converted into uranium-plutonium mixed oxide fuel (MOX-fuel) in Russian reactors, mostly in VVER-1000 type reactors, designed originally for other types of fuel. In June, 2000 the first independent research was published, saying in case of an accident, reactors using plutonium would cause radioactive contamination three times worse, compared with ordinary reactors operating on regular uranium fuel.
According to Russia-US agreement, 68 tonnes of weapon-grade plutonium - 34 tonnes from each country - are to be eliminated mainly by burning of uranium-plutonium mixed oxide fuel (MOX-fuel) in nuclear power plant reactors. Only a small portion of US plutonium will be immobilised. Immobilisation is a process, when plutonium is mixed with liquid glass, ceramics and radioactive waste. Immobilisation's objective is to hamper re-extraction of plutonium to use it for military purposes.
The term 'burning of plutonium in reactors' is incorrect, Mikhail Piskunov said. In fast neutron reactors, operating today on MOX, plutonium is being bred, not burned. It changes its quality from weapon- to reactor-grade (although in principle, reactor-grade plutonium can be converted back into the weapon-grade), but its quantity increases. Why? Because fast-neutron reactors, or breeders, were created for this purpose.
In early 1970s, the USSR paid much attention to the use of breeder reactors. Fast neutron reactors BN-350 in Aktau (former Shevchenko) in Kazakhstan and BN-600 at Beloyarsk NPP were built. A breeder reactor is a nuclear reactor, creating surplus fissile material. The neutrons of the nuclear fuel (e.g. Pu-239) interact with the nuclei of raw material (e.g. U-238), producing surplus nuclear fuel (Pu-239). In some types of reactors, burned and created fuels can contain isotopes of the same element. The only natural nuclear fuel is U-235, which abundance in the natural isotope mix amounts not more than 0.71%. Other elements, such as plutonium, cannot sustain fissile reaction of its own. Consequently, the breeders were designed to increase fuel amounts for nuclear industry.
In March 2001, G7 working group in Berlin for the first time opened its doors for several environmental activists, who had an opportunity to communicate with the group's leaders.
"All I have seen is an insane notion of the Russian representatives to burn plutonium in the breeders, and to build such reactors. It is interesting that the process does not eliminate plutonium but may create surplus amounts of it," said Vladimir Slivyak, who participated in the meeting between the green activists and the working group members. "Americans seemed to be very naive, because they give full credibility to the Russian Ministry for Nuclear Energy," Slivyak said.
Russia-US agreement had been negotiated for the past seven or eight years. According to Vladimir Slivyak, the US insisted earlier on the full immobilisation of all weapon-grade plutonium, declared excessive to defence needs, both in Russia and in the US. Minatom preferred conversion to MOX fuel. Finally, 68 tonnes of weapon-grade plutonium from each country were destined to be burned, with only a small portion of the US plutonium to be immobilised. Vladimir Slivyak regretted that Minatom convinced the US to burn the plutonium while the US had not persuaded Russia to immobilise it.
The US representatives wanted plutonium elimination to be conducted in the same way in the both countries. But right before the signing of the agreement, they denounced this idea. Minatom convinced the US that plutonium is different in composition in the two countries, thus it should be eliminated in two different ways. At present, the plutonium program is rather likely to be suspended, due to the new policy towards Russia declared by Bush administration and funds shortage for the program implementation. American part of the program costs $4.2bn. Russian part costs $2.1bn, but Russia has collected only $600m for it.
If the program were frozen, it would not be bad, Slivyak says. Plutonium should not be handed over from the military to Minatom, as Minatom has its own interests and does not want to secure the plutonium by immobilisation.
Today several reactors work on MOX in France and Germany. Until the last year, BN-350 had been operating on it, since its launch in Kazakhstan in 1973. Only two reactors work on MOX assemblies in Russia. They are BN-600 of the 3rd unit at Beloyarsk NPP and VVER-1000 of the 2nd unit of Balakovo NPP; the latter is currently using three or four MOX assemblies.
Nuclear industry development program made by the former nuclear minister, Yevgeny Adamov, called for 30 units of NPPs, most of them are BREST-300 new generation reactors, to be put in operation. The thesis of the BREST high safety was put in doubt by Academician Nikolay Ponomarev-Stepnoy in one of his articles.
MOX is dangerous just because there are no federal regulations on how to manage it safely. Minatom's departmental regulations are secret. Quite often, Minatom is controlled by no one but itself. The local branches of the State Nuclear Regulatory, GAN, have simply no required monitoring equipment. All this causes a number of radioactivity discharges, like at the VK-50 facility in Dmitrovgrad, in Ulyanovsk region, in 1996. Four tons of steam and gas mix were released into the environment as a result of the incident.
Storage of plutonium may also become a complicated matter. Storage of one gram of plutonium costs from five to six dollars per year. Russia is storing about 180 tonnes of plutonium.
Vladimir Kuznetsov mentioned plutonium burning in VVER-1000 reactors, designed for other types of fuel than MOX. "Fission reaction in the MOX has harder spectrum," he said. Fast neutrons cause corrosive and erosive affect on the reactor body and then corrosive products get into the first coolant circuit. That worsens the water-chemical conditions, which increases coolant activity. The latter takes radioactive materials into the second, not radioactive, circuit, if there is any loose sealing in the steam generator. Safety conditions of the second circuit and the whole reactor facility worsen then significantly.
MOX-fuel stimulates increased fission yield and increased generation of iodine, tritium and actinides. Radioactivity of MOX-fuel is higher, than of usual uranium fuel: its transportation requires special casks with more effective protection.
All these issues increase the cost of the whole fuel cycle. According to the official data, cost of a kilowatt-hour produced by BN-600 of Beloyarsk NPP is 40% higher than for one kilowatt-hour produced at VVER reactors. Minatom's data, published in February 2001 in Atomnaya Energiya magazine, show that usual uranium oxide fuel cost amounts to $1,300 per kilo. MOX-fuel costs 4.5 times higher, up to $6,480 per kilo. Moreover, VVER-1000 reactors will be operating only at 30% of their capacity when loaded with alien fuel. It is very likely that Minatom will raise electricity prices throughout the country for 80%, in order to manage the increased costs. In Kuznetsov's opinion, any plans to use plutonium in reactors, including reactors not originally designed for that fuel, are not worth funds invested.
MOX fuel will be burned in the fifth VVER-1000 unit at Novovoronezh NPP. The plant management has been denying this information, and until 1999, they even denied the very existence of the program for plutonium decommissioning. Using of MOX-fuel in this reactor seems to be a dubious business. Firstly, it is not designed for MOX. Secondly, its lifetime will expire soon. The fifth unit's lifetime is over in three years, Kuznetsov said. During all the operation period, the fifth unit has been the 'dirtiest' reactor of this type in Russia. Out of 68 malfunctions occurred at Russia's NPPs last year, 14 took place at Novovoronezh NPP.
According to participants in the press conference, a total of 250 accidents have occurred at the Russian nuclear enterprises, including 39 accidents in the past eight years, since 1949. Why is Minatom standing up for the more expensive and more dangerous project, then? In Vladimir Kuznetsov's opinion, Minatom is interested in dangerous decommissioning: "It is very easy to show this bludgeon, saying, we are unsafe and we need money. But the more money, the more troubled are the waters… and it is very easy to get fish in troubled waters. One should remember, only six out of 450 MPs of the State Duma have access to control Minatom's accounts."
The press conference of Russian experts has a background of two disputes on the MOX-fuel. Last week Oxford Research Group comprised of independent nuclear scientists, issued a report for UK government on putting into operation of Sellafield MOX Plant (SMP), owned by BNFL. In scientists' opinion, launch of SMP, planned to produce MOX, would give terrorists a chance to create an A-bomb: to produce weapons of mass destruction, out of stolen MOX pellets, one needs less skills, than had terrorists, who made an explosive, which destroyed PanAm aircraft in 1998. The concern was voiced, while UK government is deciding on whether SMP should be granted a licence. The MOX plant was built in 1996 but has not been put into operation, for lack of the license.
Other event of the week is revealing of the referendum results in Kariwa in Niigata Prefecture, Japan. Despite the harsh official propaganda, 56% of local inhabitants voted against TEPCO's plans to start using MOX in the no. 3 reactor of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa NPP. On June 1st, TEPCO President Nobuya Minami said the company had decided to drop the plan to begin in June using nuclear fuel containing plutonium at the nuclear power plant. BNFL had plans to import MOX for TEPCO, providing itself with a wider market. return to menu
D. Tactical Nuclear Weapons
1. What Bush, Putin Won't Talk About
Alistair Millar and Brian Alexander
Cleveland Plain Dealer
June 8, 2001
(for personal use only)
President George W. Bush and his Russian counterpart President Vladimir Putin have agreed to hold their first meeting next week in Slovenia. The Bush administration's plans to push forward on missile defenses and nuclear weapons cutbacks will be central issues on the agenda, but it is unlikely that meeting will address a growing cause for concern: tactical nuclear weapons.
Tactical nuclear weapons are one of the most dangerous classes of nuclear weapon. Their characteristics make them more susceptible to accidental or unauthorized use, theft and the initiation of an all-out nuclear war. Furthermore, thousands of these weapons exist, but, incredibly, there is no international treaty to monitor or reduce them. In 1991, President George Bush Sr. along with Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, initiated parallel, unilateral reductions in U.S. and Russian tactical nuclear weapons arsenals. While these were bold measures, unilateral initiatives can be easily reversed, and the degree to which Russia and the United States will retain a commitment to control this class of weapons is in jeopardy.
Indeed, the United States and Russia recently have indicated intentions for increased reliance on tactical nuclear weapons. Putin, like the rest of us, should be concerned about several studies produced by U.S. nuclear weapons labs that have advocated the development and even the use of low-yield tactical nuclear weapons. A congressionally mandated study on the development of nuclear weapons capable of threatening "hard and deeply buried targets" will be completed as early as next month. The study could enable legislation that will give a green light to U.S. nuclear labs to develop a new nuclear bomb for use in battlefield scenarios that could turn a conventional war into a full-blown nuclear catastrophe.
Meanwhile, in Russia, in response to weakened conventional military capabilities and as a substitute for a costly and unaffordable large strategic nuclear arsenal, several top Russian officials have advocated greater reliance upon and possible use of tactical nuclear weapons. Plans to increase U.S. reliance on tactical nuclear weapons would jeopardize, not enhance U.S. security and would prevent Russia from reducing its own extremely problematic tactical nuclear arsenal.
Because these nukes often possess smaller blast yields, they contribute to a dangerous and false notion that they can be used without creating substantial collateral damage. This lowers the perceived threshold for use of nuclear weapons, and undermines efforts toward non-proliferation. To further develop tactical abilities for nuclear weapons would signal an intention to use them, and thus compel other countries embark upon their own programs, and increase the perceived need to join the nuclear club. Further compounding these challenges, is the unsettling probability that as the U.S. and Russia reduce their strategic nuclear arsenals below the uncalled for levels where they currently stand, there will be greater pressure from defense planners in each country to turn to tactical nuclear weapons to increase military flexibility.
The aim of Bush administration nuclear policy should not be to increase, but to decrease, the role of all nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal. Low-yield nuclear weapons should not continue to be classified as different, less dangerous weapons than other nukes. Progress on these weapons will be an essential requirement for greater cooperation on other nuclear security issues for the United States, Russia and others. The time is now to act on controlling tactical nuclear weapons, before they become the source of a new nuclear arms race.
It is clear that President Bush will face a huge task in persuading Russia to not feel threatened by a controversial U.S. missile defense system that will require a renegotiation or, more likely, abandonment of the seminal 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty. The Russians are understandably concerned about the United States walking away from 30 years of security that the ABM treaty has provided. The Bush team sent envoys to major capitals from London to Beijing earlier this month. In their efforts to sell missile defense, without being able to offer details, costs or timeline, they didn't get much support even from our closest allies - just tough questions and widespread skepticism from all, not least Moscow.
It is also abundantly clear that missile defenses are likely to cause more problems. Why don't we focus on solving existing problems instead? The issue of tactical nuclear weapons is one such problem. Both presidents need to acknowledge that efforts to produce smaller, usable nuclear weapons will undermine the security benefits that strategic force reductions will bring.
Trying to build missile defenses will only make matters worse. Ten years after the Cold War ended former adversaries should be trying to reduce clear and present dangers instead of trying to build new ones.
[Millar and Alexander are, respectively, vice president and research analyst at Fourth Freedom Forum, a private foundation that focuses on issues of international peace and security.] return to menu
E. Highly Enriched Uranium 1. Decision Time for the HEU Deal: U.S. Security vs. Private Interests