The United States remains woefully unprepared to protect the public against terrorists wielding biological agents despite dramatic increases in biodefense spending by the Bush administration and considerable progress on many fronts, according to government officials and specialists in bioterrorism and public health.
Although administration officials have spoken at times about bioterrorism's dangers, they are more alarmed than they have signaled publicly, U.S. officials said. As President Bill Clinton did, President Bush and Vice President Cheney have thrust themselves into the issue in depth.
"There's no area of homeland security in which the administration has made more progress than bioterrorism, and none where we have further to go," said Richard A. Falkenrath, who until May was Bush's deputy homeland security adviser and is now a fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Unlike many other areas of domestic defense, which are centralized in the Department of Homeland Security, responsibility for biodefense is spread across various agencies. It is coordinated by a little-known White House aide, Kenneth Bernard, whose power is relatively limited.
Biological and nuclear attacks rank as officials' most feared types of terrorist attacks. Because of the technical difficulties in creating such weapons, they reckon the chances of a devastating attack are currently small. But the consequences of a big biological strike could be epically catastrophic, and rapid advances in science are placing the creation of these weapons within the reach of even graduate students, they said.
Given the escalating risks, many public health and bioterrorism experts, members of Congress and some well-placed Bush administration officials express mounting unease about what they believe are weaknesses in the nation's biodefenses:
ï¿½ The great majority of U.S. hospitals and state and local public health agencies would be completely overwhelmed trying to carry out mass vaccinations or distribute antidotes after a large biological attack. Hobbled by budget pressures and day-to-day crises, many health agencies say they cannot comply with federal officials' urgent demands that they gear up for bioterrorism.
ï¿½ Overlapping jurisdiction among federal agencies working on biodefenses -- including the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services -- leads to confusion inside and outside government about who is in charge of preparations for, and response to, bioattacks.
ï¿½ In tabletop exercises, missteps by top administration officials reveal that more work is required to plan how the government should communicate with the public after an attack and manage the potential flight of perhaps millions of people from city centers.
ï¿½ Despite considerable progress since the 2001 attacks, the National Institutes of Health, which has the lead role in researching biological warfare vaccines and antidotes, remains largely wedded to its traditional role of doing basic research and is not producing enough new drugs. Large drug firms with track records of developing medications have little interest in making bioterrorism vaccines and treatments.
ï¿½ Because of the scientific complexities, no technology exists to detect a biological attack as it occurs. Under the most advanced current program, called Biowatch, technicians remove filters from air-sniffing units in about 30 cities once a day and carry them to labs for computerized analysis in search of about 10 biological agents.
In this way, a biological attack could be discovered within a day. Without Biowatch, no one would know about a smallpox attack, for example, until the first symptoms appeared about 10 days later.
Though it clearly has far to go, the Bush administration has sharply stepped up biodefense efforts.
Spending has increased 18-fold since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, from $414 million in fiscal 2001 to a proposed $7.6 billion this year, according to a study by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Biosecurity Center.
Administration officials say that in each area where critics note weaknesses, they already have made great progress. "There is no comparison between where we are today and where we were before 9/11," said Stewart Simonson, assistant HHS secretary for public health emergency preparedness. "On 9/11 we had 90,000 doses of smallpox vaccine ready to go. Today we have 300 million."
The government "is on a wartime footing," said Anthony S. Fauci, the NIH official who heads biodefense research. "People who say we haven't made progress are not well informed about what it takes to make vaccine," he said, citing steps to develop vaccine for the ebola virus since 2001. "This is light speed. . . . Usually vaccines can take many years or decades."
The government also has launched other initiatives. One gives officials early warning of a biological attack by correlating pharmacy data about, for example, cough medicine sales with spikes in symptoms such as high fever and rashes observed at medical clinics. Another plan calls on mail carriers to deliver drugs after an attack.
Administration officials say most gaps in U.S. biological defenses result from the sheer vastness of the task ahead -- radically transforming entire sectors of society to mount defenses. They cite the need to induce an intensely skeptical drug industry to invest in biowarfare research, and the challenge of redirecting cash-starved hospitals and local health agencies into the unfamiliar field of mass casualty response.
In this age of bioterrorism dangers, long-tolerated weaknesses in the U.S. health care system have become serious national security vulnerabilities.
Daunting Array of Bioagents
The list of biological agents available to terrorists is daunting: smallpox, plague, tularemia, botulism and viral hemorrhagic fever, to name a few. Experts believe the most likely biological attack would be small, like the anthrax attacks that killed five people three years ago. But as that incident showed, even a few grams of microbes can cause widespread disruption.
Anthrax bacteria remain among the easiest microbes to manufacture and weaponize. The government has little in the way of defenses, primarily a few million doses of an old vaccine that requires six injections to confer immunity weeks later. A planned newer vaccine requires several inoculations. In the event of an attack, health officials foresee being swamped not only by crowds demanding inoculation, but also by paperwork on who has been treated.
Deepening their alarm is the prospect of new genetically engineered pathogens that could be both more deadly and more difficult to detect and treat. A 2003 CIA study described the effects of these genetically altered strains as potentially "worse than any disease known to man."
Because of "explosive growth" in biotechnology, the skills needed to make microbes resistant to antibiotics and vaccines are widely available, the CIA report said. Unlike nuclear weapons research, which is more detectable and can generally be conducted only by large government labs, bioweapons can be made by individuals in secret.
"The diversity of new BW agents could enable such a broad range of attack scenarios that it would be virtually impossible to anticipate and defend against," the CIA review said.
Although many in the scientific community are skeptical about the prospect of genetically altered superbugs, barriers to the creation of new pathogens have been falling rapidly. "We are at a transformative moment in science," said Tara O'Toole, director of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Biosecurity.
Terrorism experts believe the capacity to produce sophisticated bioweapons is still beyond the grasp of terrorist groups such as al Qaeda but easily within the reach of states such as Iran, as well as microbiologists in countries where extremist sympathies run deep. And terrorists need little expertise to mount a potentially devastating attack on livestock or crops, experts note.
"You don't need to manipulate genetics to spread foot-and-mouth disease in cattle," said David Franz, who headed the military's top biodefense research lab at Fort Detrick, Md. "You can see economic damage that adds up not to millions, but to tens of billions of dollars."
Drill Led to Breakdown
In a May 2003 exercise, the victims of a mock bioterrorism attack began to trickle into Chicago's emergency rooms complaining of fever and chills -- first in twos and threes, then by the dozens and hundreds. Soon it was thousands, and people were dying of respiratory failure all over the Midwest.
But at least physicians were able to diagnose the microbe afflicting the actors in the drill : the plague.
Over the next several days, the telephone networks crashed at some Chicago hospitals and at government offices taking part in the "Topoff 2" exercise, and one was forced to use ham radios. Hospitals ran out of beds, equipment and nurses. Civic leaders gave conflicting advice on what to do. Three days later, Chicago's health system was close to collapse. Thousands of untreated people were on the streets infecting others, and 47,000 were dead or dying.
The scenario is not as far-fetched as it sounds. The government's real-world test involved thousands of emergency personnel and mock patients responding to the imagined release of aerosolized germs at O'Hare International Airport and at a Chicago Blackhawks hockey game on a Saturday night.
Just as conceivable is the breakdown of the U.S. public health system after an actual, large-scale biological attack, experts say.
According to former White House official Falkenrath, the U.S. government's reliance on state and local health agencies to speedily distribute vaccines and drugs is "the Achilles' heel" of U.S. biodefenses.
"The single biggest problem is the nonperformance of state and local public health agencies" in drawing up plans that U.S. officials have requested on how they would respond rapidly to a biological attack, he said. The plans would detail how officials expect to deliver medicine to people after the drugs are flown to airports. "From tarmac to bloodstream, their time frames are way too lackadaisical," he said.
Federal officials have given state health agencies and hospitals $4.4 billion in the past three years to develop such plans. But experts say that beyond buying computers or walkie-talkies and hiring some staff, the funds have hardly helped them prepare for large-scale bioterrorist strikes.
"This won't be solved by money alone," said Elin Gursky, a biodefense specialist at the private Anser Institute for Homeland Security.
Federal statistics show that among the 50 states, only Florida, Illinois and Louisiana are close to being ready to swiftly distribute vaccines or antidotes from the national stockpile, according to the nonprofit Trust for America's Health, which studies public health issues.
Local and state health officials say their underfunded agencies, which focus mostly on caring for the poor, have received inadequate federal funds and guidance on what the states should address in their bioterrorism master plans.
"The public health system has been running full steam without a break since 9/11," said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. "To do added things that are being requested, it's going to need more resources."
Most U.S. hospitals also lack the "surge capacity" to respond to a bioattack -- the ability to rapidly bring in hundreds of trained medical professionals to care for a huge influx of very sick people. Expanding staffs runs counter to the decades-long trend of hospitals reducing staff sizes because of budget pressures.
"The main priority of our biodefense program should be enlisting hospitals and private doctors to prepare [for bioattacks], but hospitals and private doctors are not now in the game," said a federal official with direct knowledge of the shortcomings. "This issue has completely fallen through the cracks. . . . No part of the federal government can deal with mass casualties."
"There's a lack of an overarching federal game plan in biodefense," said Shelley Hearne, executive director of the Trust for America's Health. "States aren't being told, 'Here are the things you need to do, and why.' . . . Nobody's in charge."
But in some respects, too many are in charge. The jurisdictions of the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services overlap in many areas of biodefense. Overall, HHS handles health matters, while Homeland Security handles crises. But the two departments, for example, offer sometimes indistinguishable biodefense training for local health agencies.
Administration officials say the two departments mesh well, with their roles delineated in a recent presidential directive. But bureaucratic bottlenecks persist, as the two departments' lawyers and contracting officers hash out turf, experts said.
One such case involved the Strategic National Stockpile, set up in 1999 as an arm of HHS's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a repository of tons of biodefense drugs and vaccines that can be flown anywhere in the nation within 12 hours.
Experts said the CDC did a good job managing the stockpile, and its employees grumbled when they were moved into Homeland Security last year, where officials have no expertise handling drugs or fashioning emergency medical doctrine. Every time CDC wanted to add drugs to the stockpile, the permission of Homeland Security lawyers was needed, slowing even basic functions. So with no public fanfare, the stockpile was returned to CDC in August.
The administration's most prominent action in bioterrorism -- the initiative last year to inoculate 500,000 health workers against smallpox -- fizzled. The plan was hatched in late 2002 as the country prepared to invade Iraq. Officials feared Iraq or terrorists might attack this country with the bioterrorism agent.
But workers, concerned about health risks, refused to sign up. Officials had failed to line up legal guarantees that the government would compensate workers sickened by immunizations. The worries gave way to complacency when U.S. troops failed to find smallpox or other biological weapons in Iraq.
In the end, about 40,000 people were inoculated -- 8 percent of the goal. The episode suggests the government continues to have trouble communicating with the health community and the public about bioterrorism dangers.
"The biggest consequence is the loss of credibility," Jerome M. Hauer, former director of HHS's Office of Public Health Emergency Preparedness, said of the episode. "How do you get people to trust you again?"
New Drugs Slow in Coming
To counteract the attack that officials are nearly certain will come one day, the nation needs long lists of new biowarfare antidotes and vaccines. But despite intense effort by NIH, the arrival of usable drugs has been slow, experts and U.S. officials said. Besides the complex science involved, NIH's tradition of academic-oriented basic research, and a lack of focus on creating new drugs are responsible, they said.
NIH's bioterrorism budgets have jumped from $53 million in 2001 to $1.7 billion in 2005, as Congress and other parts of the administration increased pressure on the agency to change.
"Some of the criticism of the past was valid," NIH's Fauci said. "But we've already shown we've been successful" in pushing scientific concepts toward becoming reality, he said. "This is a change in the culture."
Experts said NIH drags its feet researching such areas as skin patch vaccines, which could be given more quickly than shots, and vaccine-boosting compounds called adjuvants, which allow limited stocks to be used on more people. Fauci said NIH is working on these questions.
Even so, officials said, a top priority is persuading large drug firms to make big investments in biological warfare research -- in essence, creating a biodefense industry from scratch.
"Big pharma" is now not interested for several reasons, industry and government officials say. Big firms are accustomed to huge profits on their drugs for arthritis, ulcers, impotence and the like, and foresee returns a fraction of that size for biodefense work.
The industry also fears lawsuits against firms developing such drugs, and government temptation to nationalize patents on biodefense drugs in a crisis.
In July, Congress approved Project Bioshield, which allocates $5.6 billion over 10 years to induce the industry to begin investing in these drugs. But industry executives say they are waiting for much larger sums, as well as stronger legal liability and patent protections.
"The measures the U.S. government has taken to date (including Bioshield) will not be enough to entice pharmaceutical industry leaders into this field," according to a recent study by the University of Pittsburgh biosecurity center based on interviews with 30 top industry and government officials.
Health experts say that the recent loss of half the nation's flu vaccine supply because of contamination in a British plant does not bode well for future efforts on the more daunting scientific challenge of bioterrorism.
Some believe that Bush should publicly declare the seriousness of the government's bioterrorism concerns, name a bioterrorism "czar" to focus public attention, and initiate vastly expanded research into new drugs. Administration officials said that such steps are unnecessary and that the current arrangement works fine.
But the biosecurity center's O'Toole disagreed.
"The country cannot do what's needed to get prepared for bioattacks without very visible national leadership from the president," said O'Toole, who worked in the Clinton Energy Department. "We're not yet treating this like a national security emergency."
Employees of now defunct chemical weapon plant in the Russian town of Saratov are worried that the current shabby condition of the facility could in fact result in a major ecological catastrophe. Head of Russia's Ministry of Emergency Situations Sergey Shoigu has already been informed of the threat, reports Jane's magazine.
State institute of organic synthesis technologies is on the verge of bankruptcy. It is highly likely that the facility will face liquidation in a not so distant future. However, the organization"s managerial team has yet to come up with a way to store its toxic elements.
The Institute has been specializing in the production of chemical weapons for over 40 years now. Its chemical reserve is tremendous. Today, it owns various energy companies over 100 million rubles. The building lacks power.
The organization has been also holding back the pay for its staff. People have not been getting paid for 11 months! The institute has been in the state of decay for over 10 years. In the course of this time, a number of workers has been cut 7 times, thus leaving only 500 from the initial 3500. The ones that still keep on working at the institute have simply nowhere else to go; they cannot effort the move. Employees often go on hunger strikes. The outcome can hardly be called satisfying.
Investors face tremendous difficulties, since the institute still bears the title of a closed facility, even though it hasn"t been producing chemical weapons since 1992.
1. Race Against Time to Prevent Nuclear Terror - IAEA
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The world faces a ``race against time'' to prevent nuclear terror, the United Nation's nuclear watchdog chief said on Monday, citing an extensive illicit market in nuclear and radioactive materials after the Sept. 11 attacks.
More than 24 companies or individuals were engaged in the sale of nuclear materials and more than 60 incidents of trafficking in nuclear or other radioactive material are expected this year, said Mohamed ElBaradei, who heads the International Atomic Energy Agency``The threat of nuclear terrorism is real and current,'' he told reporters at a Sydney conference on nuclear proliferation and terror.
``We need to do all we can to work on the new phenomena called nuclear terrorism, which was sprang on us after 9/11 when we realized terrorists had become more sophisticated and had shown an interest in nuclear and radioactive material,'' ElBaradei said.
Undeclared nuclear programs discovered in Iran, Libya, Iraq and North Korea proved the existence of an extensive illicit market for the supply of nuclear items, he said.
There were 60 trafficking incidents last year, bringing the total in the past decade to 630, and the annual tally was expected to rise this year, ElBaradei said.
``We have a race against time because this was something we were not prepared for.''
Much of the nuclear hardware in question had dual uses outside of nuclear weapons so trying to control exports of technology was not enough to control proliferation, he said.
``Clearly it is time to change our assumptions regarding the inaccessibility of nuclear technology. The technical barriers to mastering the essential steps of uranium enrichment, and to designing weapons, have eroded over time,'' ElBaradei said.
ElBaradei urged the international community to adopt measures to control sensitive parts of the nuclear fuel cycle, which he listed as enriched uranium and the reprocessing of plutonium.
The IAEA saw four potential nuclear terror threats: the theft of a nuclear weapon; the creation of a nuclear bomb using stolen materials; the spread of radioactive material; and an attack on a nuclear facility or transport vehicle.
Governments have increased security around nuclear plants. Canada said last month its plants were designed to withstand the impact of an airliner but the plants, which are located next to waterways to access cooling water, needed barriers to protect them from attacks by vessels carrying bombs.
Some countries have considered putting anti-aircraft missiles around plants and Germany plans to install smoke machines to generate smokescreens within seconds to hide them if they are threatened with attacks using passenger aircraft, like the Sept. 11 suicide attacks on buildings in the United States.
ElBaradei said more protection was also needed for research and medical reactors. The Asia-Pacific region had more than 50 research reactors and accelerators in 15 nations, he said.
Alexander Downer and Mohamed ElBaradei opened the conference
The UN's chief nuclear inspector has warned of a "race against time" to stop a terrorist nuclear outrage.
International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei said the threat was "real and current".
At the start of a two-day international summit on nuclear proliferation in Australia, he pointed to an extensive trade in radioactive materials.
Officials from the Asia-Pacific region are discussing how they can keep nuclear power out of terrorist hands.
Mr ElBaradei said the IAEA's investigations into Libya and Iran's suspected weapons programmes had revealed an extensive black market for radioactive materials.
There had been around 630 confirmed incidents of trafficking in nuclear or other radioactive materials since 1993, he said.
"We have a race against time because this was something we were not prepared for," he said.
"We need to do all we can to work on the new phenomenon called nuclear terrorism, which was sprung on us after 9/11 when we realised terrorists had become more sophisticated and had shown an interest in nuclear and radioactive material," he added.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told delegates at the conference in Sydney that the problem was worldwide and no-one could be complacent.
"Proliferators and terrorists operate globally so any nuclear security weakness at the local or regional level risks being exploited," he said.
He said it was imperative for the world to take this emerging threat seriously.
He said the radical Islamic group Jemaah Islamiah, blamed for the Bali bombings two years ago, would not hesitate to use radiological weapons in its campaign of terror.
While it is considered highly unlikely the group could obtain or build a nuclear bomb, there is a fear about the potential use of crude radiation devices, says the BBC's Phil Mercer in Sydney.
Australia hopes the summit will increase cooperation with its neighbours in the Asia Pacific region, our correspondent says.
New Zealand has said it is important to ensure sensitive and radiological materials are properly managed to stop them falling into the wrong hands.
The conference is also expected to look at international efforts to address the nuclear aspirations of Iran and North Korea.
3. Terrorists trying to get their hands on nuclear weapons, Australia warns
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Terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) are trying to obtain nuclear weapons and will not hesitate to use them, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer warned Sunday.
Speaking ahead of a two-day conference on regional nuclear proliferation starting here Monday, Downer said although JI was yet to get its hands on atomic weapons, it would not give up trying.
"There's absolutely no doubt that terrorists, or at least some terrorists, are endeavouring to get hold of nuclear materials as well as other forms of weapons of mass destruction," he told commercial television.
"We don't have any evidence that for example that Jemaah Islamiyah is trying to do that, but we do in the Middle East that organisations like al-Qaeda are."
Downer said it was clear JI had no problem targeting innocent victims as it had in the Bali bombings which claimed 202 lives, including 88 Australians, in October, 2002.
"Obviously, any organisation that is prepared to wipe people out, young people enjoying themselves, wipe them out in Bali, is an organisation that wouldn't stop short of using at least some sort of more vicious and more dangerous weapons.
"I think in the interests of the region and the interest of humanity we need to make a very big effort to stop the proliferation of these systems."
Downer said the conference was a chance to seek common approaches to the treatment of nuclear materials.
The conference, likely to be dominated by questions surrounding North Korea's nuclear ambitions, will be attended by government ministers and the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei.
"This is about getting countries in our region to try to develop common approaches to dealing with questions such as nuclear security, that's the security of nuclear facilities of one kind or another that they themselves have," he said.
It was also about finding ways to stop inappropriate exports of material which could contribute to proliferation.
Downer said questions surrounding nuclear material in North Korea, Iraq and Iran highlighted the need to develop strong and consistent approaches.
"There is absolutely no consensus on how to handle these questions," he said. "There's no consensus in detail how to handle, for example, sensitive exports. There's no consensus on how to handle nuclear materials internally."
1. Russia welcomes UN approval of disarmament resolution
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The Russian Foreign ministry welcomed the approval by the First Committee of the UN General Assembly on November 3 of the joint Russian-US resolution on bilateral reductions of strategic nuclear armaments and a new framework for strategic relations. The document expands the provisions of a similar resolution of November 22, 2002.
ï¿½This decision displays the confirmation by the world community of the specific importance of Russian-US relations of partnership for ensuring international security and strategic stability, for the solution of such global problems of modern time, as nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and means of their deliveryï¿½, the ministry said in a press release Thursday.
ï¿½We view this resolution as an important step in informing the world community about the practical efforts in the reduction of nuclear arsenals, as well as in building new Russian-US relationsï¿½, the press release said.
The Russian side confirms adherence to the provisions of the Nuclear non-proliferation treaty and its readiness to work for a further reduction of nuclear weapons. However the ministry said ï¿½a further practical progress along the path of nuclear disarmament should go by stages, without unjustified haste and on the basis of a complex approach and respect of the principle of equal security for allï¿½.
Repairing the strains in multilateral disarmament ï¿½especially the stress being placed on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) by the vision of additional nations gaining nuclear weapons and the lack of disarmament by the five recognized nuclear weapon states ï¿½ was the dominant theme running through the five-week session of the U.N. General Assemblyï¿½s Disarmament Committee.
The session, which ends today, occurred in the context of the next NPT Review Conference in May 2005 and the continuing deadlock in the U.N. Conference on Disarmament in Geneva over issues such as negotiations for a fissile materials cutoff treaty.
ï¿½We are not making as much progress as we should, but Iï¿½m little more optimistic after this session of the committee. At least we are trying to build some level of communication between delegations,ï¿½ Mexican Ambassador Luis Alfonso De Alba, the committee chairman, said yesterday. ï¿½There is a reality that is moving faster than any negotiation and thatï¿½s the increased risksï¿½ of proliferation, the ï¿½persistence of nuclear weapons,ï¿½ and the possible extension of weapons to nonstate actors.
The committee approved 55 resolutions, which will be sent later this year to the U.N. General Assembly for consideration. Resolutions approved by the assembly are not legally binding, but are considered to represent the political will of U.N. members.
Undersecretary General for Disarmament Affairs Nobuyasu Abe said at the committeeï¿½s opening session in October that nations should not believe that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty ï¿½will alone suffice to solve all the problems relating to the achievement of its nonproliferation and disarmament goals. I hope that our deliberations will reflect the fundamental reality that both nonproliferation and disarmament must be pursued together in a mutually reinforcing manner. The wider our agreement on this basic issue, the greater will be the likelihood of reaching widespread agreement on the relevant nuclear-weapon initiatives before us.ï¿½
The heart of the U.N. debate over nuclear disarmament centers on the effectiveness of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the potential fissile material cutoff treaty.
At the 2000 NPT Review Conference, the consensus final document called for an ï¿½unequivocal undertakingï¿½ by the nuclear powers to pursue disarmament through a series of specific steps, including the entry into force of the test ban treaty, negotiations for a treaty banning production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, the principles of transparency and irreversibility in arms reductions and cuts in nonstrategic weapons. The United States has still not ratified the test ban treaty and has opposed any verification regime for a fissile material treaty, while the majority of NPT parties have insisted that they cannot be ignored within any deliberations on the treaty.
The New Agenda Coalition ï¿½ Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sweden ï¿½ which became the de facto non-nuclear counterparts to the nuclear powers during the 2000 NPT deliberations, has framed its entire disarmament campaign in terms of maintaining the viability of the 2000 decisions.
ï¿½Nuclear disarmament and nuclear nonproliferation are mutually reinforcing processes. Without nuclear disarmament, we run the risk of a new nuclear arms race. Nonproliferation is vital. But it is not sufficient,ï¿½ Swedish Ambassador Anders Liden said last month, speaking for the New Agenda U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Stephen Rademaker told the committee that any suggestion that the United States is not fulfilling its NPT disarmament commitments ï¿½is both unjust and untrue,ï¿½ citing its dismantlement of 13,000 nuclear weapons since 1988 and the entry into force of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), a bilateral agreement with Russia. The real danger to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is countries attempting to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of the pact, he said.
The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty has been signed by 173 countries, but the United States and 10 other nations must ratify the pact for it to enter into force.
While the concept of a fissile cutoff treaty is accepted, the divisions lay between states that want to see the scope limited to future production and those who want to it to include declarations on existing stockpiles by nuclear weapons states, which they argue is better for disarmament since it would cover the all the materials in the inventories of the nuclear weapon states.
A review of some of the key nuclear disarmament resolutions show an across-the-board support for much of the international agenda, but sharp differences on some key practical steps as well as varying perceptions regarding what is being achieved.
An indicator of this division in perception is the draft resolution, sponsored by the United States and Russia, on their bilateral strategic arms reductions. The two key nuclear powers have tabled this draft over the last several years ï¿½ except last year when Russia would not agree to a text in protest to the U.S. withdrawal from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty ï¿½ as a kind of report card on their progress on reducing long-range missiles. The 2002 resolution was adopted without a vote.
This yearï¿½s draft was similar in referring to the entry into force of SORT, cuts in strategic warheads and the halt in fissile material production. However, some committee delegates said they were uneasy by wording in the resolution that suggested these efforts fulfilled the U.S. and Russian disarmament obligations under NPT Article 6, which calls on treaty states to ï¿½pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.ï¿½
After adopting the resolution by consensus, several countries argued that while they welcomed the progress, more was needed for them to feel Russia and the United States were fulfilling their NPT obligations. De Alba said countries ï¿½welcome the approach in as much as it would be a signal that they do understand they have commitments under Article 6 and they intend to keep those commitments.ï¿½ On the other hand, he said, ï¿½During the NPT, we will insist that they keep reporting because it is the only way that the sense that everybody is doing their duty to strengthen the consensus on reinforcing the NPT.ï¿½
Two resolutions from non-nuclear weapon states enjoyed broad support, but not consensus. Together they offer a clear picture of what kinds of disarmament steps they expect from the nuclear weapons states within the NPT framework. The New Agenda altered its annual draft resolution on nuclear disarmament streamlining it to highlight a few key initiatives including the fissile material cutoff treaty negotiations, further reductions in nonstrategic arsenals, diminishing the role of nuclear weapons in security doctrines and setting up a subsidiary body in the Conference of Disarmament ï¿½to deal withï¿½ nuclear disarmament.
The New Agenda said the ï¿½overall purposeï¿½ of its draft ï¿½is to uphold and safeguard the NPT in its entirety.ï¿½
ï¿½Agreements need to be implemented, or they risk falling apart. And implementation needs to be accelerated, or the confidence in the regime risks being undermined.ï¿½ said Swedish Ambassador Elisabet Bonnier, speaking for the coalition.
The goal of the revisions was to appeal to non-nuclear NATO states that have not supported the New Agenda in the past; Canada was the only such country to vote for the 2003 draft. They succeeded in drawing more NATO countries from abstaining to voting in favor.
The vote was 135-5, with France, Israel, Latvia, the United Kingdom and the United States in opposition and 25 abstentions. In an explanation of its vote, France, also speaking for the United States and United Kingdom, noted the pragmatism of the draft but faulted the New Agenda for not acknowledging progress in strategic arms reductions.
Japanï¿½s draft on ï¿½A path to the total elimination of nuclear weaponsï¿½ fared better and was approved by a vote of 151-2, with the United States and India in opposition and 16 abstentions. The United States opposed the draftï¿½s endorsement of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty; while India objected to the request that India join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear weapons state.
The resolution listed a series of steps that could be taken ï¿½ including the entry into force of the test ban treaty, fissile materials negotiations, applying the ï¿½principle of irreversibilityï¿½ to arms reductions, encouraging ï¿½a diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security policies,ï¿½ and placing fissile materials no longer used in nuclear weapons under international safeguards ï¿½ that are drawn largely from the final document of the NPTï¿½ 2000 review conference. The New Agenda countries were among the abstentions, saying the draftï¿½s language did not adhere closely enough to the NPT 2000 language.
Test Ban and Fissile Materials
The CTBT resolution, calling on all states to become parties to the treaty and on all nuclear states to maintain their testing moratoria, was voted on Nov. 1. The vote was 147-1 with the United States in opposition and Colombia, India, Mauritius and Syria abstaining. The treaty was endorsed, or at least noted, in several resolutions. The United States voted against every one of those resolutions, saying it would never become a party the treaty, but would maintain its unilateral testing moratorium.
The annual committee resolution recalling that the CD will consider a fissile material cutoff treaty has always passed by consensus. However, this year the United States alone voted against the draft in objection to the included phrase ï¿½effectively verifiable treaty.ï¿½ Israel and the United Kingdom abstained from the 147-1 vote.
Some countries wanted the draft withdrawn in the face of the unraveling consensus, but the key sponsors kept it on the table.
Other Nuclear Resolutions
There were also traditional nuclear disarmament resolutions that framed the issue in different ways and thus resulted in widely different votes. Indiaï¿½s draft calling for a ï¿½review of nuclear doctrinesï¿½ and for ï¿½immediate and urgent steps to reduce the risks of unintentional and accidental use of nuclear weaponsï¿½ passed 106ï¿½46, with 16 abstentions. Mexicoï¿½s proposal for a conference ï¿½to identify ways of eliminating nuclear dangersï¿½ passed 119-6, with 41 abstentions.
The two resolutions on the Middle East followed the same pattern of previous years. The draft urging ï¿½all parties directly concerned to consider seriously taking the practical and urgent steps required for the implementation of the proposal to establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the region of the Middle Eastï¿½ was adopted by consensus. The draft calling on Israel to join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and place its nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards passed 157-4, with eight abstentions. The negative votes came from Israel, the United States, Marshall Islands and Micronesia.
A resolution on ï¿½Measures to prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destructionï¿½ was adopted by consensus with little debate.
Addressing missile proliferation is an issue dealt with easier as a concept than as a practical exercise in arms control. While there is broad agreement that the proliferation of missile technology is linked to the threat of WMD proliferation, the majority of developing countries ï¿½ in particular the more industrialized nations ï¿½ do not want to create any system that would deny them assess to technology that also has civilian applications, such as satellite launching.
A panel of government experts, created by an earlier resolution, failed in its mandate to represent a report to the committee this year on how to ï¿½address the issue of missiles in all its aspects.ï¿½ This yearï¿½s draft of the annual resolution on missiles, with Iran as the main sponsor, asked the secretary general to prepare a report on how the United Nations could address the issue and to establish a new panel in 2007. It was approved by a vote of 98-2, with the United States and Israel opposed and 60 abstentions. The European Union, among the abstainers, said a new panel ï¿½would only be meaningful based on an agreed specific mandate.ï¿½
The committee approved the draft on Oct. 26, along with a resolution supporting the Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation.
Biological and Chemical Weapons
The resolutions on biological and chemical weapons took up far less time than nuclear issues since these weapons have treaties banning their use. Debate focused on implementing the conventions. Both texts called on all states to become parties to the treaties. The Chemical Weapons Convention resolution asked for full support for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The Biological Weapons Convention resolution recalled the last review conferenceï¿½s decision to continue discussions of ï¿½enhancing international capabilitiesï¿½ to investigate alleged uses of biological weapons and to improve the surveillance and detection of infectious diseases. The draft avoided the issue of the lack of a verification protocol for the Biological Weapons Convention. Both resolutions were adopted by consensus.
2. Rosatomï¿½s Antipov stumps for international help, not supervision
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In a wide-ranging interview following the IAEAï¿½s Contact Expert Group, or CEG, meeting in Moscow, deputy Rosatom chief Sergei Antipov advocated for a guiding structure among nations donating funding to Russiaï¿½s nuclear clean up, but rejected the notion of an international coordinating structure to oversee nuclear remediation efforts.
The distinction Antipov drew was at once subtle and stark. He praised the new, more ï¿½professionalï¿½ structure of the CEGï¿½which gathered in Moscow on October 13th to 15thï¿½and its embracing of several new foreign institutions to help fund solutions to Russiaï¿½s nuclear woes. He also made it clear that Russia would no longer view itself as a charity case for non-proliferation efforts, but rather a partnerï¿½if not the true policy makerï¿½in issues regarding Russiaï¿½s nuclear dismantlement.
The institutions gathered by the CEG included representatives of the G-8ï¿½s Global Partnershipï¿½which has pledged $20 billion in nuclear dismantlement aid to Russia over the next 20 yearsï¿½and the signatories of the Multi-lateral Nuclear Environmental Partnership in the Russia Federation, or MNEPR, accord.
At the same time, however, Antipov strongly advocated that the Rosatom agency have the final word on what nuclear remediation projects were the priority items, and, ultimately, how and where funding should be spent. Bellona has advocated in the opposite direction, and considers that an independent international oversight agency should be established to oversee Russiaï¿½s nuclear clean up and funding priorities.
ï¿½The Global Partnership has appeared, the Institute of Senior Officials has appeared, which is now the Global Partnershipï¿½s group of experts, and which is also pushing to coordinate all activities,ï¿½ Antipov told Minatom.ru, a Rosatom sponsored Web site.
ï¿½[i]t is precisely the CEG that has more favorable chances of becoming such a chief professional organization. Chief not in the sense of making decisions but as an expert organ for giving the most professional recommendations, the most deeply studied practical issues of integrated submarine dismantlement.ï¿½
International coordination in, international supervision out But Antipovï¿½who was appointed to his deputyï¿½s post at Rosatom from his former position heading up its department of nuclear decommissioning last weekï¿½was, like the deputies who presided at the Ministry of Atomic Energy, or Minatom, strongly against ceding Rosatomï¿½s prerogatives on deciding funding priorities to an international coordinating structure.
ï¿½Why build another unneeded structure on top of an already existing one,ï¿½ he said. ï¿½We always say that such an organ is Russia in the face of Rosatom. We define and order what Russia needs to do first in integrated submarine dismantlement, and we decide in what order this need to be done,ï¿½ he said. During the CEG meetings, said Antipov, the Russia delegation was ï¿½strictï¿½ in announcing to a number of participating donor nations that they were not only not helping, but holding back progress, even though these nations were likely unaware of this. He did not elaborate as about which nations this applied to, nor would other Rosatom staff comment on this.
ï¿½Under no circumstances should aid turn into a burden or hinder us [ï¿½] and we intend to insist on our position henceforth,ï¿½ Antipov said.
Antipov said it was equally important that Russia be furnished with audits of pledged and spent funding from donor nations.
European and American officials were divided in their comments on Antipovï¿½s approach. ï¿½On the one hand, this sort of aggressive engagements from the Russia side is what we have wanted for some time,ï¿½ said one EU official who requested he not be further identified, ï¿½But this cannot eliminate the prerogatives of MNEPR signatories to set their own agendaï¿½s and influence Russiaï¿½s.ï¿½
Another official close to the US Department of Defenceï¿½s Cooperative Threat Reduction programme noted ï¿½we are not just helping the Russians to help Russia but to help the world. This means that under no circumstances will they unilaterally be deciding where non-proliferation and nuclear clean up funding will be spent.ï¿½
The American official added that ï¿½itï¿½s not just a matter of calling up the West with a grocery list and saying buy this stuff. Projects must be negotiated and designed in a multi-lateral way.ï¿½
Sub Dismantlement Nonetheless, Viktor Akhunov, deputy director of Rosatomï¿½s Department of Decommissioning Nuclear and Radioactively Dangerous Facilities, rattled a sub dismantlement figure of 18ï¿½five of which were funded by foreign donorsï¿½ for 2004 while speaking at the CEG conference.
He added that by the beginning of 2005, 83 more of Russiaï¿½s 195 decommissioned submarines would head for dismantlementï¿½41 from Russiaï¿½s northern fleet and 42 from its Pacific Fleet. Of these submarines, 52 still have their spent nuclear fuel aboard. Akhunov noted that contracts to dismantle 17 of these had already been signed but did not say with whom. The Russian government has decreed that al 93 of these submarines will be dismantled by 2010.
According to Akhunovï¿½s calculations, which he presented at the CEG, Russia will have to dismantle some 15 to 18 submarines a year, but that the country is only capable of dismantling 13 per yearï¿½two short of the minimum to fulfil the government mandated quota. . He projected therefore that at least five submarines per year would have to be tackled by international donations and contracts, thus upping the dismantlement tempo to 20 submarines a year.
He also noted that appropriate storage facilities for the spent nuclear fuel from these submarines would have to be constructed.
ï¿½In conclusion, we need money," he said. ï¿½Preferably the sooner the better so that we can begin to set priorities in work and get down to business.ï¿½
Dues to Russia earn Rosatom approval In his interview, Antipov noted that he was keenly aware of those nations represented at the CEG meeting that paid Russia its rhetorical dues when addressing the assembled representatives.
ï¿½It is gratifying that almost every participant in the meeting underscored in their presentations that it cannot be forgotten that we are, before all else, working on the territory of Russia, specifically for the interests of Russia and therefore the last word [ï¿½] on issues of prioritising programmes must be Russiaï¿½s, more particularly, Rosatomï¿½s,ï¿½ he said.
ï¿½This understanding, though it was not immediately grasped by some people participating in the CEGï¿½s work, pleases us.ï¿½ Again, Antipov did not elaborate on which CEG representatives were opposed to the notion that Rosatom be the sole arbiter of its nuclear remediation priorities.
Flood of donor money confuses priorities Beginning with the signing of the MNEPR accord in May, 2003, a cash crop of money has been pledged by donor nations from the G-8 and Europe. Many countries, like Norway, the United Kingdom, and Japan immediately engaged in nonategic submarine dismantling projects. These submarines, however, were in relatively good shape when dismantlement work began, bringing encouraging headlines, but ignoring the vast number of submarines in worse shape that remain in need of immediate attention.
Other countries signed their own bilateral agreements with Russia under MNEPR guidelines, and still others donated funding to the Northern Dimensions Environmental Partnership, or NDEP, an EBRD-held fund for environmental and nuclear clean up in Northwest Russia. Donors to NDEPï¿½s ï¿½nuclear windowï¿½ï¿½as those funds reserved for nuclear clean up are calledï¿½also have their own nuclear priorities for Russia that they wish to pursue without having Rosatom as a middleman.
Additionally, Minatom often mishandled or misdirected funding that came from foreign nations, and several million dollars have been diverted from their intended projects, giving pause to many donors about trusting Rosatom, whose directorship has not substantially changed since a government reshuffle abolished Minatom and replaced it with the new agency. How far foreign donors are willing to go based on Rosatomï¿½s wordï¿½and how far Rosatom is willing to go to back up its words with actions, are, as yet, unknown.
Russiaï¿½s sub dismantlement master plan In December 2003, what was then Minatom adopted a so-called master plan for dismantling submarines, which provided for a surprising breadth of items on the Westï¿½s wish list. These items included tighter scrutiny of foreign funded nuclear dismantlement projects before they begin, mandates for higher levels of transparency, accountability and access for donor nations while the projects are underway, and complete and transparent audits upon completion.
At the time the plan was first being drafted, Antipovï¿½then still a deputy minister at Minatomï¿½said the plan must encompass a complete picture of all ecological problems and planned work, the consistency of their proposed solutions, and an assessment of cooperation between separate projects and contracts of donor nations. He also said, as he did at Octoberï¿½s CEG meeting, that Russiaï¿½s main nuclear industry institution should be the liaison for cooperation.
ï¿½Considering that Russia is the defining link in the ï¿½nuclear windowï¿½ projects, meaning that Russia decides which particular projects should be the first to receive fundingï¿½ of course, this should be done by a representative of Minatom,ï¿½ said Antipov in an interview in January.
The plan was well received by western donor countries and European parliamentarians, many of whom had gathered at the Inter-parliamentary Working Group, or IPGW, hearing in Brussels in 2003, and which was dedicated to the improvement of risk assessment and funding coordination for nuclear dismantling in Russia.
Getting master plans off the ground At the CEG gathering, however, Antipov noted that the legal base for many signatories of the MNEPR agreement had not yet ratified the accord via their national parliaments, making it impossible for Rosatom to conclude bilateral agreements with many countries anxious to begin making donations.
This, he said, has forced Rosatom into the awkward position of searching out alternative agreements such as inter-ministry accords. For instance Australia, which joined the Global Partnership group of donors only this year, for instance, sent a $7 million contribution toward submarine dismantlement via Japan, which is a long-standing Global Partnership donor.
Another problem with many donor nations, Antipov noted, was that many of them have yet to inform Rosatom what projects they plan to work on in the short and long term and what sort of financial investment they are willing to make. This, said Antipov, makes long term planning for submarine dismantlement and other things impossible and complicates planning.
As a final note, Antipov emphasised that ï¿½all activities of an organizational, informational or financial character by donor countries must take place on a clearly defined legal field.ï¿½
Without contracts stipulating these items, he stated strongly, it will be impossible for Rosatom to furnish sensitive information about submarines and other nuclear facilities to donor states.
ï¿½Unfortunately, there are attempts to obtain such information without the necessary foundation,ï¿½ he said, without elaborating, but echoing a familiar ring of secrecy from the quarters of Russiaï¿½s nuclear industry.
1. Russia, U.S. to harmonize nukes storage, carriage rules
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A coordinating group has been set up at Russia's Defense Ministry to harmonize Russian principles for the safe storage and transportation of nuclear weapons with those of the United States and map out military cooperation guidelines, ministry sources told Interfax.
Russia and Iran will sign a deal next month on the return of spent nuclear fuel from Tehran.
"Now there are no technical or political reasons not to sign such a protocol during the forthcoming visit to Tehran by the head of the Russian Atomic Agency, Alexander Rumyantsev," a senior official of the Iranian Foreign Ministry told Itar-Tass news agency on Wednesday.
The Deputy Director General of Political and International Affairs in the Iranian Foreign Ministry Ali Akbar Soltani, said only a few financing details remained and they would be settled a month before Rumyantsev's visit to Tehran.
According to the Russian Atomic Energy Ministry, the visit would take place in the second half of December.
Russia insisted on the deal to return the spent nuclear fuel at the Bushehr nuclear power plant to mitigate US concerns over Iran's nuclear programme. The US has expressed fears that the fuel could be used to make weapons.
Russia completed work on the 800 million dollar reactor in Bushehr, last October.
1. Russia maintains nuclear missile potential - general
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Russian Deputy Defense Minister and Chief of Armaments Gen. Alexei Moskovsky said that since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia has maintained its nuclear missile potential.
"The collapse of the USSR caused a partial collapse in the cooperation between designers and manufacturers of nuclear weapons that had evolved over decades. Russia was forced to tackle the enormous task of developing a purely domestic rocket and space industry. Despite all the difficulties, this country coped with the task," Moskovsky told Interfax on Friday.
1. BALAKOVO NPP OPERATES IN NORMAL MODE, SAYS ROSATOM HEAD
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The nuclear power plant in Balakovo, where a power unit was stopped for maintenance, operates in a normal mode, Alexander Rumyantsev, the head of the Federal Nuclear Power Agency (Rosatom), told RIA Novosti.
"The nuclear power plant in Balakovo is now operating in a normal mode, and this incident is a bright confirmation of safety of using nuclear power, as all automatics worked without failures," said the head of the agency.
Alexander Rumyantsev said all rumors in regard to radiation emission were groundless.
"The incident in the engine room has nothing to do with nuclear problems," said Mr. Rumyantsev. He noted that "according to the international scale of incidents on nuclear power plants, this event is just not taken into account at all."
"As soon as failures appeared in the system of the steam pipe, we immediately informed Gosatomnadzor and mass media," said Mr. Rumyantsev. In this regard, he stressed, "information hooliganism" started - "anonymous web sites appeared which intensified hysteria giving deliberately false data."
In Mr. Rumyantsev's words, "if any worst-case situation threatening citizens' health takes place, all relevant statements will be voiced immediately and first of all by the Federal Agency."
"The first information will always originate from us. Only truth at first hand is the means that can calm down the public," said Mr. Rumyantsev.
In his turn, the general director of the Rosenergoatom concern, Oleg Sarayev, noted that defects of the off-optimum situation on the second power unit at the Balakovo plant had long been removed. Similar sections on other units of the NPP are being checked now.
He stressed that the IAEA did not demand that its inspectors be allowed to check.
"Should this demand be received, we are ready to allow specialists at any time for them to hold relevant checks," concluded Mr. Sarayev.
On Thursday, November 4, a leakage of pure desalinated water feeding steam generators of the Balakovo NPP's second power unit was discovered. As a result, the power unit was stopped for maintenance work on the pipeline.
2. Accident at Russian nuclear power plant sows fear among residents
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A reported accident at a nuclear power plant in central Russia spread panic Friday, as residents rushed to buy radiation antidotes despite official assurances that the malfunction was a minor glitch.
Fears spread in the regions surrounding the Balakovskaya nuclear power plant, some 800 kilometers (500 miles) southeast of Moscow, after reports that a leak forced one of its blocks to shut down on Thursday.
"As a result of turbine malfunction, block number two of Balakovskaya nuclear power station underwent an emergency shutdown at 1:24 p.m. on November 4," said a press release from Russia's federal nuclear agency.
"There was no increase of radioactivity," it said. "The event does not endanger security and under international standards of nuclear events is classified as zero."
On Friday, officials said that the shut-down block had been restarted, ITAR-TASS reported.
"There is no cause for concern," said Viktor Bychkov, a deputy head of the emergencies ministry in the Saratov region, where the nuclear power plant is located.
"The situation is under control, security measures at Balakovskaya plant are high and in line with international norms," he said.
But, with haunting memories of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, residents in the surrounding regions rushed to pharmacies to buy up iodine, which doctors recommend in cases of exposure to radioactivity, witnesses and news agencies said.
Teachers in Saransk, some 300 kilometers (180 miles) northwest from the station, advised parents to administer iodine to their children, according to a regional internet site. Several pharmacies had run out of the substance, RIA Novosti reported.
Meanwhile universities in Samara, 300 kilometers northeast from the plant, were closed and businesses advised employees to stay home and close the windows.
A representative of Greenpeace Russia said reactions by the school threw doubt onto official assurances about the accident.
"It's not the first time that the reactor has stopped," said Vera Pissaryova. "Why this panic? It makes you think that there was a leak."
The accident revived the memories of April 1986, when a reactor at the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine exploded and spewed radioactive material into the air for 10 days, contaminating large swaths of Europe.
The Soviet government did not acknowledge the disaster for days.
According to UN figures, between 15,000 and 30,000 have died since the disaster and nearly six million people continue to live in contaminated zones.
3. Ukraine to set up register with U.S. funds to track radioactive material
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Ukraine will set up a central register to track radioactive materials throughout the country in a U.S.-funded effort to prevent the materials from getting into the hands of terrorists, officials said Thursday.
A memorandum signed last week by Ukrainian and U.S. officials proposes $250,000 US in U.S. government funding to develop the Ukrainian State Register for Radiation Sources and train personnel.
The project should help Ukraine prevent terrorists from acquiring material for a so-called "dirty bomb," said Tetyana Kutuzova, a spokeswoman for the Ukrainian Nuclear Regulatory Committee.
"Our border service each year prevents a number of people who are attempting to cross the border with radiation sources that could be used for a dirty bomb," Kutuzova said.
Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine inherited a vast number of nuclear radiation sources - including substances intended for medical or other technical purposes and spent nuclear fuel. Most of the materials are unregistered.
The setting up of a central register will "play a critical role in consolidating and securing radiological sources," said Sheila Gwaltney, deputy chief of U.S. mission to Ukraine, in a statement.
Ukraine has no weapons grade nuclear material since its independence, having transferred some 1,300 nuclear warheads to Russia for decommissioning. Ukraine's last missile silo was destroyed two years ago. The country also runs five nuclear power plants, including now-defunct Chornobyl, site of the world's largest nuclear incident in 1986.
Earlier this year, Ukrainian authorities arrested several people for allegedly trying to purchase cesium-137, a highly radioactive material seen as a likely ingredient in a "dirty bomb." Earlier this year, they arrested a man trying to take half a kilogram of uranium into neighbouring Hungary.
Although the government has the State Register for Radiation Sources, the nationwide registration of radioactive materials became mandatory only this year.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, concerns have grown that terrorists might try to acquire material for a dirty bomb - a device that uses conventional explosives to scatter low-level radioactive material over wide areas. Instead of using highly enriched uranium or plutonium - which are kept under tight security and difficult to obtain - the radioactive components are usually lower-grade isotopes, such as those used in medicine or research.
The International Atomic Energy Agency - the UN nuclear watchdog - estimates as many as 110 countries do not have adequate controls over radioactive devices that could be used to build a dirty bomb.
1. Secretary Abraham Announces Record Breaking Supercomputer Performance -- DOE and IBM partnership on BlueGene/L breaks record on way to full capability
Department of Energy
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U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham today announced that a supercomputer developed for the nation's Stockpile Stewardship Program has attained a record breaking performance of 70.72 teraFLOP/s (trillion floating point operations per second) on the industry standard LINPACK benchmark. Though the supercomputer is running at one quarter its final size for the Department of Energy, the BlueGene/L (BG/L) beta-System is already asserting US leadership in supercomputing.
A product of a multi-year research and development partnership between the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and IBM, BG/L will support the Stockpile Stewardship Program's mission to ensure the safety, security and reliability of the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile without underground nuclear testing.
"The delivery of the first quarter of the BlueGene/L system to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory this month shows how a partnership between government and industry can effectively advance national agendas in science, technology, security and industrial competitiveness," said Secretary Abraham. "High performance computing is the backbone of the nation's science and technology enterprise, which is why the Department has made supercomputing a top priority investment. Breakthroughs in applied scientific research are possible with the tremendous processing capabilities provided by extremely scalable computer systems such as BlueGene/L."
Scientific problems in chemistry, physics, and materials science require an immense processing capability but frequently present relatively modest memory requirements. For NNSA and its Advanced Simulation and Computing program, the BlueGene/L machine is essential for understanding pressing scientific issues including, most prominently, weapons aging.
Additionally, understanding material properties, higher resolution representations of physics in three-dimensions, and achieving a tighter coupling of computational science with experimental science are all issues that the BG/L architecture is uniquely qualified to support through large-scale calculations.
Secretary Abraham added "BG/L will reduce the time-to-solution for many computational problems, allowing DOE scientists to explore larger, longer, and more complex problems than ever before. For example, a heroic thirty-day calculation on what was the Number 3 supercomputer on the Top 500 list in summer of 2003 would now be completed on this quarter-size BG/L system in about three days."
The final BG/L system will exceed the performance of the Japanese Earth Simulator by a factor of about nine while requiring one-seventh as much electrical power, and one-fourteenth the floor space. These factors are important because they will make it possible for more American university, governmental, and industrial researchers to procure, operate, and use effective supercomputers in the future.
Founded in 1952, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) is a national security laboratory managed by the University of California for the National Nuclear Security Administration/Department of Energy. For more information on LLNL, visit www.llnl.gov.
For more information on the Department of Energy, visit www.doe.gov.
IBM is the world's largest information technology company, with 80 years of leadership in helping businesses innovate. Drawing on resources from across IBM and IBM Business Partners, IBM offers a wide range of services, solutions and technologies that enable customers, large and small, to take full advantage of the new era of e-business. For more information about IBM, visit www.ibm.com.
2. On the Adoption in the First Committee of the 59th Session of the UN General Assembly of the Russian-US Draft Resolution on Bilateral Strategic Nuclear Arms Reductions and the New Strategic Framework
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation
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The First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly on November 3 adopted by consensus the Draft Resolution on Bilateral Strategic Nuclear Arms Reductions and the New Strategic Framework, jointly introduced by Russia and the United States. The draft develops and supplements the provisions of the similar UN General Assembly Resolution 57/68 of November 22, 2002.
This decision is evidence of the reaffirmation by the world community of the special importance of the Russian-US partner relationship for ensuring international security and strategic stability and the solution of such global issues of today as nuclear disarmament and the prevention of the spread of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery vehicles. The draft resolution acknowledges the major practical steps of both states to reduce their nuclear arms in accordance with the Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, the unilateral initiatives of 1991-1992 and the bilateral agreements on cooperation with respect to the liquidation of weapon-grade fissile material. It welcomes the importance of the entry of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty into force and expresses support of the consistent adherence of the Russian Federation and the United States of America to continued reduction of those potentials. It emphasizes the relevance of these steps in the context of the fulfillment by both states of the obligations under Article VI of the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
We regard this resolution as an important step in informing the world community of the practical efforts being undertaken to reduce the nuclear arsenals as well as in building on the new Russian-US relationship.
In the course of the discussion of the draft resolution we reaffirmed our adherence to the obligations under the NPT and readiness to move on along the road of gradual nuclear arms reduction. Further practical advancement on the road of nuclear disarmament should be carried out stage-by-stage, without unjustifiably rushing things, on the basis of a comprehensive approach and respect of the principle of equal security for all states.
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