The most important aspect of President George W. Bush's meeting with his NATO allies on Wednesday did not concern their differences over missile defence. Those undoubtedly remain - but the debate is at least open and frank. More significant, at least in the near term, was the US president's stated readiness to re-engage Russia in a dialogue of co-operation.
On the face of it, Mr. Bush wants two contradictory things. He wants a new phase of NATO enlargement, by the end of next year, which would almost certainly include some parts of the former Soviet Union - notably the three Baltic republics. Hitherto, that has been anathema to Moscow, whose spokesmen have referred to a "red line" around the former Soviet republics, beyond which they would oppose any NATO membership.
The only way to persuade Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, to accept that sort of NATO enlargement is to convince him that NATO is a different creature from what it was in the cold war. Russia must be more involved in the structures of its old enemy. NATO in turn must be better focused on peacekeeping and peace-making and less on defence against old threats.
On the other hand, the Baltic republics, and other former Warsaw Pact members such as Poland, which have already joined NATO, are partly motivated by their continued fear of Russian domination. They in turn have to be persuaded that Russia is no longer a threat.
The concern both of Mr. Bush's NATO allies and of the enlargement candidates he wants to embrace is that he is placing too high a premium on missile defence alone. The would-be members fear that he may trade Russian agreement on missile defence - and therefore abandonment of the present Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty - for further enlargement.
Wednesday's speech suggests that he will not do so. He wants both enlargement and Russian co-operation. It is an admirable ambition but it does mean engaging in a new debate on NATO's post-cold-war role. If Russia is left clearly outside the NATO tent, it is hard to see how the old cold war attitudes can be buried.
The European allies remain sceptical both about the wisdom and the practicability of missile defence, although they are more prepared than they were to keep an open mind. That is sensible. Their greatest concern is that any missile defence system might in fact encourage rather than discourage proliferation. But a system that might provide greater international security should not be flatly dismissed.
Mr. Bush still has a considerable job of persuasion to do. But he is setting about it in the right way. He is beginning a debate on an entirely new post-cold-war security system. That is welcome. return to menu
2. Bush Urges NATO to Welcome New Members
June 13, 2001
(for personal use only)
BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Making his NATO debut, President Bush urged the allies on Wednesday to "extend our hands and open our hearts" to former Soviet bloc nations that aspire to join their alliance.
Without referring explicitly to perhaps the most sensitive topic on the agenda - his plan for a missile defense - Bush sounded the theme that undergirds his approach to U.S. and trans-Atlantic security. "We must strengthen our alliance, modernize our forces and prepare for new threats," he said.
Some of the allies disagree with Bush's view that they all face a growing threat of missile attack.
Bush spoke at the opening session of NATO's first summit meeting since April 1999, when the 19 leaders met in Washington to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the alliance's founding at the outset of the Cold War.
"Now we have a great opportunity to build a Europe whole, free and at peace, with this grand alliance of liberty at its very core," Bush said.
The president touched on the sensitive subject of expanding NATO, which just two years ago added new members Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. He did not mention any candidate countries by name, but made clear he believes NATO should keep its door open to democracies.
"We must extend our hands and open our hearts to new members to build security for all of Europe," he said.
Decisions on which, if any, countries to invite to join are expected at NATO's next summit, set for November 2002 in Prague. Russia is strongly opposed to NATO expanding closer to its own borders. Among the candidate countries are the Baltic nations of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, which had been part of the former Soviet Union, as well as former Warsaw Pact members Romania and Bulgaria.
Wednesday's NATO session was opened by its secretary general, Lord Robertson of Britain, who briefly took stock of progress the alliance has made to adapt to security challenges of the new century.
"NATO remains the key forum where Europe and North America consult and cooperate together," he said. "NATO is as relevant as it ever has been in managing successfully our common security."
At the military airfield where Bush arrived Wednesday, about two dozen environmental activists chained themselves together to block a side exit. Bush's motorcade left Melsbroek Airport by the main exit half a mile away, out of sight of the demonstration. One demonstrator was detained by police when he tried to chain himself to an airport fence.
At NATO headquarters, hundreds of protesters toted signs against Bush's plan for an anti-missile shield.
One of Bush's main goals on his European tour is to erase the perception that he is an overwhelmed, go-it-alone president.
"Every president is a caricature until his first trip," White House chief of staff Andrew Card told reporters en route to the Belgian capital from Madrid, Spain, where Bush opened his European tour on Tuesday.
Card said Bush is characterized in Europe "the same as Reagan," a reference to former President Ronald Reagan, who was perceived by some skeptical leaders as a Western maverick not attuned to Europeans' views.
Bush's plans for a missile defense system, NATO expansion and a fledgling European defense force headed the agenda at the NATO meeting. He intended to explain the reasoning behind his push to discard the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty, a landmark pact that the European allies and the Russians have called a cornerstone of global security.
Bush's plans have encountered stiff resistance, though aides expressed confidence that his views would receive backing from some European nations, such as Hungary, Poland, Italy and Spain.
"I think they've given the president a good listen," Card said of the European allies. "There's a recognition that the paradigm of the past is something we should move away from."
Upon arrival, Bush was greeted by Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, the U.S. ambassador Stephen Brauer and the American ambassador to NATO, Alexander Vershbow.
The president and first lady walked along a 20-foot red carpet shaking hands with local dignitaries before getting into the limousine. At NATO headquarters, Bush was greeted by the alliance's secretary-general, Lord Robertson of Britain.
Hours in advance of Bush's arrival in Brussels, authorities had already posted 1,000 police around the capital to assure security for all the participants in the NATO summit and keep protesters at bay.
The roads in between the airport, NATO headquarters and the center of town were blocked and cleared, creating huge traffic jams during the morning rush hour.
On Wednesday morning about 300 people demonstrated near the entrance to NATO headquarters, protesting against Bush's plans for a missile defense shield and his environmental policies. No major incidents were reported.
Bush planned to offer assurances to NATO that the United States will remain engaged in Europe, including in the Balkans.
At a joint news conference with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar on Tuesday, Bush gave a forceful defense of his stance on an anti-missile shield, insisting it is an indispensable part of a broader approach to security in the 21st century.
"The ABM treaty is a relic of the past," Bush said, referring to the 1972 U.S. agreement with the Soviet Union to manage the threat of nuclear war by leaving each side vulnerable to missile attack. "It prevents freedom-loving people from exploring the future. And that's why we've got to lay it aside."
Aznar gave Bush credit for consulting on missile defense, and suggested there may be some common ground. Without explicitly supporting missile defense, Aznar said it had yet to be proven that a strategy based on defense, rather than offense, "cannot lead to greater and better security."
Bush will have more to deal with in Brussels than doubts about missile defense. The Europeans are grappling with a plan to create their own defense force without undermining the primacy of a U.S.-led NATO, and many worry that Bush may cut and run from peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Some allies also are troubled by the Bush administration's push to expand NATO, possibly into territory of the former Soviet Union. return to menu
3. NATO Keeps Getting Bigger
June 13, 2001
(for personal use only)
BRUSSELS, Belgium -- There is a certain irony in the fact that the Cold War is over but NATO is getting bigger.
The Russians have noticed that too. And they don't like it one bit.
Two years ago, at a summit in Washington, NATO leaders celebrated the alliance's 50th birthday by welcoming three new members - Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, all former enemies of the communist Warsaw Pact. That pushed membership from 16 to 19. More are expected to be announced at the next summit in Prague, Czech Republic, in the autumn of 2002.
NATO expansion is on President Bush's agenda when he meets with the alliance's chiefs of state and government Wednesday. He is expected to kick off what will be a long, intense debate over who will be next to join Europe's most prestigious security club.
"It's not a question of whether, it's a question of when," Bush said Tuesday in Madrid, Spain, first stop on a five-nation trip. "We firmly believe NATO should expand."
Waiting anxiously in the wings are nine former communist nations - Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania.
NATO officials say they have noticed, if not Russian acceptance of the inevitability of further enlargement, at least a lessening in the intensity of Moscow's opposition. Secretary-General Lord Robertson is always at pains to praise the excellent relations between Russia and the allies in the Balkans, where Moscow contributes thousands of troops.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov even acknowledged at a NATO meeting last month in Budapest, Hungary, that Moscow has no veto over the alliance's enlargement plans.
However, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov took a different stand last week.
"The Western opinion that recent progress in Russia-NATO military cooperation can be regarded as a liberalized Russian attitude to enlargement of the alliance is a big political confusion," the Itar-Tass news agency quoted the defense minister as saying. "The strengthening of the alliance's military might is a direct threat to European security."
The reality is that NATO intends to take in more members whether Russia likes it or not.
For NATO candidates, joining the alliance means different things.
One NATO military specialist noted that only the three Baltic nations - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - want to join the alliance because of real security concerns. For the rest, being a NATO member is full of political significance. It means joining the club of Europe's prosperous, becoming part of a major Western institution.
At this early stage, theories abound. There are those who favor the "big bang," bringing all nine in at once. Other allies have their particular favorites. Some say all three Baltic countries should be invited at once, both for security reasons and because in many ways they really are a unit. Some allies say tiny Slovenia, which just missed by a whisker getting in the last time, should be rewarded now. Others say Romania, which was among the top candidates last time, has actually regressed. And almost everybody shudders at the mere thought of Macedonia.
In addition, there are 19 parliaments that must be persuaded - not the least of which is the U.S. Senate, where doubts about further enlargement abound. return to menu
B. Russia - EU Relations
1. US Slips as EU Weight Rises in Russian Foreign Policy
June 12, 2001
(for personal use only)
MOSCOW -- When Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his state-of-the-nation address in April, the United States did not even warrant a mention in the list of foreign policy objectives he wanted to pursue.
Whether intended or not, Russia's focus in its bid to regain the world's respect as a power to be reckoned with has shifted away from the United States and toward Europe since Putin came to power last year.
As Putin heads for his first meeting with President Bush in Ljubljana Wednesday, he knows the change in Moscow's priorities has been dictated as much by the relegation of Russia as a partner for the United States under Bush.
For Sergei Karaganov, head of the Foreign and Defense Policy Council think tank, the balance is clear: "With the United States, we want normal, quiet, constructive relations without confrontation," he said.
"The priority is clear, it is Europe. Europe, but not against America," he added.
On the surface, contacts between Russia and the European Union have been hotting up. The two are engaged in talks on plans to allow Russia to export its oil and gas to the EU, where demand for energy is expected to rise sharply in the future.
Much has also been said about the need for close cooperation over Kaliningrad, Russia's Baltic enclave, which will be surrounded by EU members once Poland and Lithuania join the EU.
Russia wants to work out special visa and trade ties between what will be its EU beachhead. The EU also wants expansion to help the enclave, but it is equally worried about Kaliningrad's pollution, high crime and potential for illegal immigration.
On the symbolic level, while Bush and Putin are heading for their first meeting, European leaders have already met Putin several times and Putin in March became the first Russian leader to join 15 EU chiefs for informal talks.
While Russian membership of the EU remains the stuff of dreams, some see the path to closer ties as historically justified as well as good for democracy and the economy.
"I see Russia as the last great European power which is returning back to the fold," said Carnegie Moscow Center deputy head Dmitry Trenin at a recent news conference.
But amid the frequency of visits and meetings, many in Europe remain deeply concerned about Russia's bloody war in Chechnya and the massive force used to quell what Moscow itself called terrorists.
Europe was also disturbed by the takeover of the NTV television station by state-dominated gas monopoly Gazprom, which was seen as a blow to media freedom.
Despite the intensification of Russia-EU ties, Putin cannot afford to forget Washington. Much effort has gone into keeping a dialogue going despite a series of spy scandals and an ongoing argument over missile defense plans.
At their summit, Putin and Bush are likely to talk about U.S. plans for a missile defense shield, which Russia says could spark a new arms race, although few expect much progress.
Meanwhile Russia and China have said they want to counter the weight of the United States as the sole remaining superpower and have spoken almost as one in rejecting Washington's missile defense plans.
Putin has sought to keep close ties with China, witnessed by a planned visit to Moscow by Chinese President Jiang Zemin in July, where a special friendship treaty is to be signed.
Russia also sees China as an economic partner, and would particularly like to sell it more weapons.
The Russian leader has also put much effort into rebuilding ties with former Soviet nations, grouped as the Commonwealth of Independent States, trying to reassert Moscow's hegemony in the region and make sure its goods have ready markets. return to menu
C. National Missile Defense
1. Nuclear 'Milestone' Divides U.S., Russia
Failure to Construct Joint Warning Center Suggests Bigger Problems on Missile Defense
June 13, 2001
(for personal use only)
MOSCOW -- To prevent false alarms about missile launches with catastrophic consequences, the United States and Russia decided to build a joint nuclear early warning center to share information. They liked the idea so much that they announced it twice.
Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin first unveiled the plan to "avert nuclear war by mistake," as Clinton put it, in September 1998. When Clinton came back here in June 2000, the two countries pulled out the news release again. "A milestone in enhancing strategic security," said Yeltsin's successor, Vladimir Putin.
Yet now, as the presidents of Russia and the United States prepare for another summit, this "milestone" remains nothing more than an abandoned kindergarten building surrounded by overgrown shrubbery on the outskirts of Moscow. Planning for the early warning center has ground to a halt, stymied by conflicting priorities, geopolitics and legal issues.
After Clinton and Yeltsin first agreed to the plan, the war in Kosovo the following spring soured Russia on the West and everything was put on hold for nearly a year. After relations thawed a bit, Clinton and Putin signed a memorandum of understanding last June to put it back on track.
But it became mired in details -- Russians said their law required Americans to pay taxes on the equipment brought into the country and to assume liability for construction, while the U.S. side did not want to set a precedent that would affect larger aid programs. More important, the project lost momentum in the lame-duck days of the Clinton administration and has remained frozen pending the Bush team's review of its Russia policy. The two sides have not met for months.
The three-year odyssey of the early warning center that wasn't offers a lesson in how good intentions can go awry when it comes to relations between the world's two major nuclear powers. The failure to establish the center underscores the limitations of international summitry and the difficulty of turning rhetoric into reality.
It also serves up a cautionary tale for Washington at a time when the administration of Clinton's successor, President Bush, is talking about ways to cooperate with Moscow in building a ballistic missile shield. Bush and Putin will meet for the first time in Slovenia Saturday with missile defense at the top of the agenda. But if the two countries cannot find a way to jointly build an $8 million center considered non-controversial by both sides, collaboration on a hotly disputed $100 billion missile defense system promises to be far more problematic.
"This shows very clearly that if it's just a political ploy to make everybody look better, then nobody will move it forward," said Pavel Podvig, a researcher at the Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies in Moscow. "We are no longer in that mode where anything cooperative is such a great idea that all the bureaucracies would just clear away."
Perhaps more ominously, in the view of arms control specialists, the stalemate over the early warning center leaves unaddressed a problem with potentially disastrous ramifications: Russia's huge blind spots in detecting missile launches. A mistaken warning could lead Russian leaders to launch their own missiles and trigger an unintended nuclear conflagration.
As it was, the joint warning center was seen by experts such as Podvig as an inadequate response to a serious problem, one that would be useful mostly if it served as a first step to a more meaningful solution. Critics asked whether Russians would really trust American data showing that the United States was not attacking.
Theodore Postol, a national security expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that initially he considered the joint plan not serious enough, but at least "a good thing" in the context of a broader approach to the issue. Now, given the result, he has come to see it as nothing more than a propaganda tool by the Americans.
"This has just been a smoke screen to look like they're doing something when they're not," Postol said. "I really lay this at the feet of the Americans because they have the resources. The Russians don't, and to turn around and blame this on the Russians is really disingenuous."
The notion of shared early warning information arose shortly after the end of the Cold War. As far back as February 1992, just weeks after the collapse of the Soviet Union, U.S. and Russian officials began discussing the creation of a center where each side would have access to data from the other.
The danger of misunderstanding became vividly evident in 1995 when Russian military officials briefly mistook the launch of a Norwegian scientific rocket for a U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile. Yeltsin was brought his black suitcase known as the "nuclear football" to make a decision about whether to retaliate, but the Russians came to conclude that they were not under attack.
The potential for trouble has only intensified since then with the deterioration of the Russian early warning system. Only two to four of the nine high-elliptical satellites that Russia had in orbit in 1995 are still functioning today, according to arms control experts, and at least seven hours a day Russia is blind to possible launches from U.S. missile fields. Just last month, a fire at a ground control center cut off communications with several military satellites.
Russia built seven satellites to reestablish full coverage but has never launched them, apparently for lack of money. Likewise, it has struggled to rebuild its ground-based radar network since losing some facilities to newly independent countries in the breakup of the Soviet Union.
The route chosen by Clinton and Yeltsin was to share what information already exists. The decision to build a Joint Data Exchange Center would create the first permanent U.S.-Russian military facility, modeled on a temporary joint center established in Colorado to deal with the Year 2000 computer bug.
According to Pentagon briefing papers, the center would be staffed 24 hours a day by a detachment of 16 U.S. officers joined by a similar number of Russians. U.S. and Russian officers would sit back to back, each with computers linked to their respective early warning headquarters. Although they would not receive raw data, they would have access to information processed in less than a minute that would show generic missile type, launch location and time, and launch path, impact area and time if known.
Officials picked a site for the facility and even designed a layout that would include a fitness center, with showers and steam room. But today the building sits empty and unrenovated in a leafy residential neighborhood in the Babushkin area of Moscow, some of its windows boarded up or cracked, its walls marked with graffiti. Instead of being in its operational test phase, as planned for this month on the way to a September opening, it serves mostly as a clandestine hangout for young beer drinkers.
"It's basically come to a halt," said a senior U.S. official who asked not to be identified. "It's tough doing business in Russia. We're not the only group to find that out. Nothing is easy in Russia."
Bruce Blair, president of the Washington-based Center for Defense Information, attributed the impasse to deepening Russian suspicion of the United States, particularly since Kosovo.
"It's a psychological thing," he said. "It's hard to believe these petty little disputes over things like liability would prevent an important project from being completed if it were deemed important by the Russians. So it shows that they've basically turned their backs on the Americans."
Still, even U.S. officials involved are careful to acknowledge that their side bears some blame. The Clinton administration did not make it a consistent high priority; nor has the Bush administration. And the Russians say they are simply waiting for the Americans to finish their review and return to the table. return to menu
D. Nuclear Waste
1. President, Putin Should Talk Trash -- Nuclear Trash, That Is
Andrew S. Weiss
Los Angeles Times
June 15, 2001
(for personal use only)
Andrew S. Weiss, a Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, was a Russia specialist on the National Security Council Staff and a member of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff during the Clinton Administration.
When President Bush sits down with Vladimir V. Putin for the first time on Saturday, he will focus on establishing a personal rapport and defusing big-ticket items, such as missile defense and the next round of NATO enlargement. But Bush should not miss the opportunity to weigh in on a controversial Russian plan, potentially worth billions of dollars to both countries, to store thousands of tons of foreign-origin nuclear waste inside Russia. A constructive presentation by Bush on this issue could not only cut off dangerous Russian cooperation with Iran's nuclear weapons program but also provide a major boost to Russia's beleaguered democracy and teetering nuclear complex. The Bush administration has a de facto veto over the Russian initiative, thanks to its control over the handling of all spent reactor fuel--nearly 70% of the world's supply. In addition to our own vast inventory, the administration also must approve any shipments by other countries (e.g., Japan, South Korea, Taiwan) that use fuel. Not surprisingly, the Russian proposal has outraged Russian and Western environmentalists alike. They fear that Russia, which already does an abysmal job on nuclear waste management, could become a dangerous and unregulated dumping ground. Average Russians are also concerned--polls indicate that 80% to 90% of the public is opposed--but they have been brazenly ignored by the Kremlin and its allies. Still, Bush should make clear to Putin that the administration is prepared to move forward based on the following conditions:
* A total cutoff of sensitive Russia-Iran nuclear cooperation. Iran's aggressive nuclear weapons program and Russia's invaluable technical support to it have set off alarm bells in Washington and Israel. However, the billions Russia could earn from nuclear waste storage far overshadow the money it currently is receiving from Iran for these sensitive projects. Putin, who has rejected U.S. complaints about the Iran problem, will be a tough sell. The ground may be shifting in Moscow, however, as indicated by Putin's recent firing of one of the main Russian proponents of clandestine nuclear cooperation with Iran.
* Firm Russian commitments to adopt stronger environmental safeguards and to spend any proceeds on threat reduction and nuclear clean-up projects. The Bush administration must insist on the toughest possible environmental protections for nuclear waste storage. It also should require that any Russian profits be used to reduce nuclear threats, including stemming the brain drain of former Soviet weapons scientists to rogue states; dismantling nuclear warheads; and preventing "loose nukes" from getting into the wrong hands. Left to their own devices, the Russians simply will not prioritize such projects.
* Agreement on a long-term moratorium on reprocessing of spent reactor fuel. The Russian atomic energy ministry is keen to reprocess some of the spent fuel for future nuclear energy use and export. This plan is a disaster in the making and must be blocked. Reprocessing would generate new streams of proliferation-susceptible nuclear materials and toxic liquid waste.
* Clear U.S. support for a Russian popular referendum on nuclear waste storage. The Bush administration cannot afford to turn its back on the grass-roots Russian democracy activists and politicians, such as Grigory Yavlinsky, who are renewing calls for a referendum on this issue. Bush also must be mindful that the environment is one of the few issues that average Russians actually care about. Last December, Russian authorities quietly scuttled a proposed referendum by invalidating the exact number of the 2.5 million signatures necessary to disqualify the petition. Putin now needs to hear directly from Bush that the Russian people must have a voice in this decision.
The details of any <U.S.-Russia> agreement will take months to iron out. But President Bush has a rare opening this weekend in Slovenia to make his mark on a nuclear security issue with far-reaching implications. Ignoring it will only feed widespread fears in the U.S. and Europe that the new administration is not serious about deepening cooperation with the new Russia. return to menu
E. Highly Enriched Uranium
1. Bush Extends Russian Uranium Order
June 13, 2001
(for personal use only)
WASHINGTON -- President Bush on Wednesday extended a federal order ensuring that money paid to Russia for uranium is not seized by creditors.
Until President Clinton signed the executive order in June 2000, Russia had feared creditors would seize the payments to settle unrelated debts.
Bush meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Slovenia on Saturday.
Clinton's order freed Russia to resume shipping low enriched uranium that has been "downblended" after being taken from nuclear weapons stockpiles, so it can be used in U.S. commercial reactors.
The deal is a key part of American attempts to get Russia to dispose of nuclear weapons material so that it doesn't fall into the hands of terrorists or other rogue groups.
In his continuation order, Bush said it is a "major national security goal" to guarantee that material removed from Russian nuclear weapons is used "for peaceful commercial uses, subject to transparency measures, and protected from diversion to activities of proliferation concern."
Bush's budget proposed cutting the Energy Department's nonproliferation programs - including those aimed at helping Russia stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction - by $100 million from $874 million in the current year.
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, according to former Sen. Sam Nunn, co-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative and a critic of Bush's budget cut. return to menu
F. Plutonium Disposition
1. Livermore Lab Busy Canning Plutonium
Surplus will go to South Carolina site
Glenn Roberts Jr.
June 12, 2001
(for personal use only)
LIVERMORE -- Workers at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory are canning surplus plutonium to prepare it for shipment to a nuclear facility in South Carolina.
The reduction in nuclear stockpiles in Russia and the United States has led to an increase in both nations' stock of weapons-grade plutonium.
Livermore Lab, a nuclear weapons research lab that is operated by the University of California for the Energy Department, and several other counterpart nuclear facilities, are expected to ship excess plutonium to the Savannah River Site facility in Aiken, S.C.
Last week, Livermore Lab completed the assembly of the first storage container for a plutonium shipment to the Savannah River facility.
Lab experts have worked with Energy Department officials and researchers from British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. for the past two years to establish a plutonium-packaging system at the lab's plutonium facility, called the Superblock. The Superblock has an inventory of about 882 pounds of plutonium, lab spokeswoman Lynda Seaver said Monday. Plutonium can be used as a component in triggering nuclear explosions.
Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico, the Hanford Site in Washington and the Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site in Colorado are also expected to prepare canisters of surplus plutonium for shipment to Savannah River.
"Canning of surplus plutonium is already under way and the lab hopes to begin shipping in August," said Karen Dodson, a chemist in Livermore Lab's plutonium storage facility and a leader for the lab effort.
"For security purposes, we cannot say how much plutonium will be sent."
Up to 9.7 pounds of plutonium can be stored in each canister.
The inner canister, which holds the plutonium, resembles an elongated coffee can, according to lab reports.
This can is sealed and placed inside a stainless steel can, which is laser-welded shut. And the second can is placed within a larger, outer can that is also welded shut. The container is filled with helium to check for leaks.
Containers are designed to withstand about 700 pounds of pressure per square inch -- about 23 times more pressure than the average car tire is designed to withstand.
Containers also are designed to store plutonium for up to 50 years.
Dodson said the plutonium is expected to be removed from the containers, for use in nuclear fuel or for immobilization in ceramic pucks, by 2010.
In November 1999, Energy Department officials announced plans to prevent the reuse of about 19 tons of surplus plutonium by mixing it with ceramic, and to convert about 36 tons of plutonium for use as an ingredient in nuclear reactor fuel.
The budget for the ceramic-immobilization program, which Livermore Lab researchers also have been assisting, could be suspended in 2002, according to preliminary budget projections.
Seaver said that the current plutonium packaging and shipment program should not be impacted by these proposed cuts.
Energy Department officials announced plans in 1995 to construct a new facility at the Savannah River Site to prepare, package and store excess plutonium.
But cost concerns, in part, led Energy Department officials to revise those plans in 2000 in favor of using an existing building at the site to store the surplus plutonium. return to menu
G. Russia - Iran Cooperation
1. U.S., Russia at Odds on Iranian Deal
Bush to Raise Atomic Issues at Summit
June 15, 2001
(for personal use only)
The United States and Russia are at odds over American and Israeli allegations that Moscow permitted a shipment of highength aluminum to Iran that could be used to manufacture enriched uranium for use in nuclear weapons, according to U.S. and Russian officials.
The officials said the two countries exchanged a series of diplomatic messages after the United States and Israel alerted Russia to a suspicious aluminum shipment on a Russian boat that was headed for Iran via the Black Sea soon after President Bush took office Jan. 21.
According to the American version, Russian inspectors boarded the vessel and reported that the aluminum was intended for aircraft manufacture, an explanation not accepted by the United States. The shipment was allowed to proceed to Iran.
The precise origin of the aluminum is not known, but U.S. officials said the deal was arranged by a Russian metals trader. The officials said that the United States and Israel have evidence that the aluminum was delivered to Iranian institutions connected with what they suspect is Iran's nuclear weapons project.
The aluminum shipment is the latest in a series of nuclear proliferation disputes that have clouded U.S.-Russian relations in recent years. U.S. officials said Bush is expected to raise proliferation concerns with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their first face-to-face meeting Saturday in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana without going into detail about specific cases.
"It's a big deal," said one well-placed administration official, referring to fears that Iran is experimenting with different ways of enriching uranium to produce bomb-grade material that would serve as the basis for a crude nuclear weapon.
U.S. officials said they suspected that the aluminum alloy delivered to Iran was intended for the manufacture of rotor blades used in gas centrifuges that separate out the enriched uranium that can produce a chain reaction for a nuclear explosion. U.S. experts say that Iran has been attempting to acquire centrifuge technology, as well as other technology for enriching uranium, for much of the last decade as part of a larger effort to build an atomic bomb.
Under heavy pressure from the Clinton administration, Russia agreed in 1995 to shelve plans to sell Iran a gas centrifuge plant. Boris Yeltsin, then the Russian president, subsequently promised Clinton that Russia would not provide Iran with uranium enrichment technology of any kind, although it would go ahead with a contract to complete a civilian nuclear reactor at Bushehr.
Several countries, including Pakistan and Iraq, have used gas centrifuges to enrich uranium and accumulate sufficient fissile material to build an atomic bomb. As a result of these efforts, Western governments devote a great deal of attention to attempting to prevent would-be nuclear weapons states from acquiring the highength, relatively lightweight materials that can be used to build centrifuges.
The challenge of combating nuclear proliferation is complicated by the fact that many of these materials can have such ordinary industrial uses as aircraft manufacture, and there is often legitimate debate about the purpose of a particular shipment.
Proliferators have become adept at disguising the identity of the end-user and producing fictitious billing statements. Evidence collected by intelligence agencies is often ambiguous and can lead to differing conclusions.
A Kremlin official responsible for export controls, Sergei Yekimov, said that Russia had made an "exhaustive" reply to U.S. concerns about the aluminum shipment, which left for Iran from the Russian-controlled Black Sea port of Sevastopol. He declined to provide further details, citing the sensitive nature of the issues involved.
According to U.S. officials, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice broached the aluminum case directly with her Russian counterpart, Sergei Ivanov, while he was head of the Kremlin Security Council before becoming defense minister. Ivanov provided her with written assurances that the aluminum was intended for aircraft manufacture. Putin gave then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak a similar answer in a telephone conversation shortly before Barak left office on March 7, the official sources said, while Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has raised the issue with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.
The officials said that the shipment was arranged by a private Russian metals trader, suggesting the Russian government was not involved. U.S. officials are divided over whether the Russians deliberately misled their U.S. and Israeli counterparts over the nature of the shipment, or merely repeated erroneous information provided to them by subordinates.
Russian officials have often insisted in recent years that the government does not sanction the spread of materials to build weapons of mass destruction to such countries as Iran. But critics point out that the materials nonetheless appear to be leaking out of Russia, sometimes from state-run research institutes. In the most dramatic example, gyroscopes used in missile guidance systems were sent to Iraq in 1995 after being disassembled from Russian strategic rockets.
Nuclear experts say the acquisition of sufficient quantities of fissile material is the single biggest barrier faced by such countries as Iran in building a nuclear weapon. Iran's continuing attempts to acquire enrichment technology and relevant materials suggest that it has not been able to buy or steal fissile materials on the international black market, the shortest route to manufacturing a bomb.
In addition to centrifuges, Iran has displayed an interest in purchasing laser equipment that could be used to separate nuclear isotopes. Last year, according to U.S. and Russian officials, Moscow agreed to suspend plans to sell Iran laser separation technology that it had contracted to buy from the Efremov Institute in St. Petersburg, which reports to the Atomic Energy Ministry.
Russian officials said they had agreed to halt the sale as a "goodwill gesture" even though they did not believe it would have contributed in any significant way to the Iranian nuclear weapons program. While U.S. experts concede that the Russian equipment was capable of producing only tiny amounts of highly enriched uranium, they also feared that the Iranians might discover ways to use the equipment on a larger scale or as a "building block" for a more ambitious laser separation program.
In contrast to the laser separation technology, centrifuges are a proven route to acquiring significant quantities of weapons-grade uranium, and can be difficult to detect once they have been manufactured. However, nuclear experts say it is far from a simple matter for a country such as Iran to build a centrifuge plant without large-scale foreign assistance.
"We can assume that the Iranians have a workable centrifuge design, but it is still difficult for them to make the parts and get the centrifuges to run so they don't explode," said Gary Milhollin, of the nonprofit, Washington-based Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control. "They need to be very precisely balanced."
Milhollin added that Iran has not yet demonstrated that it can convert its plentiful uranium supplies to the uranium hexafluoride gas used to feed a centrifuge.
Most U.S. experts, both in and out of government, say that Iran is still in the research and development stages of building a gas centrifuge. To produce enough material for an atomic bomb, a country needs several thousand centrifuges linked together in a cascade. Centrifuges operate on the principle of centrifugal force created by rotor blades spinning at supersonic speeds, pushing the heavy uranium-238 molecules to the wall of the container and leaving lighter uranium-235 molecules in the center.
Because they spin so rapidly, the rotor blades must be made out of a light but highength material such as specialty steel or aluminum alloy. At the same time, they must be able to withstand the highly corrosive gases that feed the separation process. Aluminum is often used as a first stage for building centrifuges, as it is easier to work with than other materials.
The origin of the aluminum shipped to Iran is still unclear. Although most of Sevastopol's port is controlled by the Russian navy, the city belongs to Ukraine. However, U.S. officials appear to have accepted Ukrainian assurances that the material did not originate in Ukraine. Ukraine has a joint civilian aircraft project with Iran that U.S. officials say could have been used as a cover for nuclear procurement.
"The U.S. side was satisfied with our explanation," said Ukraine's ambassador to Washington, Kostyantyn Gryshchenko, adding that Ukraine does not produce the special aluminum alloys that U.S. officials allege were part of the shipment. return to menu