Memo to: Mr. Hans Blix, United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) Inspection Team, Iraq.
I know where the weapons are, Mr. Blix, and I know who's protecting them.
Point your convoy of white Nissan four-wheelers due north, toward Eastern Europe and the old Soviet empire. Here, the threat is more immediate and consequential than anything known of Iraq.
Looking for chemical weapons, Mr. Blix? Visit Shchuchye, a Russian stockpile of 2 million munitions filled with nerve gases like sarin and VX. Each munition can kill more than 80,000 people, and is easily transported. The stockpile sits, as USA Today notes, in an impoverished region near the Kazakhstan border and Asian havens for Al-Qaida.
Russia is eager to destroy these weapons, and actually wants our help. (You'll find this a pleasant change, Mr. Blix.)
Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., has made deactivation of Shchuchye his top priority. However, behind closed committee doors, congressional conservatives have repeatedly hindered U.S. funding. As the Los Angeles Times reported on Dec. 2, a frustrated Lugar finally broke protocol and named names: Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa. (To the Times, Weldon denied blocking the proposal; Hunter didn't return phone calls.)
The defense industry, which doesn't benefit from threat reduction, was the primary contributor to Hunter's campaign ($191,473 in 2000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics). This isn't the first time an official favored contributors over common citizens, but rarely has national security been treated so cavalierly.
Looking for nuclear weapons, Mr. Blix? You can cross Yugoslavia's Vinca research reactor off your list.
On Aug. 22, a multinational team removed 106 pounds of bomb-grade uranium from Vinca (enough for two nuclear weapons). Wary of hijackers, decoy trucks moved in a convoy while 1,200 police and rooftop snipers guarded the removal route.
Once again, Congress can't take credit. Instead, Cable News Network founder Ted Turner's $5 million made the raid possible, part of a larger $250 million donation Turner made when threat-reduction funding languished. Turner's involvement was necessary because congressional conservatives restricted spending of such funds outside Russia.
The State Department's Web site thanks Turner for his "essential" role, as should we all. The bandy-legged billionaire has done more to improve national security than all the hawks in Washington.
But let's not be overly optimistic. Russia's tactical weapons remain vulnerable, its scientists remain impoverished, and it has 50 tons of excess plutonium. The risks are enormous, as Al-Qaida, Chechen rebels, even Japan's Aum Shinrikyo cult have sought Soviet nuclear material.
Happy hunting, Mr. Blix.
On the bioweapons front, Russia still refuses to grant access to four closed military institutes. Further, its impoverished military biologists remain at risk of employment by parties antagonistic to the United States.
There's something so repugnant about bioweapons research that most governments fear its revelation. Bioresearch remains the central mystery of Iraq's weapons program and, to a lesser degree, our own. Mr. Blix, you may recall that the "person of interest" in our own anthrax investigation was a U.S. bioweapons scientist slotted for a role in UNMOVIC. Iraqis will surely relish the irony.
On a more personal note, Mr. Blix, I may fly south over the holidays. Frankly, the recent shoulder-launched missile attack on an Israeli passenger jet has me spooked. I understand there are thousands of these surface-to-air missiles around the world, many of Russian manufacture.
While in Russia, if you stumble across one of these devices, please take it off the market on my behalf.
I've enclosed $20 toward your efforts, Mr. Blix. I sincerely wish it were more, but the projected costs of the Iraq war and the wobbly economy have left my finances a bit tight. Meanwhile, appeals to Washington (and to common sense) have gone unanswered. return to menu
B. Tactical Nuclear Weapons
1. Invitation To Terrorism
San Jose Mercury News
December 15, 2002
The Bush administration is preparing for war against Iraq, saying Iraq could develop or acquire weapons of mass destruction that might be used against the United States. But it has done almost nothing since the Sept. 11 attacks to address what is widely seen as a greater danger: terrorists stealing a tactical nuclear weapon from Russia.
Tactical weapons, made to be used on a battlefield, are attractive to terrorists because they are small, portable and easier to detonate. Russia has thousands in the nuclear arsenal it inherited from the Soviet Union -- a scattered arsenal with inadequate protection against theft or attack, a security failure that Russia hides behind a wall of secrecy.
Despite that, the Bush administration has not pursued talks with Russia to urgently tackle the problem. The Bush budget proposes to cut funding for the programs already in place to help Russia improve security for warheads. Meanwhile, the administration is pursuing plans to build new tactical nuclear weapons itself.
The vulnerability of Russian warheads ``is a serious danger, to us, in fact to the Russians themselves,'' William Perry, President Clinton's secretary of defense, told the Mercury News. ``The danger is only aggravated when you see the extent to which terrorist groups are well-organized and well-financed, with the explicit objectives of getting their hands on nuclear weapons.
``The tactical nukes are not the only worry -- it's just they're perhaps the highest on the list of worries.''
Officials in the Bush administration declined to respond to repeated requests to discuss this issue. But earlier this year when he was asked by reporters about the issue of Russian tactical nuclear weapons, Douglas Faith, the undersecretary of defense for policy, conceded that ``it gets very little attention.''
SERGIEV POSAD, Russia -- Fears that Soviet warheads could get into the wrong hands go back to the early 1990s, when the Soviet Union was collapsing and many of its nuclear weapons were based in other countries.
The United States began an extensive effort, known as the Nunn-Lugar program, that spent $4 billion over the next decade to help Russia gain control over the Soviet arsenal and dismantle warheads, safely store radioactive materials and find new jobs for nuclear scientists.
At the military base in Sergiev Posad, a two-hour drive northeast of Moscow, soldiers are trained to maintain and protect Russia's nuclear arsenal. Troops from the 12th Main Directorate, known as the 12th GUMO (from its name in Russian), work behind layers of barbed wire protected by electronic sensor systems, all financed and supplied by the United States.
This is a high-security training center, laid out to simulate nuclear-weapon bunkers around the country, accessible to American officials only by invitation. The area around the center is the 12th GUMO's base, filled with equally sensitive sites.
Yet this reporter was able to go right up to the training center's walls, extensively photograph its layout and even, with the aid of a former major in the 12th GUMO, walk onto the main base through a hole in a concrete wall.
We were able to spend nearly an hour on the base, where U.S.-supplied security equipment is stored for distribution, watching Russian nuclear-guard forces repair armored trains that are used to transport nuclear weapons.
The path through the hole was well-worn -- it is used by residents of the unit's housing outside the gate to reach a freshwater spring.
``Amazing,'' Jay Davis, who headed the Defense Department agency that directed these cooperation programs during the Clinton administration, said in response to this description.
Russian officials insist that their weapons are totally secure. The 12th GUMO is described as an elite unit, well paid, and better trained and screened than the rest of the Russian military, which is notorious for its poor training, corruption and lack of discipline.
But knowledgeable Russian and American sources dispute those claims.
``It has the same problems that the military overall has,'' said a U.S. official who is closely involved in the cooperation programs with Russia and who did not wish to be identified. ``It doesn't exist in a vacuum. It exists in the Russia of today -- and in that world, the Russian military is in bad shape.''
Russian and American officials agree that conditions have improved in some areas -- at naval-weapons storage sites, for example, and in the transport and storage of strategic nuclear weapons that have been removed from missiles and bombers.
``There is a possibility of someone stealing a nuclear weapon in Russia,'' retired Col. Gen. Yevgeny Maslin, former head of the 12th GUMO, reluctantly acknowledged to the Mercury News. ``But a lot has been done lately with the help of the Nunn-Lugar program to help improve the safety of nuclear facilities.''
But Maxim Shingarkin, the former 12th GUMO major who revealed the hole in the base's fence, said that only a third of Russia's nuclear storage sites have even the physical security of Sergiev Posad. ``The efforts of the Americans are a Potemkin village,'' he said.
Shingarkin participated in security exercises at an important storage base in central Russia in the late 1990s. When critical reports on those exercises were prepared, he said, his superiors ordered them destroyed.
``Twenty-five armed people could have penetrated the facility and gotten a weapon,'' Shingarkin said. ``The storage facilities are under realistic threat to be entered by terrorists.''
Shingarkin's experience led him to break with the military and try to expose these problems. Today he is an activist with the Russian branch of the anti-nuclear group Greenpeace, where he has been campaigning to improve security at Russian nuclear facilities.
The most immediate concern is that Chechens, whose war against Russian control has received aid from Al-Qaida and other Islamist groups, might carry out such an attack. As an indication of Chechen capabilities, last month a group of about 50 Chechen terrorists attacked a theater in central Moscow and took hundreds of people hostage.
According to Shingarkin, Russian secret police caught Chechens carrying out surveillance of a nuclear storage facility in Tula in 1996.
The current head of the 12th GUMO, Col. Gen. Igor Valynkin, told Russian reporters in October 2001 that they had detected two such Chechen efforts in the previous eight months.
Aside from a direct attack, there is the danger that a poorly paid Russian officer could be bribed, perhaps by organized-crime groups, to provide a weapon or access to them.
But Russian officials insist that terrorists have not succeeded in penetrating their nuclear arsenal and that their security is sufficient to meet the threat.
With U.S. encouragement, the number of storage sites has been consolidated from some 500 to 600 across the former Soviet Union to fewer than 100, all in Russia.
According to Josh Handler, a Princeton University expert on Russian nuclear weapons programs, there are about 20 large, national-level storage sites that may hold as many as 400 nuclear weapons each, including both tactical and strategic warheads.
The rest are regional sites at missile bases and at frontline military units such as air bases.
Some experts believe that the weapons are most vulnerable when they are being transported from storage sites to military units, or back to plants for disassembly or maintenance. According to Russian security experts, their nuclear weapons are routinely taken in for maintenance every three years. The Nunn-Lugar program has financed upgrades of the special rail cars that carry warheads to dismantlement sites.
Russia's security problems are well known in Washington.
``The most urgent unmet national security threat to the United States today is the danger that weapons of mass destruction or weapons-usable material in Russia could be stolen and sold to terrorists or hostile national states,'' concluded a bipartisan government advisory group last year.
In March, Assistant Secretary of Defense J.D. Crouch II told Congress that ``we continue to be concerned with the potential for theft or diversion of Russian nuclear weapons.''
But Crouch also acknowledged that the Pentagon is asking for less funding for the nuclear-warhead security program. He said the program was being slowed by issues of U.S. access to Russian storage sites and problems with properly using money that is already allocated.
Tactical weapons. Nuclear warheads can fit in car
Beyond the security of Russian nuclear-weapons facilities lies a much larger problem that both U.S. and Russian officials are reluctant to discuss: The cooperation that does exist leaves out an entire class of nuclear weapons -- the smaller, more easily used tactical warheads.
These nuclear weapons, made to be used in battlefields, can fit in the trunk of a car or even be carried by a soldier. And while arms-control treaties have reduced the number of strategic warheads to the thousands, there may be tens of thousands of tactical weapons.
These weapons are attractive to terrorists not only because of their small size, but also because some of them are deployed with air force, army and navy units rather than kept in more secure central storage sites.
Older warheads also do not have electronic locks that keep them from being fired without authorization, said William Potter, director of the Center for Non-Proliferation Studies in Monterey.
But these weapons have almost never been the subject of negotiation between the United States and Russia. And the Bush administration has not made this a priority, despite heightened awareness of the terrorist threat since Sept. 11.
More than 10 years ago the two countries pledged to remove most of these weapons from deployment, halt their production and dismantle most of them by 2001. But there was no way to verify that these unilateral declarations were being carried out.
International arms-control experts were shocked in April when the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement admitting that Russia had not carried out its pledge to destroy all tactical nuclear weapons for army units -- the very weapons most dangerous in the hands of terrorists.
The Russians blamed ``insufficient financing'' and said they would complete the job by 2004 if they had more money.
The revelation underscores one of the biggest problems facing any attempt to deal with tactical nuclear weapons -- it isn't even clear how many of them exist.
``We don't have a good grip on how many theater weapons they have,'' Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld admitted in testimony before the Senate in May. ``We don't have a good grip on what their production rates are for nuclear weapons in a given year.''
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a U.S. group that estimates global nuclear stockpiles, the United States built about 20,000 tactical weapons and today has 1,620. Of those, 1,300 are bombs and the rest are designed for cruise missiles, most of them in reserve or storage.
The Defense Council believes that the Soviets built more than 40,000 tactical weapons. Russian sources disagree about how many of those remained at the time of the Soviet Union's collapse. One widely cited Russian source says there were 21,700 at that time.
Estimates of the current stockpile vary. The Defense Council estimates 3,380 warheads are deployed and 12,000 more are in reserve or awaiting dismantling. In 1998, a senior Pentagon official estimated Russia's tactical arsenal at 17,000 to 22,000 warheads.
Russian specialists are reluctant to directly answer this question, in part because it is a state secret. But some of their estimates tend to be somewhat lower than American ones, ranging as low as several thousand tactical nuclear warheads still left in the arsenal.
In the waning days of the Soviet Union, in late 1991, the Soviet leadership ordered an assessment of the vulnerability of tactical nuclear weapons, especially in non-Russian populated areas such as Chechnya.
``They were very worried,'' a senior Russian nuclear weapons designer who participated in that assessment told the Mercury News. ``These are now more dangerous to us. Any military officer who served with those units that had nuclear artillery or mines would be able to detonate them.''
From the mid-1990s, the Clinton administration tried several times to talk to the Russians about extending the Nunn-Lugar program to tactical weapons and to open talks on a significant reduction of the weapons.
Each side has it own reasons for not wanting to eliminate tactical nuclear weapons. According to a former senior Clinton administration official, senior Russian officials argued that they needed the nuclear weapons to compensate for the poor condition of the Russian army.
Other Russian officials, in private, say tactical nuclear weapons are needed to defend against potential threats from the Islamic world to their south and China.
And according to a senior Russian foreign ministry official who favors talks, the biggest problem is the Russian military's insistence that the United States withdraw about 150 tactical nuclear bombs that are still on air bases in Europe, a legacy of the Cold War.
Some U.S. experts believe that the Europeans no longer see those weapons as important.
Until recently, however, the Bush administration has not given any indication that it was interested in pursuing this issue.
In an interview published in March, John R. Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said the administration was willing to discuss tactical nuclear arms but it was not a high priority.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, after signing a treaty with Russia in May to reduce strategic weapons, told Congress that tactical weapons would be a future topic, but talks have not taken place.
In addition, the Bush administration's interest in seriously pursuing this issue may be complicated by its plans to develop new tactical nuclear weapons -- so-called bunker busters that can burrow into the ground and destroy deeply buried stores of weapons in countries like Afghanistan or Iraq.
Some Russian nuclear officials have almost gleefully embraced the idea, suggesting that Russia is also doing research along these lines.
The Bush administration's nuclear weapons policy undercuts its anti-terrorism goals, argues Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Walnut Creek, whose district includes the Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons laboratory and who has been active in Congress on this issue. ``It's not only a contradiction,'' she told the Mercury News. ``It's a complete lack of commitment.''
2. Vast Array Of Small Bombs Hints At Russian Stockpile
Dan Stober and Daniel Sneider
San Jose Mercury News
December 14, 2002
In the National Atomic Museum in Albuquerque, tourists can reach over the museum's velvet rope and touch the W48, a nuclear artillery shell only 33 inches long and 6 inches in diameter. At 118 pounds, the bullet-shaped explosive is light enough and small enough to be smuggled out in a suitcase.
The weapons exhibited in the museum, of course, are empty shells, their inner mechanisms long since removed. But the portable size of some of them makes clear why experts lose sleep worrying that terrorists might steal similar weapons, with real nuclear explosives, from poorly protected storage facilities in Russia.
From the 1950s on, the United States built an amazing array of tactical nuclear weapons designed for use on the battlefield, from mines and small rockets to backpack munitions.
Did the Russians build the equivalent portable weapons? Asked that question directly, a senior Russian nuclear weapons designer hesitated a moment and, with a smile, replied: ``From the first atomic bomb on, we copied what the U.S. did.''
Near the museum's artillery shells is a Special Atomic Demolition Munition, or SADM, better known as the ``backpack nuke.'' A soldier carrying it could leave it under a strategic bridge, for example, with its timer ticking.
Perhaps the most famous of the small tactical nuclear weapons was the Davy Crockett, the so-called ``atomic bazooka,'' a basketball-sized bomb fired from a gun mounted on a jeep. Only 30 inches long, 11 inches across at its widest point and weighing a mere 76 pounds, it could be cradled in the arms of one soldier. Its minimum range was the length of three football fields.
Like the artillery shells, the Davy Crockett was meant to destroy tanks and kill Soviet troops as they invaded West Germany. Though thousands were deployed, the Pentagon eventually concluded they couldn't be used without killing American forces. Also, in a surprise attack, the decision to use nuclear weapons would have to be made by low-ranking officers.
U.S. tactical weapons came in many other forms. There were nuclear depth charges to attack submarines; nuclear torpedoes for the subs to fire back; short-range missiles, such as the Lance; airplane-to-airplane missiles; and small bombs for dropping on the battlefield. There were jokes about atomic hand grenades.
``Over the course of time we probably had over 20,000'' tactical weapons, said Stan Norris, who tracks U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington. Almost all have been dismantled.
Norris estimates that the Soviets may have had as many as 40,000 tactical weapons in the early 1980s. Some 3,400 may still be on active duty, with an estimated 12,000 in storage. Experts believe that the weapons in storage include the full range of weapons produced, including the most portable tactical nuclear weapons.
``It seemed to be the Russian way, to save everything, even though it's no longer functional,'' Norris said.
``If they ever had it, they still have it,'' agreed Jay Davis, a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory who headed the Pentagon Defense Threat Reduction Agency. Davis believes that if terrorists got hold of such weapons they could ``almost certainly'' trigger them. ``It's a matter of time,'' he said.
Beginning around 1960, U.S. scientists pioneered security devices for nuclear weapons. Codes are required, and weapons will automatically disable themselves if tampered with. The arming system for artillery shells would not switch on until after the shell had been subjected to the force and spin of being fired from a cannon.
Older Russian weapons do not have electronic locks, experts say. And a 1996 CIA report, revealed in the Washington Times, concluded that locking devices on many Russian tactical nuclear weapons could be defeated. Given enough time, the report said, ``technical measures can be circumvented -- probably within weeks or days depending on the weapons involved.'' return to menu
3. Suspicious Russia Guards Nuclear Data
San Jose Mercury News
December 14, 2002
In 1999 the Russian secret police took into custody an American researcher doing work on his thesis for Princeton University, seizing his computer and notes and encouraging him to leave the country.
His crime? Asking the wrong kind of questions.
The researcher, Josh Handler, apparently crossed the line when he showed Russian experts declassified U.S. satellite pictures of Russian nuclear weapons storage sites, while asking them how many tactical nuclear weapons remained and the conditions under which they were kept.
Authorities linked Handler to a Russian researcher who, according to people familiar with his work, was looking at the same subject. That man, Igor Sutyagin, was arrested and three years later remains imprisoned.
Transparency on such basic information as the numbers of weapons, the kind of weapons, and conditions of storage is fundamental to any hopes for increasing U.S.-Russian cooperation on securing these weapons from terrorists. But the countries have not granted each other open access to their facilities, severely limiting the cooperation that does take place.
Attempts to raise these questions in Moscow provokes not-so-subtle references to these two researchers and their fate.
``The numbers of tactical nuclear weapons is not an issue which can be discussed,'' said Vladimir Orlov, the director of the Center for Policy Studies in Russia, a think tank on security issues that is connected to the government.
When pressed, Orlov and others referred to a presentation that Handler made to the center Oct 4, 1999, on the issue of tactical nuclear weapons, in which he showed satellite images of Russian and American storage sites that he had found in U.S. archives open to the public.
In the audience were present and former members of the Russian armed-forces unit, the 12th Main Directorate, that guards those weapons and which originated in the KGB, the Soviet secret police. They were, according to participants, appalled at this display of openness.
Three weeks later, Handler was about to go shopping when a voice spoke from his apartment intercom -- ``A message from Igor from Obinsk.'' He opened the door to find uniformed officers of the Russian counterintelligence police, who spent the next five hours searching his one-room apartment.
On the same day, Oct. 27, they arrested Sutyagin, focusing on his ties to Handler.
The American researcher, a leading expert on Russian nuclear weapons programs, was well known to Russian authorities for his work in the past for the anti-nuclear group Greenpeace, in which he exposed nuclear accidents in the Soviet navy.
Today Russians say their secrecy is to protect themselves against terrorists. ``The most important thing is to hide the location of the storage facilities from the terrorists,'' Col. Gen. Yevgeny Maslin, the former head of the 12th Main Directorate, told the Mercury News.
The satellite photos ``became a textbook for Osama bin Laden,'' he said.
But keeping secrets as basic as the numbers of weapons in its arsenal is hardly new in Russia. Soviet researchers had to rely on Western studies when they wrote about their own nuclear program. The data on Soviet strategic nuclear weapons was revealed only as a result of signing arms-control treaties to reduce the two countries' arsenals. But no agreements cover tactical weapons.
The Russian insistence on secrecy has extended to access to their nuclear facilities, an issue between the two countries. Other than a handful of showplace visits, U.S. officials have never been able to visit weapons-storage sites, even where U.S. funding is upgrading security. The United States has sought greater access to ensure its funds are being well used but the Russians for their part complain there is no reciprocal access.
The U.S. government, like Russia, has never publicly revealed similar information on its tactical nuclear weapons program. However, non-governmental researchers, using public documents and leaked materials, have been able to provide detailed accounts of the U.S. arsenal that are widely considered accurate. return to menu
4. Expert Exposes Nuclear Threat: Ex-Officer Strives To Boost Security
San Jose Mercury News
December 14, 2002
Maxim Shingarkin is a Russian patriot.
The son of a schoolteacher and an engineering professor from the southern Russian city of Samara, Shingarkin dreamed from the age of 5 of wearing the uniform of the Red Army and serving his motherland. At the age of 16, he went off to the Tula Higher Military School of Artillery, where he became a computer specialist.
There he attracted the attention of the 12th Main Directorate, or 12th GUMO as it is known by its Russian acronym, an elite unit charged with maintaining, transporting and protecting the country's nuclear weapons.
In the waning days of the Soviet Union, in the late 1980s, Shingarkin eagerly joined the 12th GUMO and trained to run the computer systems controlling the nuclear arsenal while learning how to take apart a nuclear warhead and how to attach it to a delivery system. He vividly recalls the first time he touched a nuclear weapon at a storage site.
``It was in a long underground hall, lined with doors along both sides,'' Shingarkin recalls. ``A rail line ran down the hall, with branches to the doors. One of the doors was open. I entered and they were sitting there in lines, piles of square containers with small wheels. One of the men who maintains the weapons came up and lifted the top off a container and there was a nuclear warhead.
``It wasn't a scary moment. It was thrilling. I realized that in one moment we could all be gone. I got a sense of the tremendous power of these weapons.''
Shingarkin portrays that as his moment of conversion, when he glimpsed the dangers of nuclear weapons for the first time. But what turned him into a rebel was the chaos after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Like many Russians, he still laments the breakup into 15 different countries because it divided Russians from their fellow Slavs in Ukraine, Belarus and other former Soviet republics.
At that time, Russian pulled thousands of nuclear weapons back from the other parts of the Soviet Union, piling them up in overflowing and poorly guarded storage sites. Shingarkin participated in exercises demonstrating that these sites were vulnerable to terrorist attacks. But those reports were suppressed by his superiors. And he grew outraged by what he saw as corruption in the highest ranks of the military, where American aid was being siphoned off to line pockets.
In 2000, Shingarkin aired these accusations and revelations about lax security on a television broadcast, in which he appeared in shadow. The government of President Vladimir Putin was not amused -- a half-year later, after an investigation involving the counterintelligence units of the Federal Security Service, he was ousted from the military.
Today, he has a new identity -- as an activist for the Russian branch of Greenpeace. A handsome man with James Dean looks, Shingarkin now wears jeans and a two-day beard. He emerged into the public eye earlier this year when, undetected, he escorted a Russian opposition legislator and a film crew through a hole in a fence into and around a facility for reprocessing highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel to demonstrate the poor security.
``In Russia, all fences have holes,'' Shingarkin says with a laugh, after escorting this reporter through another such hole into a central 12th GUMO base two hours outside Moscow. return to menu
1. Hair-Raising Hair Triggers: Terrorists, Nuclear Weapons And What The Press Hasn't Said
December 30, 2002
Thousands of ready-to-fire U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons are susceptible to unauthorized launches by terrorists, who might either capture a missile or electronically hack into a missile launch-control system. This reality has gotten nearly zero attention in the press. And it gets worse. Cyber-terrorists might also succeed in fooling early-warning systems, inducing a false attack warning that increases the risk of a mistaken retaliatory launch. Although terrorism has dramatically intensified these perils, there has been no progress on nuclear "de-alerting" -- reducing the operational readiness of nuclear forces -- since the September 11 attacks.
Last May, Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin agreed to a treaty that would cut the number of missiles by more than half over a 10-year period. But they and the treaty ignored the issue of de-alerting.
Testifying at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the treaty last July 23, retired Air Force Gen. Eugene Habiger, former commander in chief of the U.S. Strategic Command, warned, "There is only one thing that can destroy the United States of America today -- and that is Russian nuclear warheads." Former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), now co-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a private organization formed to raise public awareness about nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, told the committee that movement toward de-alerting "may well be more important to stability and security than the number of nuclear weapons."
That could be an understatement. Bruce G. Blair, the country's foremost authority on nuclear command-and-control, told me: "Not long ago, a super-secret Pentagon study found that cyber-terrorists could hack into the U.S. submarine communications network, electronically seize a coastal radio station used for communicating with Trident submarines and actually transmit a launch order to the Trident fleet. This loophole, or back-door access, was deemed so serious that the Trident crews were given completely new procedures for validating missile launch orders to ensure that they would not fire their weapons upon receipt of fake orders."
Blair served as a strategic command launch control officer for Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), has a doctorate in operations research, studied the Russian military-industrial economy extensively, won a Russian Language Institute Fellowship at Yale University, taught security studies at Yale and Princeton, and spent 13 years as a Brookings senior fellow in foreign-policy studies. Since March 2000, he has led the Washington-based Center for Defense Information, which researches global security issues. Blair has had continuing contacts with Russian nuclear officers, active and retired. "They continue to express concern about spoofing of early warning and terrorist interference with nuclear command-and-control systems in Russia," he says.
More than a decade after the collapse of communism, the United States and Russia keep approximately 4,800 nuclear warheads -- weapons with a combined destructive power nearly 100,000 times greater than that of the atomic bomb that leveled Hiroshima, Japan -- on hair-trigger alert. The missiles carrying those warheads -- armed and fueled at all times -- "would launch on receipt of three computer-delivered messages," Blair told me. "The crews rely on early-warning systems that would detect incoming missiles within tens of seconds, causing the intended -- or accidental -- enemy to mount retaliatory strikes."
Of the 4,800 or so nuclear warheads, about 2,000 are on intercontinental ballistic missiles Russia targets at the United States, 1,800 are on ICBMs the United States targets at Russia and 1,000 are on submarine-based missiles the two nations target at each other.
Although candidate Bush (but not Al Gore) raised the issue during the 2000 presidential campaign, it has remained all but totally submerged. "[T]he United States should remove as many weapons as possible from high-alert, hair-trigger status -- another unnecessary vestige of Cold War confrontation," Bush declared on May 23, 2000, in a speech later reflected in the Republican Party's national platform. "Preparation for quick launch -- within minutes after warning of an attack -- was the rule during the era of superpower rivalry," he continued. "But today, for two nations at peace, keeping so many weapons on high alert may create unacceptable risks of accidental or unauthorized launch. So, as president, I will ask for an assessment of what we can safely do to lower the alert status of our forces."
This past May, two years plus one day after the campaign speech, Bush and Putin signed the Moscow Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reduction. But neither the text nor an accompanying joint statement addressed de-alerting. In agreeing to the treaty, the United States and Russia made only one legally binding commitment: to have a maximum of 1,700 to 2,200 warheads on "operationally deployed" launchers by Dec. 31, 2012. The numbers imply that a significant number of nuclear warheads will be taken off hair-trigger alert over a decade. But the silence of the two presidents and the treaty on de-alerting leaves crucial questions remote from public debate: How many hair-triggers would be removed, and how many would remain? On what schedule?
False alarms -- twice in Russia and twice in the United States during the Cold War -- have four times put the planet on the edge of destruction. Now the danger of a Russian launch at the United States is much greater than the reverse, chiefly because the Russian military is in increasing disrepair and thus vulnerable to false alarms.
In his Senate testimony, Nunn pointed to a growing possibility of Russia making a catastrophic mistake, citing its inability to afford keeping its nuclear submarines at sea or its land-based missiles mobile and invulnerable. "This reduces Russia's confidence that its nuclear weapons can survive a first strike," he said. Thus, "It is more likely to launch its nuclear missiles on warning, a warning that would come from a Russian warning system that is seriously eroded and, in my opinion, more prone to mistakes." For Nunn, the peril of the United States and Russia remaining in their Cold War recalled the feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys. He imagined "two families -- bitter former enemies, now declared friends -- that continued to have six high-powered, lethal automatic weapons, each loaded, ready to fire, finger on the trigger and aimed to kill. ... Imagine you were one of those neighbors and you wanted to defuse the danger, so you said to your counterpart: 'Let's reduce the number of weapons we have from six down to two ... 10 years from now. In the meantime, we will both keep our weapons loaded, ready to fire, with our fingers on the triggers.'"
Nunn urged Bush and Putin to "order their defense and military leaders, in joint consultation and collaboration ... to devise changes in the operational status of their nuclear forces [that] would reduce toward zero the risk of accidental launch or miscalculation and provide increased launch decision time for each president."
The whole issue of nuclear de-alerting has been all but ignored by major news organizations, including The Washington Post and The New York Times.
Candidate Bush's May 2000 speech on the danger of hair-trigger alert got little press attention. The press has been largely silent on the connection between the May 2002 Moscow treaty and the de-altering challenge. In July, the major dailies ignored Nunn's de-alerting pleas, and in September -- at the last of four treaty hearings called by Sen. Joseph R. Biden (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- the press failed to report former Defense Secretary William J. Perry's testimony that the treaty "misses the opportunity to reduce the danger ... of an accidental or unauthorized launch."
Earlier this year, President Bush received the assessment, called a "nuclear posture review," that he had requested. It not only rejected de-alerting, but claimed that "U.S. forces are not on hair-trigger alert," says Blair, who saw a copy of the classified document. "It is the biggest misrepresentation of the U.S. nuclear posture since Clinton declared that U.S. and Russian missiles were no longer aimed at each other's country."
Now the Senate is in Republican hands. It's too early to say just when the Foreign Relations Committee will issue its report on the Moscow treaty, when the Senate will debate ratification, how de-altering will figure in either and whether these events will find leading news organizations asleep at the switch. It's also too early to say whether the possibility of a link between terrorism and ready-to-fire nuclear warheads will put the media on hair-trigger alert. return to menu
2. Moscow Regrets US Attempts To Develop Anti-Missile Defence
December 18th, 2002
Moscow expresses regret over the US attempts to develop the so-called global anti-missile defence, reads a statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry sent to RIA Novosti.
The statement reads that "after the political decision was taken to develop by 2004 a few strategic interceptors supported from space the implementation of the plans entered a new destabilising stage." According to the Foreign Ministry's estimate, neglecting the principles of the 1972 ABM Treaty may trigger "a new senseless arms race in the world," "the spread of weapons of mass destruction and means of its delivery, the diversion of resources from counteracting real threats of the day, primarily international terrorism."
The Foreign Ministry reported that "at their recent summits the leaders of Russia and the US adopted a positive programme of further radical nuclear arms cuts, the fight against terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction." "It's worth noting that the programme of joint actions gives a priority place to our cooperation in the actually necessary and real sphere of nonategic anti-missile defence," the Foreign Ministry added. This refers to "both bilateral and multilateral cooperation within the Russia-NATO Council," the Russian Foreign Ministry specified.
Moscow expects the US "to attach priority attention to the implementation of exactly this programme co-ordinated at the highest level of strategic partnership" and will "involve its friends and partners in the programme, not in the destabilising race of strategic offensive arms, including in space." return to menu
3. Russian Deputies Seek To Amend Russia-US Disarmament Pact
Agence France Presse
December 17, 2002
Russian deputies moved Tuesday to amend a landmark disarmament treaty signed by Russia and the United States in May, allowing Moscow to withdraw from the agreement should "exceptional circumstances" threaten its national security.
The proposed amendments would allow Moscow to withdraw from the pact should Russia feel threatened by the proposed US missile defense shield, whose construction was formally launched by US President George W. Bush on Tuesday.
The State Duma or lower house of parliament, which must still ratify the pact, will set up a working committee to amend the treaty, the head of the chamber's defense committee Andrei Nikolayev told reporters.
Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the disarmament treaty during a historic summit in Moscow in May.
If ratified by Russian and US lawmakers, the arms deal would cut nuclear arsenals to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads from their current level of around 6,000 by 2012.
Nikolayev said he would propose that US or NATO military decisions threatening Russia's national security, and serious Russian economic difficulties would also be viewed as "exceptional circumstances" allowing Moscow to walk away from the agreement.
Nikolayev did not say when the deputies would examine the proposed amendments. return to menu
4. Foreign And Defense Ministries Agreed With The Parliament To Expedite Ratification Of The Russian-American Treaty
December 17, 2002
The Russian Foreign and Defense Ministries reached an agreement with the State Duma to expedite the process of ratification of the Russian-American Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions. According to the information provided to RIA Novosti by the department of information and press of the Russian Foreign Ministry, on Tuesday a joint meeting of the State Duma committees on defense and international affairs was held to specifically consider ratification of the Treaty signed on 25 May of this year in the course of the Moscow meeting of Russian and American Presidents.
The meeting where representatives of the Foreign and Defense Ministries spoke considered in details the draft federal law on ratification of the Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions and other appropriate documents introduced recently by the Russian President for consideration in the State Duma.
The Russian Foreign Ministry officials indicated that representatives of the Foreign and Defense ministries having stressed the importance of the treaty "as an important factor of expansion of Russian-American cooperation in a strategic sphere" spoke in favor of ratification of the Treaty in Russia and the USA already in the beginning of the next year.
Russian diplomats reported that the meeting also agreed the subsequent joint work of the executive and legislative branches to intensify the ratification process. return to menu
5. U.S.-Russia: Moscow Treaty Tops U.S. Senate Agenda, But Delays Expected
Global Security Newswire
December 16, 2002
The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee plans to begin hearings next month on the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty with Russia, the incoming committee chairman said last week.
Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who will reclaim the chairmanship when the Republicans retake control of the Senate Jan. 7, told Global Security Newswire in an interview Friday that the Moscow Treaty would be one of his first orders of business.
Signed by U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin in May, the treaty calls for deep reductions in U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces (see GSN, May 24).
As of last Friday, the committee was scheduled to begin hearing testimony from Secretary of State Colin Powell on the so-called Moscow Treaty as early as Jan. 14, with a vote by the full Senate to approve the treaty planned by the end of the month, according to Lugar's staff. Lugar predicted the Senate would complete its deliberations on the treaty "very soon."
Russian ratification of the Moscow Treaty, however, will probably move more slowly, according to Russian officials. Putin submitted the treaty to the State Duma for ratification last week (see GSN, Dec. 10) and Bush submitted the treaty to the Senate earlier this year (see GSN, June 21).
The Duma "will take up the ratification issue at the start of the spring session," said International Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitriy Rogozin. Several hurdles, however, could prevent Russia from ratifying the treaty next year.
Speaking Friday in Washington, Rogozin said the Putin administration had not furnished plans for implementing the treaty reductions and domestic politics could also delay the process as December 2003 parliamentary elections near. Nevertheless, "most of the process" will be completed in 2003, Rogozin predicted.
In coming days, U.S. domestic politics may also affect the treaty ratification schedule. Incoming U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) is facing a challenge to his leadership and according to a Lugar adviser the leadership question could delay the settlement of Senate organizational issues such as committee structure and budget questions. The current uncertainty makes concrete planning for early next year virtually impossible, the adviser said.
"Short and Shallow" Debate?
The United States plans to implement the treaty by reducing its number of operationally deployed nuclear weapons to fewer than 2,200 warheads by the end of 2012 and to store many of the reduced warheads. Russia is expected to do the same, although the treaty does not explicitly say how both sides should shrink their nuclear arsenals, only that they must "reduce and limit" them.
Because the new treaty lacks any verification measures, the two countries will use the existing arms control verification regimes to provide a basis for confidence and predictability in future arms reductions.
Arms control experts said Senate plans for dispensing of the treaty quickly signals that there will be little debate, despite widespread criticism that the agreement is little more than a pledge to de-alert some nuclear weapons, while keeping thousands of weapons in storage.
"I expect the discussion to be short and shallow," Joseph Cirincione, director of the Nonproliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Most Republicans want to support the president and most Democrats are too intimidated to point out that this treaty is not much of a treaty. I expect there will be very little debate."
He criticized the document for not requiring the destruction of any nuclear warheads and for not being legally binding. "It's hardly worth ratifying," Cirincione said. "It is so full of loopholes and ambiguities you can't really call this a legally binding agreement. It devalues treaties as legally binding diplomatic instruments."
For example, "what is an operationally deployed strategic weapon?" he asked, "It is not defined in the treaty. This treaty does not destroy one nuclear weapon. It provides guidelines for taking them off alert and putting them in storage."
The result, critics charge, will be U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals that will remain as large in 10 years as they are today. "No conceivable U.S. military mission in 10 years will require 2,000 100-kiloton weapons ready to fly in 15 minutes notice," Cirincione said, noting that thousands more warheads would be kept in storage.
Lugar said Russia in particular has said it would like to reduce its nuclear weapons much more substantially. "The Russians would like to go lower than 1,700 but the dilemma is money," he said. "A very substantial new increment is needed," he said.
"If you're really worried about nuclear terrorism, this isn't going to help you," Cirincione said of the treaty. return to menu
1. Russia Wants Iran To Be Nuclear-Free
December 17, 2002
Russia has a vital stake in seeing that Iran stays nuclear-free. This is the view expressed on Tuesday at a news conference in RIA Novosti by Radzhab Safarov, director-general of the Russian centre for the study of present-day Iran. According to him, Russia "does not really want" to have on its southern borders a country possessing nuclear weapons, since "such weapons can be used as an element of pressure in deciding inter-state issues". "We do not have eternal friends, we have eternal interests," said Safarov.
At the same time, he described as "totally unjustified" US fears that Iran might develop nuclear weapons and the reports about the construction of two facilities in the Iranian towns of Natanza and Araka, allegedly sites that can manufacture components for the production of nuclear weapons.
Safarov recalled that the US first paid attention to these facilities on the initiative of Alireza Jafarzadeh's National Council of Resistance of Iran, functioning in Washington, following which they became a focus for American spy satellites.
The expert explained that the two above-mentioned Iranian facilities are actually "part of the full cycle of nuclear power generation mechanisms" within the framework of the nuclear power plant under construction in Bushehr. Natanza is the site for a research nuclear laboratory which studies the nuclear cycle for peaceful purposes. And Araka hosts a plant to produce deuterium oxide (heavy water), which helps to enrich uranium. This, according to Safarov, "theoretically might have been proof of creation of nuclear technologies".
But, the expert emphasised, the nuclear plant at Bushehr will have a light-water reactor, which cannot produce plutonium, which is the main component of nuclear weapons. Thus, Safarov concluded, "Iran lacks technical facilities for developing its own nuclear weapons".
In replying to journalists' question about the role of Russian specialists in the functioning of the Natanza and Araka centres, Safarov quoted Nuclear Power Minister Alexander Rumyantsev as saying that "Russia has no hand in them, not a single Russian specialist has ever worked there or advised the Iranian side".
Safarov also indicated that all earlier inspections carried out by the International Atomic Energy Agency /IAEA/ have confirmed the "scientific" nature of Iran's nuclear facilities. return to menu
2. Russian Expert Comment On Iran's Nuclear Weapons
December 17, 2002
Iran has no technical opportunities for creating nuclear weapons, Director of the Center of Modern Iranian Studies Radzhab Safarov stated at a news conference in Moscow today. Commenting on reports of US mass media that US satellites discovered two facilities under construction in Central Iran, which could be used for developing nuclear weapons, Safarov reported that these were a nuclear research center and a uranium enrichment plant. However, the expert stressed that they had nothing to do with developing nuclear weapons. Safarov pointed out that the laboratories were a part of the program for creating the Iranian nuclear energy industry. In the opinion of the Director of the Center of Modern Iranian Studies, the major goal of US statements that these sites are connected with military nuclear programs, is to discredit Russian-Iranian relations regarding peaceful nuclear technologies. Safarov stressed that the Iranian government was ready to invite inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) anytime. They are scheduled to visit Iran in February 2003. return to menu
3. Russia Dismisses Powell's Pressure Over Iran
Agence France Presse
December 17, 2002
Russia's atomic energy ministry on Tuesday brushed aside US Secretary of State's Colin Powell latest accusations concerning Moscow's nuclear cooperation with Iran, saying Washington still had shown no proof the assistance was helpign Iran's military program.
"To this day, the ministry has received no firm information (from Washington) that Iran had a nuclear program that contradicts" international agreements, the Interfax-AVN military news agency quoted an unnamed atomic energy official as saying.
"The technology that Russia supplies to Iran cannot be used for military purposes," the ministry added.
On Monday, Powell stepped up pressure on Russia, which is refusing to break its 800-million-dollar contract at the Bushehr plant in western Iran and mulling the signature of contracts for several more power plants in Iran.
"We have had conversations with Russia that we are concerned about this and that some of the support they are providing might well go to developing nuclear weapons within Iran," said Powell.
"It will continue to be a matter of discussion with us and the Russians."
Russia said on Sunday that the nuclear power plant it was helping to build at Bushehr had no connection to two sites that the United States identified last week as part of a secret and nascent nuclear weapons program.
It said that the US claims, based on satellite photographs of sites at Natanza and Araka, were groundless.
Iran has denied pursuing secret plans for nuclear weapons.
The issue has complicated warming relations between US President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who focused on the dispute during a summit in Moscow in May.
Meanwhile Russian analysts accused the United States of trying to muscle Moscow out of lucrative energy contracts for Washington's own commercial gain, arguing that Moscow had no interest in seeing neighboring Iran obtain nuclear weapons.
"The prospect of nuclear weapons getting into the hands of its southern Caspian neighbor goes against Russia's interests, as nuclear weapons are a means of pressure in international relations," said Radzhab Safarov, head of the Russian Center for Contemporary Iranian Studies.
"Russia and the United States control nearly 70 percent of the nuclear energy market," he told reporters.
"The US administration is still hoping to oust Russia from the Iranian market," he said. return to menu
4. US To Pressure Russia Over Iran Nuclear Program
Agence France Presse
December 16, 2002
The United States on Monday stepped up pressure on Russia, warning that its support for Iran's nuclear power program could boost the Islamic Republic's drive for atomic weapons.
Secretary of State Colin Powell renewed US concerns that Iran was engaged in a secret nuclear weapons program, a day after Russia said it would press on with construction of a nuclear power plant in the country, one third of President George W. Bush's "axis of evil."
"Russia has been providing support to Iranian power generation nuclear plants," said Powell.
"We've always found it curious as to why Iran would need nuclear power when they are so blessed with other means of generating electricity. And thereby, that, kind of, leads to the possibility of proliferation.
"We have had conversations with Russia that we are concerned about this and that some of the support they are providing might well go to developing nuclear weapons within Iran.
"It will continue to be a matter of discussion with us and the Russians."
Powell noted that Bush had raised the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin several times, and that it was also a subject tackled between his department and the Russian foreign ministry.
Russia said on Sunday that the nuclear power plant it was helping to build at Bushehr, western Iran, had no connection to two sites that the United States identified last week as part of a secret and nascent nuclear weapons program.
It said that the US claims, based on satellite photographs of sites at Natanz and Arak, were groundless.
Iran has denied pursuing a secret crusade for nuclear weapons.
Russian Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev said at the weekend that he expected more pressure from the United States on the Bushehr contract.
"For such pressure to be justified they've got to present evidence of abuse. So far there has been none," he said. return to menu
E. Russia-North Korea
1. Russia Shares IAEA Stance On Pyongyang
December 17, 2001
Moscow shares the International Atomic Energy Agency's stance on Pyongyang's decision to reopen its nuclear facilities shut down under the 1994 Framework Agreement between North Korea and the United States. The agency's stand on the matter has been outlined by its Director-General, Mohammad Al-Baradei, in a message to the North Korean government.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Malakhov says in a related statement that just one of the issues on which Russia and the IAEA see eye to eye is the necessity of arranging a meeting between agency officials and representatives of the North Korean government to discuss compliance with the accord.
Moscow hails the IAEA Director's call on the signatories to the 1994 Framework Agreement, which remains an important instrument for maintaining peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, to abide by its provisions and to continue dialogue toward a mutually acceptable, peaceful settlement of the conflict.
2. Russia Prepared To Ease Tensions Over North Korean Problem - Losyukov
December 17, 2002
Russia is prepared to make steps to ease tensions caused by reports that North Korea is running a nuclear program.
"We are prepared to make such steps and we have instruments no other country has - our rather strong contacts with the North Korean leadership," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov told Interfax ahead of Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov's visit to Japan.
He said Russia is not offering to mediate.
"It's not mediation. We wouldn't like to cruise between the parties with ultimatums and ask them who blames whom for what. Our job is to create an atmosphere in which these problems could be settled and, using the instruments available to us, to help the parties in the dispute settle mutual claims and concerns," Losyukov said.
"Russia has an approximate list of proposals," but would not like to announce them now, he said.
"This must go through a stage of quiet diplomacy. One must understand to what extent these proposals may be implemented, which depends on the position of the countries with which we are holding negotiations," Losyukov said.
He said all of these issues will be discussed during talks between the Russian foreign minister and Japanese officials in Tokyo.
Concerning North Korea's recent refusal to receive inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Losyukov said that "at the current stage it is obviously just impossible to begin from IAEA inspection missions." return to menu
1. Electrochemical Plant Is Preparing 70 Tons Of Pipe Assemblies For Shipment To The Chinese Tianwan NPP
December 17, 2002
Electrochemical Plant (ECP) in Zelenogorsk is preparing 70 tons of pipe assemblies for shipment to the Chinese Tianwan NPP, the ECP information and press center told Nuclear.Ru. According to Vladimir Cherkasov, MSU-20 department manager, currently 261 tons pipeline pieces have been shipped to the customer out of 923 tons to be shipped to the Tianwan NPP under the contract. 70 more tons are prepared for shipment in December, therefore 331 tons will be delivered by 2003. 592 tons will be "transferred" to the next year, presuming shipment of 55-60 tons per month.
Both the customer and representatives of the Russian inspection body Atomenergostroy are carefully monitoring the production quality. "Customer's reports are always favorable", - V. Cherkasov noted. He also added "the gained business reputation promotes conclusion of similar contract on deliveries for the Kudankulam NPP, being under construction in India". Required economic estimation was fulfilled and sent to the customer, and if conditions are suitable for both parties, it is possible that first deliveries will take place already by the end of 2003. Therefore, MSU-20 production output will increase respectively up to 650 tons in 2003 with further growth up to 1000 tons. The number of customers is also expected to increase; high quality pipe assemblies are in demand not only at N-Plants, but also at heat generation and hydroelectric power stations. return to menu
G. Nuclear Safety
1. Nuclear Waste Storage Depot In Northwest Russia Nearly Full
December 18, 2002
A nuclear waste storage depot serving St. Petersburg and the rest of northwestern Russia is nearly filled to capacity and will soon be unable to handle new deliveries, posing a serious problem for the region, officials said Tuesday.
The Radon facility in Sosnovyi Bor, 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of St. Petersburg, has been using its emergency reservoir because its standard reservoirs are full, said Sergei Lukovnikov, head of radiation safety at the northwest branch of the state nuclear safety committee GosAtomNadzor.
If a new storage depot isn't built soon, the government may have to shut down reactors and research institutes in the region that produce nuclear waste, Lukovnikov said. "It's a serious problem for the region," he said.
Radon's standard reservoirs are full to capacity with 62,000 cubic meters (2,189,266 cubic feet) of solid radioactive waste and 1,200 cubic meters (42,373 cubic feet) of liquid radioactive waste.
The facility is now using its 900-cubic-meter (31,780-cubic-feet) backup reservoir, meant for emergencies, at the Leningrad Nuclear Power Station, said Mikhail Yakushev, who heads the regional assembly's ecology commission.
The regional assembly appealed to President Vladimir Putin and other federal officials for funding to build a new nuclear waste depot in the northwest but has not received an answer, said ecology commission consultant Yelena Navolotskaya.
Local environmentalists have expressed concern about the Radon facility, saying some radioactive substances have already seeped into ground waters beneath the depot, and measures need to be taken to ensure the substances do not spread into the nearby Gulf of Finland.
Last year, Russian lawmakers passed a controversial law allowing the government to import spent nuclear fuel from abroad for reprocessing and storage, despite opinion polls showing most Russians opposed the idea.
Environmental groups have urged the government to focus on strengthening existing nuclear dumps rather than importing waste from abroad. Since the law was passed, Russia has already had imported spent nuclear fuel from Soviet-built nuclear power plants in Bulgaria and Ukraine.
1. Ukraine Relies On Russia To Provide Fuel For Khmelnitsky And Rovno Nuclear Power Stations
December 16, 2002
Ukrainian prime-minister Viktor Yanukovich stated at the meeting with speaker of the Russian State Duma Gennady Seleznev which took place on Monday in Kiev that Ukraine was relying on Russia to provide first load fuel to two compensating units of the Khmelnitsky and Rovno nuclear power stations.
According to Yanukovich, fuel worth USD 95 million would be required for that purpose. The Ukrainian premier stated that "though the problem was complicated he was confident that they would find common understanding with Russia and would manage to resolve it." In the wake of the meeting the chairman of the lower house of the Russian parliament stated to journalists that the talks with the Ukrainian premier "was frank" and permitted to consider many issues of bilateral relations. return to menu
1. On Nuclear Suppliers Group's Extraordinary Plenary Meeting
Daily News Bulletin
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
December 18, 2002
An extraordinary plenary meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) took place in Vienna on December 13. The chief objective of the Group, which is made up of 40 member countries including Russia, is to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons by control over the export of nuclear and related materials and technologies. At the same time the activities of NSG do not hinder cooperation in the field of the peaceful utilization of atomic energy.
In order to raise the efficacy of the Group in terms of countering the new challenges and threats, changes have been made to the basic document of the forum - its Guiding Principles. They were supplemented with provisions aimed at increasing nuclear export controls in the context of the fight against nuclear terrorism.
Concern was expressed over the developments around North Korea's nuclear program. Member countries backed the IAEA Board of Governors resolution on this issue. The Group called upon all countries to strengthen their export control measures as one of the means to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. return to menu
J. Links of Interest
1. Pakistan and India: Can NRRCs Help Strengthen Peace?
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