This special issue of RANSAC's Nuclear News is an online archive of news stories concerning disputes over liability in US-Russia cooperative nonproliferation programs. It collects news media coverage, as well as several statements made by US and Russian government officials, from the approximate period of August 1, 2003, through February 9, 2004.
1. U.S.-Russian Agreement on Liability Issues Nears
Arms Control Today
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Linton Brooks, administrator of the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration, said that he soon expects the United States and Russia to reach agreement on liability provisions for U.S. contractors involved in the Energy Department's Nuclear Cities Initiative.
The program provides funds for former Russian nuclear scientists to carry out civilian research in formerly closed Soviet nuclear cities. The administration has not provided new funds for that program, or a separate plutonium disposition program, for several months. Washington has insisted that the Kremlin first agree to comprehensive liability provisions for foreign projects carried out in Russia to prevent the U.S. government and its representatives from being sued for accidents or problems that arise during building or operation. (See ACT, September 2003.)
"We are hopeful that the liability issue will be resolved soon," Brooks said in an interview with Arms Control Today, indicating that Russia's recent parliamentary elections had held up agreement. "We measure soon in a single digit number of months." In other Russia-related news, President George W. Bush waived conditions that prevented U.S. funding from reaching the former Soviet republic for construction of the Shchuch'ye chemical weapons destruction facility. In a memorandum to Secretary of State Colin Powell Dec. 9, Bush said waiving the chemical weapons certification requirements "is important to the national security interests of the United States." In the fiscal year 2004 Energy and Water Appropriations bill, Congress approved $200.3 million—the Bush administration's request—for construction of the Shchuch'ye facility.
The requirements for Russian chemical weapons programs are stricter than those for other CTR programs. Such rules generally require the administration to certify that states receiving assistance are making progress in getting rid of the arsenals they inherited. But for chemical weapons program funding, Russia is also required to provide a detailed inventory of its chemical weapons and more verifiable plans for destroying them. There is disagreement over whether the Russian declaration under the Chemical Weapons Convention is complete.
At a conference Dec. 10 cosposored by the Defense Department's Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), former CTR Director Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Kuenning asserted that the Bush administration needs to work harder to encourage U.S.-Russian cooperation in Nunn-Lugar programs. "It is becoming a coercive program, rather than a cooperative program," he said. "We need to get cooperation back into the program."
Meanwhile, construction is set to be completed this week on the Mayak fissile material storage facility. The Ministry for Atomic Energy of the Russian Federation announced earlier this month that the facility's environmental requirements had been met; security and safety conditions could be satisfied by the end of next week. In addition, security upgrades have been completed at two chemical weapons storage sites—Planovy and Kizner—and operations will begin this week.
2. Liability Concerns Jeopardize Renewal of Nonproliferation Programs With Russia
Christine Kucia, Arms Control Today
Arms Control Today
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Two U.S.-Russian nuclear security programs administered by the Department of Energy (DOE) could be terminated because U.S. officials refuse to continue them under existing liability agreements that are deemed inadequate.
DOE officials insist that the liability language in the charter of the Plutonium Disposition Scientific and Technical Cooperation and the Nuclear Cities Initiative agreements—both set to be renewed this year—must “include liability provisions meeting U.S. standards,” according to a July 22 DOE press release. The same statement cited Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham: “We hope that the Russian Federation will accept our broad proposal on liability in time to allow for the extension of the Nuclear Cities Initiative Agreement,” which is set to expire September 22. The plutonium cooperation agreement lapsed July 24.
Washington insists on negotiating comprehensive liability provisions for foreign projects carried out in Russia to prevent the U.S. government and its representatives from being sued for accidents or problems that arise during the facilities’ building or operation. DOE operates an extensive array of U.S.-Russian nonproliferation programs under a variety of liability agreements. The plutonium and Nuclear Cities agreements, originally inked in 1998, contain fewer liability protections than language offered in other programs.
Bryan Wilkes, spokesman for DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration, said August 20, “We’re confident the dispute is going to be resolved because the programs are important to both countries. In the short term, this [dispute] will have no effect. But in the long term, if it goes unresolved, it will have a negative impact on the programs.” Wilkes added that, until the liability matter is settled, DOE will not start any new projects in either program.
The Nuclear Cities Initiative provides U.S. assistance to Russia to shut down former weapons production sites that comprised the core of Russia’s nuclear weapons infrastructure during the Cold War and to channel the talents of former nuclear weapons scientists and engineers into non-nuclear or civilian projects. The plutonium initiative enables U.S. and Russian scientific collaboration to help Russia dispose of excess plutonium, and the program is a key component of current efforts to establish mixed-oxide fuel facilities in both countries to begin disposing of 34 metric tons of plutonium under a September 2000 agreement. (See ACT, March 2002.)
Administration officials have sent mixed signals about each program’s future. According to the July 22 DOE statement, Abraham told Russian Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev that, despite the legal dispute, the United States intends to continue the Nuclear Cities Initiative under a provision that would allow the existing projects to continue.
Yet, State Department spokeswoman Tara Rigler told Global Security Newswire July 29 that projects under the now-expired plutonium agreement have been put on hold pending the negotiation of the liability agreement. Wilkes, however, noted August 20 that some plutonium disposition projects might continue under the auspices of the 2000 Plutonium Management and Disposition agreement. “Things are still moving forward,” Wilkes said.
In a July 22 letter to President George W. Bush, Representatives Chet Edwards (D-TX), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Ike Skelton (D-MO), John Spratt Jr. (D-SC), and Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) called for extending the nuclear security programs while continuing negotiations on liability language. They said that allowing the agreements to lapse or expire would not only jeopardize nonproliferation work in Russia but related plutonium disposition efforts in the United States as well. “The current situation raises doubts about the administration’s commitment to rapidly and effectively addressing the well-known nuclear security and proliferation concerns with Russia,” the members added.
Meanwhile, even the 2000 Plutonium Management and Disposition agreement faces questions about liability protections. Russia and the United States initially deferred liability discussions related to construction work on a facility in Russia that will process excess plutonium into mixed-oxide fuel for use in nuclear power plants—helping Russia fulfill its commitment to dispose of excess weapons-grade plutonium. A government source familiar with the issue warned that the present struggle over adequate liability provisions is the precursor to liability negotiations for building these facilities. Talks will intensify this fall because construction must begin in 2004 in order to meet the agreement’s timeline of beginning plutonium disposition in 2007. According to the source, “Russia needs to take the political decision to run its own facilities without a loophole to sue the U.S. for building the facilities.”
Administration officials point to liability provisions contained in the 1992 Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) umbrella agreement with Russia as the appropriate template for all nuclear nonproliferation programs. The Russian Duma, however, has not agreed to the liability requirements outlined by the United States, which would govern a large portion of U.S. threat reduction activities in Russia, so the umbrella agreement is considered provisional by the governments. Other nonproliferation program agreements negotiated after the CTR umbrella agreement did not contain the same strong liability provisions outlined in the CTR program.
Despite the dispute, other U.S.-Russian threat reduction programs operated by the Energy Department are moving forward. The United States and Russia negotiated access arrangements for a U.S. project to help shut down the last three of Russia’s plutonium-producing reactors in the closed nuclear cities of Seversk and Zheleznogorsk, the Energy Department announced July 17. Under the program, fossil fuel facilities will be constructed to replace the reactors, which still provide electricity to Russian residents and businesses in the region. After the fossil fuel plants are brought online beginning in 2008, the two countries will shut down the plutonium reactors. (See ACT, April 2003.)
1. Dispute With Russia Delays Construction Of SRS Plant Until 2005
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COLUMBIA--A facility that would convert weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for commercial nuclear power plants won't begin construction in 2004 after all.
Disagreements between Russia and U.S. contractors have delayed the construction of the mixed-oxide facility until at least May 2005, a federal official said. The United States and Russia have committed to disposing of 68 metric tons of plutonium in parallel programs.
Construction of the MOX facility at Savannah River Site near Aiken was scheduled to begin as early as this spring.
"Because the Russian facility is delayed, so is the U.S. facility," said Bryan Wilkes, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, a division of the Department of Energy. "I can't emphasize enough that this delay does not in any way diminish the U.S. commitment for proceeding with plutonium disposition."
The roughly $3.8 billion plant, expected to create about 500 jobs, has been criticized by anti-nuclear activists who favor encasing excess plutonium in glass and burying it in Nevada.
The delay didn't please former Gov. Jim Hodges, who had vowed to lie down in front of plutonium shipments headed to SRS because he feared the material would be stored there indefinitely. Hodges took the U.S. Energy Department to court to stop the shipments but ultimately lost.
"If these delays continue or, God forbid, they shelve the project, then SRS has moved into the status of a long-term storage facility for plutonium, which is dangerous," Hodges said recently.
Congress has been committed to spending money on the program, giving it about $400 million last year to start building the plant. President Bush has proposed $368 million for the plant next year.
There are penalties if the Energy Department fails to begin producing the fuel by 2011.
Sen. Lindsey Graham's spokes-man Kevin Bishop said a law approved in 2002 requires the government to finish the project, process the plutonium and ship it out of South Carolina. The plutonium-blended fuel will be burned in two Duke Energy power plants near Charlotte.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission also must approve a construction license for the MOX plant, but the license has been slowed because the DOE wants its chief contractor to move a radiation boundary closer to the plant's site.
Tom Clements with Greenpeace said the delay could make it harder for the Energy Department to get additional funding from Congress.
"They will have an extremely difficult time justifying to Congress why they need construction money for fiscal year 2005 when they were not able to spend all the money Congress gave them in 2004," Clements said.
The disagreement with Russia is over liability issues. U.S. contractors want legal protection in the event the American-designed Russian plant encounters problems.
2. Russia Ratifies Accord On Foreign Help In Dismantling Nuclear Submarines
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Russia's lower house of parliament on Friday ratified an agreement that clears the way for billions of dollars worth of foreign donations help Russia dismantle its mothballed nuclear submarines.
The State Duma voted 286-38 to ratify a framework agreement that frees foreign funds for the dismantling effort from taxation and declares that the countries involved wouldn't face legal responsibility for any accidents. The agreement was signed in Stockholm in May by representatives of Russia, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United States and the European Union.
"Its implementation will allow a quicker solution of the task of ensuring nuclear and radiation security in Russia without additional budget spending," the cabinet said in a letter to the Duma asking it to ratify the deal. "It will help strengthen the international legal base in a key area of co-operation and bring an important contribution to strengthening global security and the nuclear non-proliferation regime."
The deal, called the Multilateral Nuclear Environmental Program in the Russian Federation (MNEPR), will provide a legal base for the submarine dismantling effort, which Russia has estimated will cost about $5.2 billion Cdn.
Russia has long pleaded for foreign assistance to help dismantle its rusting fleet of Soviet-built nuclear submarines, saying it lacks its own funds to do the job. The West, concerned about possible environmental risks and fearing that the submarines' nuclear fuel could fall into terrorists' hands, has agreed to help but urged Russia to remove tax liability and protect the donors from any legal claims.
Deputy Nuclear Power Minister Sergei Arkhipov, who presented the agreement to legislators, said that all dismantling work will be conducted by the Russian personnel - an apparent attempt to assuage some legislators' fears that the deal might give foreigners unlimited access to sensitive areas.
Russia has decommissioned 192 of a total of 270 nuclear-powered submarines built in the Soviet Union and then Russia, according to official data.
The pace of the dismantling effort has increased from two-five submarines a year during the 1990s to 18-20 in recent years, but more than half of the decommissioned submarines still languish dockside awaiting dismantling.
By the start of 2003, nuclear fuel had been unloaded from 116 submarines and 89 of them had been fully dismantled, according to official documents presented to the Duma.
1. US State Department Leaving Mox Programme to Twist in the Wind
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Continuing hang-ups and disagreements between the United States and Russia over their bilateral agreement to destroy in parallel progress their surplus plutonium are threatening to kill the non-proliferation initiative as the US Department of State further entrenches its stance on liability in US-Russian nuclear remediation programmes, US and Russian officials said.
The one programme that the State Department is allowing to continue its work is a unique regulatory exchange project between US and Russia nuclear watch-dog agencies that has, expanded beyond the boundaries of the plutonium disposition accord, State Department and Russian nuclear regulatory officials have said.
But other programmes—such as industrial-level fuel testing and Russian adoption of the French-designed MOX fabrication plant blueprints and the plant’s construction—due to the July expiration of the 1998 bilateral agreement, are hostage to currently non-existent liability guidelines on which Russian and US officials say the State Department is unwilling to compromise.
The on-again-off-again nature of the plutonium disposition programme, which has been beset by controversy, environmental outcry and scientific challenges since its inception in the late 90s under the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin, is nothing new. What is new however, is the source of the current impasse.
Previous setbacks have been blamed on the Russian side and its Ministry of Atomic Energy, or Minatom, which is historically unwilling to destroy its weapons-grade plutonium because it sees it as a future source nuclear energy. It has also shuffled its feet regarding liability issues, and sought less stringent requirements from the US side. But this time, insiders from the Russian side, and those contacted in the US, are saying it is the State Department that wants the programme "to die a slow death" by the next US presidential election.
"[The whole plutonium disposition project] has been nothing but years of nuclear tourism, junkets, frequent flier miles and nights at the Marriot Grand," the prestigious Moscow hotel where US Department of Energy, or DOE, staffers stay on their trips to Moscow, said one Russian source close to the negotiations who asked not to be identified.
"[US programme directors] are waiting for the programme to die out before the next [presidential] administration."
Indeed, US President George Bush, is responsible for putting the plutonium disposition project in its current predicament by prohibiting immobilization—a method of encasing and storing plutonium in highly irradiated waste that environmentalists say is safer, and even the DOE says is cheaper. Immobilizing some of America’s of surplus plutonium was part of the plan until Bush nixed it in favour of the exclusively MOX option. Russia was against immobilisation from the beginning.
The MOX option
As currently envisioned, the plutonium disposition programme would burn 68 tonnes—34 tonnes from each country—of surplus weapons grade plutonium in mixed uranium and plutonium oxide, or MOX. The fuel would be burned in specially— and expensively—retrofitted commercial reactors in both countries. In Russia’s these would be the VVER-1000 light water reactors, as well as the BN-600 fast neutron reactor at Beloyarsk. The weapons plutonium would be destroyed in parallel progress between the two countries.
The theory that MOX containing weapons-grade plutonium could work has yet to be realized at an industrial scale, and the July expiration of the 5-year-long 1998 US-Russian Plutonium Science and Technology agreement has now rendered further talks between the two countries on MOX disposition legally groundless, putting the future of the programme under a dark shadow.
Many analysts looked to the 2000 Plutonium Management and Disposition agreement—signed by former US President Bill Clinton and Russian President Vladimir Putin—and its intentionally vague wording on liability as a way out of the void left by the expiration of the 1998 agreement. This wording, many US officials argued at the time the 1998 accord expired, could be fine-tuned to fulfil the State Department's liability requirements.
Michael Guhin, the State Department's ambassador for non-proliferation issues, is, according to a European official close to the negotiations, working to do precisely that. The European official, who requested anonymity, said, however, that the liability models Guhin is discussing are likely "much larger" than Russia would like to swallow at the moment.
If—or when, as the European official insisted—the liability issues are overcome, it will disperse the deadlock on technology transfer regarding the construction of a $2 billion MOX fabrication facility in Russia. France's nuclear giant Cogema has made the design for the facility, which will also be used in the United States. The design of this facility has been transferred to the US concern Duke, Cogema, Stone & Webster, or DCS, which was formed to build the MOX fabrication plants in both the US and Russia.
But because of the current liability impasse, said the European official, those designs cannot be transferred from DCS in the United States to contractors in Russia.
Is the State Department trying to bury MOX or save it?
An extension for the 1998 agreement from the State Department—which it refused to grant—would have kept the programme rolling. But according to Russian and American sources that are close to the negotiations, Undersecretary of State John Bolton, the Bush Administration's point-man on plutonium disposition, is working—via stringent liability requirements that Russia would never agree with—to quietly smother what many see as the environmentally unsound, outrageously costly and bureaucratically cumbersome project.
Bolton has a long history of hostility toward bilateral non-proliferation agreements with Russia, and according to many observers, the lapsing of the 1998 agreement was just the kind of snag he was waiting for to ensnarl the entire programme.
"Bolton's hostility to US-Russian bilateral nuclear agreements has focussed on liability agreements," said Edwin Lyman of the Union for Concerned Scientists, and former president of the respected anti-MOX Nuclear Control Institute, in a telephone interview from Washington. "What the United States is demanding in terms of liability is unprecedented and seems unreasonable."
Bolton has consistently insisted that liability in bilateral nuclear efforts between the US and Russia be governed by the so-called Umbrella Agreement of the Cooperative Threat Reduction, or CTR, programme, run by the US Department of Defence. The Umbrella Agreement places full responsibility—from nuclear accidents, to a US contractor breaking a leg while falling down the stairs of his flat—on Russia, which is an unpalatable option for Moscow.
Making the Umbrella Agreement an even blander dish for the Russians is the May signing of the Multilateral Nuclear Environmental Programme in the Russian Federation, known as the MNEPR accord, which offers far less onerous liability requirements between Russia and Western donor states. The agreement was signed by 10 European nations, two pan-European entities as well as the United States—although Washington insisted that MNEPR's liability protocols be separated from the agreement itself.
These protocols—which include the right to arbitration for liability disputes between signatory countries and Russia in case of accidents during bilateral nuclear projects and Russia—were left unsigned by the United States.
Lyman said Bolton is prudently insisting on stringent liability controls—especially in the event that a rogue contractor intentionally causes an act of nuclear terrorism that could spread beyond national borders.
"Bolton and the State Department are wise to duck responsibility, especially in the event of a terrorist event," said Lyman. He added that the State Department had a firmer grasp, in this situation, than does the DOE, which simply wants to press ahead with the programme.
"You can't rely on the DOE to make accurate safety assessments," he said.
The European source added that the MNEPR agreement is not strong enough to cover plutonium.
"It's fine for decommissioning submarines and nuclear cleanup, but MOX needs a strong nuclear liability agreement in the spirit of the Umbrella Agreement," he said. Although the European official had no forecasts as to whether the MNEPR liability protocol would be strengthened or whether the Umbrella Agreement would be adopted, he said that a stronger nuclear agreement with Russia to deal with plutonium was need.
Lyman was pessimistic about the MOX programme as a whole.
"This is a US initiative, but the liability issue underscores the ridiculousness of MOX," he said. "The DOE is willing to fully fund [the $4 billion] MOX programme in the United States, where the State Department is doing everything to slow it down in Russia—US Congress is going to have to confront this."
Lyman added that the liability deadlock was an example of "how far out of whack the two sides of this programme have become."
Like the Russian source, Lyman said that the liability questions surrounding the MOX programme may be left to dangle for the next US presidential administration, should Bush be defeated in November 2004. Regardless of the outcome of that election, several Western press outlets have indicated that US Secretary of State Colin Powell may not seek to be reappointed to his position if Bush wins in 2004. In this case, said a source who has dealt with Bolton on the MOX issue, "Bolton himself is angling for [Powell’s] job."
Despite several calls, neither Bolton nor his spokespeople could not be reached for comment, and others at the State Department refused to talk about—or said they had no knowledge of—the apparently worsening condition of the MOX programme. These State Department also would not comment on the possibility of Bolton taking over as Secretary of State.
Sunnier predictions from the NNSA
Brian Wilkes, the spokesman for the US National Nuclear Safety Administration, or NNSA, said that the key to furthering the MOX programme was in the hands of the State Department. The NNSA has played an integral role, under the DOE, in the MOX programme. As he said immediately following the expiration of the 1998 science and technology accord, Wilkes reiterated, in a telephone interview from Washington this week that "everything is going fine."
"As we predicted, [the lapsing of 1998 agreement] would not affect us in the short term." he said. "If this goes on for a long time, then we could start to have problems, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it—and it is a State Department bridge."
The European official agreed with Wilkes, saying: "I do think there will be an agreement for nuclear liability."
Wilkes would not hazard a guess as to how long it would take before the MOX programme started having serious "problems."
What does the future hold for MOX?
For most on the Russian side, that time has already come.
"There is no progress on the programme," said Yury Kolotilov, deputy project engineer at Russia's State Specialised Design Institute, or GSPI. This institute is an engineering subcontractor for Russia's nuclear fuel giant TVEL, and, if the MOX project goes forward, will have the responsibility of bringing the MOX fabrication plant designed by Cogema into accord with Russian standards. GSPI would also have a hand in designing the MOX fuel rods.
"My people, who work mainly for TVEL, are now sitting and talking about licensing and regulatory issues," said Kolotilov in a telephone interview from Moscow with Bellona Web. "Its hard for us to know to whom we should even take our questions."
In the past, noted Kolotilov, DOE authorities were readily available for inquiries pertaining to the progress of the programme. "Now there is no approaching their experts," he said.
The glum forecast for the plutonium disposition plan follows a week's worth of meetings in Moscow, during which even the DOE programme's technical director, John Baker, said none of the plutonium disposition projects were making any progress, except for the regulatory exchange project, according to reports on the conference.
Regulatory programme allowed to progress
This last project—conceived by Andrei Kislov, head of GAN's fuel cycles division and the DOE's senior project manager for plutonium disposition, Sotirios Thomas—has been hailed by insiders as a necessary step for brokering any international nuclear remediation deals with Russia. Though the programme began within the framework 1998 US-Russian Plutonium Science and Technology agreement, it has been deemed by the State Department to fall beyond the accord's parameters.
Begun as an effort to codify regulation, licensing and transparency for the plutonium disposition plan, the regulatory programme expanded, with the oversight of Kislov and Thomas, into a broader initiative. That initiative is to give GAN the legal underpinnings it needs to be a fully independent and effective oversight agency—a monumental task given that GAN has been marginalized and stripped of its powers by Minatom since its foundation.
The programme has brought togetherr the expertise of the NNSA, the US Nuclear Regulatory Agency, or NRC, and GAN and has, judging by the jam-packed discussions it has been holding this week in Moscow, been a roaring success.
According to a source with GAN, who asked not to be identified, the NRC and GAN have translated the NRC's two-step set of guidelines for licensing a nuclear facility. The first, called a construction authorisation request—known in industry acronym as CAR—is submitted to the NRC. The NRC then reviews the CAR documentation and either gives the nod to the project, or returns it to the contractor with so-called open items, or unresolved questions, via a document called a Request for Additional Information, or RAI. If all open items on the RIA are satisfied, the NRC grants the authority for construction to begin. If not, more RAIs are sent to the contractor.
GAN—which has previously used only a one step process wherein construction applications are simply accepted or rejected, often under political pressure—will be adopting the NRC’s regulatory practice, the GAN source said.
But at this week's meetings, it is not only GAN that has been asking questions. The NRC has come to Russian nuclear experts with its own inquires as well. A Tuesday discussion led by Yevgeny Nazin of the Moscow's Defence University for Radiological and Biochemical Research and Gennady Yegorov of the Electro-chemical department of the Russian Academy of Sciences, addressed the issue of chemical safety and accidents at nuclear installations—particularly a 1993 explosion that occurred in Tomsk—a field in which the NRC has little experience.
During this accident, a tank containing a blend of paraffin and tributyl phosphate exploded, resulting in the release of uranium, plutonium, niobium, zirconium and ruthenium. The solution contained 8773 kilograms of uranium and 310 kilograms of plutonium. The explosion was so violent that the walls on two floors of the building collapsed. A fire broke out on the roof after the electrical system shorted. The release from the tank was estimated to be 4.3 TBq of long-lived isotopes. Gamma radiation 20 times higher than the norm was measured in the area that received the most fallout, northwest of the installation.
"The NRC asked more questions that anything else," said the GAN official. "This programme is a genuine exchange of information, not just the United States dictating information to us."
Infighting at the DOE
According a US sources who are close to the plutonium disposition project, the success of the regulatory exchange programme has not come without the cost in inner-office friction. According to one of these sources, there has been professional jealousy toward [Sotirios] Thomas" because of the success of his programme.
Thomas has been criticised, according to the source, for spending too much money on the project. But it has so far cost only $1m in comparison to research and development projects farmed out by the DOE to US laboratories like the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and Los Alamos, which have resulted in multi-million dollar failures, said the source.
According to other US sources, Baker seems to have lost faith in the MOX programme—as his remarks in Moscow seemed to suggest—and has apparently made requests to transfer out of the programme.
One incident last year, reported by sources in Russia, hinted that the DOE's plutonium disposition office's attitude as a whole toward the MOX-only disposal scheme, as mandated by the Bush administration, has flagged.
Highly placed sources at the Mayak Chemical Combine said that a group of scientists from the United States’ Lawrence Livermore Laboratory had visited the Combine to discuss immobilization—after immobilisation had officially been taken off the plutonium disposition agenda by the White House.
Baker, who would likely have had knowledge of such a trip, refused to comment when reached by Bellona Web, and DOE public relations officials could not confirm what any of the anonymous sources had said.
Will Russia proceed on its own initiative?
So far, the State Department's Guhin has managed to raise some $800,000 toward the first stages of building Russia's MOX fabrication facility. The project is estimated to cost $2 billion. Russian officials connected with the MOX programme have indicated that, if the liability guidelines and technical exchange guidelines, as currently dictated by France's Cogema, are worked out, Moscow is ready to begin pouring cement with the money it has in the bank.
This, say experts, would be an enormous risk: Should funding dry up—and several observers including Lyman have noted Western countries are not anxious to donate to the cause—the Tomsk region will be left with an unfinished MOX fabrication facility. By the guidelines of the 2000 Plutonium Management and Disposition agreement, however, the Russians could not begin construction of their plant until the US side began its plant at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.
If the Russians do begin to build, and money to finish the project does not materialize, it means that either US or Russian taxpayers will have to foot the bill for its completion, or both countries will be left with abandoned construction sites.
The Russian government will soon submit the recently signed Multilateral Nuclear Environmental Programme in the Russian Federation, or MNEPR, agreement to the Russian State Duma for ratification, a move that many Duma deputies and European governments are applauding as a step toward greater transparency and speed in internationally financed nuclear cleanup and dismantlement programmes in Russia.
According to a spokesman for the Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration, who spoke to Bellona Web in a telephone interview on Thursday, the government will be sending the bill for MNEPR’s ratification to the deputies—who are now embroiled in December’s upcoming election—“in the very near future.”
He stressed that forwarding the legislation to the Duma at such a hectic time was “an indication of the [presidential] administration’s commitment to this legislation.”
“The MNEPR agreement, unlike agreements Russia uses with the United States, lifts much of the liability burden from Russia’s shoulders in nuclear dismantlement projects,” the spokesman said.
He would not comment, however, on whether or not the government push for the MNEPR ratification was a shot across the bow of US threat reduction programmes and the onerous—from Russia’s point of view—liability they place on Moscow.
“We need help from the US and the European community,” said the spokesman. “MNEPR should not exclude American programmes.”
Duma deputies interviewed by Bellona Web predicted a swift ratification of MNEPR. This contrasts sharply with the ratification of the US Cooperative Threat Reduction, or CTR, programme’s Umbrella Agreement, which was sent to the Duma for ratification in 1999 but has been collecting dust ever since.
“MNEPR makes the whole process [of signing nuclear dismantlement projects with foreign countries] much faster,” Duma Deputy Sergei Mitrokhin told Bellona Web in a telephone interview from Moscow. “It is more effective than US agreements which put too much of a liability burden on Russia.”
The Norwegian government—which was instrumental in getting MNEPR signed— reacted positively to the new developments for the agreement.
“We are very pleased to see the developments in process and hope to see the Duma ratify MNEPR,” said Eirik Bergesen, information administrator for the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a Friday telephone interview with Bellona Web.
The MNEPR Agreement
The MNEPR agreement was signed on May 21st in Stockholm by nine European countries, two pan-European organisations, and the United States. Its main goal is to provide an organisational and legal structure through which foreign nations can offer Moscow long-term assistance in submarine dismantlement and spent nuclear fuel cleanup in Northwest Russia.
MNEPR also codifies liability structures that are less stringent than the ones currently in place in CTR’s dismantlement programmes. Under CTR’s so-called Umbrella Agreement, Russia carries full responsibility for accidents, from radiation incidents to medical care for a broken leg suffered by a CTR contractor stumbling down his apartment stairs, to intentional sabotage of disarmament activities.
MNEPR’s liability structures, on the other hand, lift full liability in specific cases from Russia, and even allow for arbitration in the event of accidents occurring during bilateral nuclear dismantlement and cleanup projects—making it more popular with the Russian government. But because of MNEPR’s lighter liability structure, the United States in May signed only the MNEPR agreement and pointedly refused to sign the liability protocols, which were separated from the agreement at the US State Department’s insistence.
Whether the US will conduct any dismantlement activities in Russia under the aegis of MNEPR remains unclear. At present, it still requires Russia to accept the terms of the Umbrella Agreement on practically all US-sponsored nuclear dismantlement activities.
US State Department Tightens the Umbrella Agreement Screws
The US State Department has recently stated that each and every threat reduction programme conducted by the United States must conform to the Umbrella Agreement’s liability structures—even those programmes that do not deal with actual nuclear dismantlement.
This hard-line stance has already affected two such programmes. The first was the Nuclear Cities Initiative, or NCI, which provides former Russian weapons scientists with jobs in the civilian sector. The second was the Plutonium Science and Technology Agreement, which is a bilateral research and development programme devoted to studying surplus plutonium disposition.
Both of these programmes, which were signed in 1998, were expected to be renewed this year, but the State Department refused to do so because neither of the programmes had adopted the Umbrella Agreement’s liability structures.
The State Department would not comment on the Russian government’s intentions to send the MNEPR agreement to the Duma for ratification—which apparently suggests that the Duma is likely to delay, or pass over entirely, ratification of the Umbrella Agreement.
Raphael Della Ratta, of the Russian-American Nuclear Security Advisory Council, or RANSAC—an NGO that advises the governments of Russia and the US—said he was perplexed by the State Department’s stance, especially regarding the Plutonium Science and Technology Agreement and the NCI initiative.
“Those programmes don’t require the Umbrella Agreement-level liability protection,” he said in a telephone interview from Washington earlier this week. Della Ratta, who coordinates RANSAC’s nuclear complex conversion programme, also said it was hard to assess how the possible Duma ratification of the MNEPR agreement would affect CTR programmes.
He did say that requiring the Umbrella Agreement-level liability agreements for all US threat reduction programmes, including those run not only by CTR, but also by the Department of Energy—which controls the plutonium disposition and NCI programmes—and by the State Department, was creating an “impasse” in American threat reduction efforts in the areas he mentioned.
Alternatively, he noted that the ratification of MNEPR would “certainly facilitate European nuclear threat reduction and nuclear cleanup efforts.”
MNEPR Projects Already Underway
A number of Russian submarine dismantlement projects—most notably one launched for EUR10m last summer by Norway—are already underway as a result of the MNEPR agreement. Norway is currently dismantling two derelict Victor II class submarines, which, as nonategic submarines that never posed a nuclear threat to the United States, are not covered in CTR’s submarine dismantlement guidelines.
The United Kingdom has also committed to dismantling the Northern Fleet’s two remaining retired Oscar I class cruise missile submarines. Germany, too, has just signed on to help dismantle submarines in the Northern Fleet, though it is not yet known how many Berlin will dispose of.
In July, MNEPR signatories France, the United Kingdom and Canada pledged more than $60m combined to the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership, or NDEP, a fund held by the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, or EBRD. The activation of the NDEP fund was contingent on the signing of MNEPR. This funding is in addition to the EUR62m earmarked for NDEP’s “Nuclear Window” funding that had been sitting in the account prior to MNEPR’s signing.
The goal of the NDEP fund is environmental issues in Northwest Europe, including nuclear cleanup on the territory of the Russian Kola Peninsula—home to Russia’s Northern Fleet’s nuclear submarine fleet. After MNEPR’s signing, some EUR142m—including the contributions from France, the United Kingdom and Canada—has poured into NDEP’s coffers, all of it earmarked for NDEP “Nuclear Window” projects in Northwest Russia.
Why Does MNEPR Need Formal Ratification?
All of this begs the question: Why is Duma ratification necessary for the MNEPR agreement, especially when projects under MNEPR guidelines are already underway, and the CTR Umbrella Agreement is still the liability foundation for all US-Russian nuclear dismantlement projects?
“Ratifying MNEPR would be a formal procedure under which the agreement acquires authority—it would be made of brick,” said Mitrokhin. “Law would crawl out from under [the heel of] Minatom,” he said, using the Russian acronym for Russia’s Ministry of Atomic Energy.
Mitrokhin said that MNEPR’s structure dictates more transparency in transfers of money to Russia from European countries. Unlike many CTR programmes, which simply write a check to Russia’s Minatom to undertake a nuclear dismantlement problem, MNEPR allows for direct contracting with Russian firms and requires higher degrees of accountability than the CTR process does.
Mitrokhin pointed out as an example an alleged swindle by Minatom of $270m in US and European aid meant for security upgrades at Minatom’s dilapidated radioactive waste storage facilities. As the Duma’s budgetary watchdog, the Audit Chamber, reported, the money had been funnelled into obscure research projects with no accounting of how it had been spent.
Under some CTR arrangements, said Mitrokhin, “Minatom dictates what gets spent where, and all the while they are stealing.”
Minatom Thursday refused to comment on Mitrokhin’s allegations.
Besides Norway, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and France, the other nations that signed the MNEPR accord are Denmark, Belgium, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Finland. The European Commission and the European Atomic Energy Community also signed the accord.
3. ‘Rogue’ MOX Negotiations Possible After Expiration of 1998 Technical Agreement
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Following the expiration on July 24th of a 1998 agreement governing the US-Russian technical exchanges and cooperation on plutonium disposition—after which bilateral talks about the future of the programme have no legal basis—some nuclear regulatory officials are dumbfounded as to why a US Department of Energy MOX fuel negotiator was in Moscow for apparent talks with contractors and representatives of Russian nuclear fuel giant TVEL.
The negotiator, Brian Cowell, is a MOX fuel envoy from Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, or ORNL, which is owned by the US Department of Energy, or DOE, and does nuclear energy and materials research. His presence at Gosatomnadzor, or GAN, regulatory meetings, say Russian and American nuclear industry insiders, may indicate that plutonium disposition talks are continuing despite the expiration of the agreement that granted the US and Russia the right to hold such talks, indicating that a backdoor deal is perhaps in the works. Including and beyond July 24th, the only meetings allowed by US officials were those that concerned licensing issues, GAN and US officials said.
The majority of US and Russian officials questioned about Cowell’s presence in Moscow last week either refused to comment or denied knowledge of his visit. But Yury Kolotilov, deputy project engineer at Russia’s State Specialised Design Institute, or GSPI, which is TVEL’s engineering contractor for the MOX project, did confirm Cowell’s visit to Moscow. Kolotilov said Cowell’s visit to Moscow did not involve official discussions of plutonium disposition’s future.
The 5-year-long accord—called the Plutonium Science and Technology Agreement—was not renewed because of liability disagreements between the US Department of State and Russia’s Ministries of Foreign Affairs and of Atomic Energy. The agreement had been signed by former US Vice President Al Gore and former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.
The 1998 agreement never contained any liability structure because no construction was actually envisioned under it—only research, US-Russian technical cooperation and seminars. But now the State Department is insisting all further accords in the plutonium disposition programme follow strict liability guidelines that place practically all potential accident compensation costs on Moscow.
Plutonium Discussions Officially Put on Indefinite Hold
After the lapse of the technical agreement, both Russian and American plutonium disposition experts and negotiators were officially forbidden from discussing further research and technical projects concerning US and Russia’s bilateral agreement to each destroy 34 tonnes of plutonium that both sides have flagged as surplus to their military needs—although each country has dozens more tonnes of weapons plutonium in stockpiles.
Any such conversations or negotiations after the agreement’s termination on July 24th—the day Cowell was first seen at the meetings and on which they effectively ended—would have had no legal basis, according to sources from both sides. Cowell left Moscow, according to one knowledgeable source on Saturday, August 2nd.
The 1998 agreement, a State Department spokesman said this week, was given a strictly monitored three-month extension during which all new projects initiated under the aegis of the 1998 agreement would be “evaluated on a strict case-by-case basis.” But the spokesman would not comment on whether Cowell’s trip to Moscow had been authorised on this basis.
The GAN meetings, until July 24th, concerned the regulatory structure of the plutonium disposition programme, and US government structures—the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or NRC, and the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration, or NNSA—had sent representatives, GAN sources said in recent interviews.
Only one programme has been allowed to continue operation without special State Department and US National Security Council, or NSC, approval after the lapse of the 1998 agreement, US officials and representatives of GAN confirmed in recent interviews. This programme is a regulatory exchange project run by the DOE’s senior project manager for the GAN regulatory, licensing and infrastructure development project, Sotirios Thomas, and Andrei Kislov, head of GAN’s 3rd Directorate, or fuel cycles division.
This programme, according to Russian, European and American officials—which seeks to unite the experience of US nuclear regulators such as the NNSA and the NRC with that of Russian regulators to transform the ever marginalized GAN into a truly independent nuclear watchdog—goes beyond the scope of the plutonium disposition programme.
Who Authorised the MOX Negotiator’s Trip?
Like the rest of the US and Russian plutonium disposition teams following the July 24th expiration date, the ORNL negotiator should have had neither the support of the 1998 government-to government agreement, nor liability coverage for his journey, and no authorisation for meetings—except licensing meetings.
His arrival raised the eyebrows of many plutonium disposition insiders in Moscow and has led them to question precisely who, on the American side, authorised Cowell’s travel.
John Baker, director of the technical programme for the DOE’s plutonium disposition project, who—according to DOE officials—is typically in charge of giving the go-ahead to plutonium disposition related travel to Russia, would not return calls about who might have authorised the ORNL negotiator’s trip.
When interviewed, one Russian nuclear industry insider said that, without all of the necessary US Government approval, “we have a guy on a rogue mission.” Another source said: “There’s a loose cannon, the question is who fired the shot.”
What the purpose of this “rogue mission” was—if in fact it was one—is difficult to discern, as officials from Washington, the American Embassy in Moscow, Russia’s Ministry of Atomic Energy, known as Minatom, and TVEL, Minatom’s fuel production wing, all refused to comment, in some cases adamantly so.
Questions About Cowell’s Presence Draw Contradictory Comments
Whatever the purpose of Cowell’s journey to Moscow was, questions to relevant authorities from Bellona Web struck a nerve.
Cowell’s presence in Moscow was confirmed by himself when he was reached by Bellona Web in his hotel room in Moscow. He would not, however, discuss the reasons for his visit, saying only: “You’ll have to talk to public relations about why I am here. I’m not supposed to do that.”
Public relations, in Cowell’s case, is NNSA spokesman Brian Wilkes. Despite several calls requesting comment, Wilkes did not respond. ORNL—Cowell’s employer—likewise would not respond to numerous requests for comment.
GSPI’s Kolotilov acknowledged in a telephone interview with Bellona Web that he had spoken to Cowell while Cowell was in Moscow—but that their conversations had not concerned any official negotiations about MOX fuel or its fabrication.
The controversial MOX fuel, which is a mixture of uranium and weapons-grade plutonium oxides, is the method by which Russia and the United States will each dispose of 34 tonnes of surplus weapons-grade plutonium in parallel progress, as mandated by US congress. The new and thus far untested fuel will be burned in specially retrofitted commercial reactors, like Russia’s VVER-1000s, producing spent nuclear fuel of such intense radiation that it becomes what is called “self-protecting” and the plutonium, say MOX adherents, could not possibly be extracted for weapons use.
If the liability disagreements between the United States and Russia are smoothed out, and the project continues, Kolotilov’s GSPI will be responsible for engineering Russia’s MOX fabrication plant, the construction of which is slated to begin near the Central Siberian city of Tomsk in 2004—at the same time the US breaks ground for its MOX fabrication plant at the DOE’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina.
Kolotilov said he and Cowell had spoken at an organisational meeting—one of the many taking place under the aegis of the GAN nuclear regulatory conference after the 1998 agreement’s expiration—prepared for Duke, Cogema, Stone & Webster, or DCS, the US nuclear firm that was formed to build, in parallel manner, the MOX fuel fabrication plants in Russia and the United States.
“[Cowell] came under the aegis of the 1998 agreement,” said Kolotilov in a telephone interview from Moscow. “He was there because the working agreement had expired and he was wrapping things up.” Kolotilov did not elaborate on what business relative to the agreement Cowell was concluding, but said he and Cowell had not had any official discussions about the future of the MOX fabrication plant, MOX fuel, or its engineering.
For Others, Cowell a Ghost at the Meetings
According to the sources interviewed by Bellona Web, Cowell also spoke with TVEL representatives while in Moscow. Despite repeated telephoned, e-mailed and faxed requests, TVEL would not answer any questions at all about Cowell’s alleged conversations with their representatives.
But one Russian nuclear industry official who said she was at the meetings Cowell was said to have attended denied seeing the ORNL negotiator there when questioned directly about his presence.
Officials with DCS referred inquiries to one of their representatives, Peter Hastings, who was in Moscow while Cowell was there. Hastings said he would not disclose who he had—or had not—seen at the meetings. Because the GAN-hosted meetings were sponsored by DOE funding, however, Bellona Web plans to file a Freedom of Information Act inquiry with the US government to obtain a full list of attendees.
Andrew Bienawski, director of the US Embassy’s DOE office in Moscow, and its Deputy Director Nick Carleson—both of whom would presumably have been apprised of Cowell’s presence and marching orders—offered no comment. Bienawski was away on vacation, but Carleson, when reached on his cell phone by Bellona Web, made no attempt to conceal his irritation.
“I have been instructed not to talk to the press at all,” he responded curtly before cutting the connection. It is not known if Carleson attended meetings Cowell was said to have attended or what knowledge he had of Cowell’s business.
Viktor Pshenin, a high-ranking TVEL official, also became cross when directly questioned about Cowell’s presence and doings in Moscow. “I have nothing to say to you. I cannot help you at all,” he said before slamming down his telephone receiver.
The disparity in tone and information offered by officials’ comments raises the obvious question: If the ORNL negotiator’s presence in Moscow was legitimate within the terms of current international agreements—as GSPI’s Kolotilov implied—then why won’t these officials simply say so?
Will the MOX Programme Continue?
At present, the Russian plutonium disposition programme is far behind the American one, and it is a widely held belief in the corridors of GAN and Minatom that Russia’s role in the project will never get beyond the talking stage.
For one, technical and licensing plans for the Russian MOX programme are, at best, at a preliminary point and will take several more months, if not years, to codify. Furthermore, funding for Russia’s MOX fabrication facility—estimates for which have grown from $.1.7 billion in 2001 to $2.1 billion to $2.7 billion this year—has not been secured from either the US or the Group of Eight industrialised nations, or G-8. The most recent failure to secure these funds came at the Evian, France, G-8 summit held in June.
The US State Department let the 1998 deal run out over concerns that the accord had no liability language. The State Department insisted a full extension of the agreement fall under the so-called “umbrella agreement,” which governs legal accountability for the Pentagon-run Cooperative Threat Reduction, or CTR, programmes—and which the State Department views as bedrock to any threat reduction programme authorisation with Russia.
Liability Negotiations at Loggerheads
The “umbrella agreement” places nearly all liability for any accidents that take place during US-funded nuclear dismantlement and cleanup efforts in Russia on Moscow. This is a position that the US Department of State apparently will not compromise on, but that Russia finds unacceptable—especially given the May signing in Stockholm of the Multilateral Nuclear Environmental Programme in the Russian Federation, or MNEPR.
The MNEPR agreement provides more latitude for Russia on liability issues when entering into bilateral nuclear disarmament and cleanup projects with other—particularly, European—nations. A Minatom spokesman in a recent interview said that the Russian side would prefer future liability agreements with the United States to be modelled on MNEPR’s liability policies.
But this would be an unlikely concession from the United States: Although Washington is a signatory of the MNEPR accord, it refused to sign MNEPR’s liability protocol, which, at US insistence, was separated from the main text of the agreement. According to the State Department spokesman, that position has not softened.
The 2000 Plutonium Disposition Agreement a Possible Way Out?
The Plutonium Management and Disposition agreement—a later accord signed by former US President Bill Clinton and Russian President Vladimir Putin, in 2000—does make reference to actual destruction of plutonium and contains provisions for facility construction. But the agreement was vague on issues of liability and put off their resolution until a future date.
According to some US experts, the administration of US President George Bush will try to keep the MOX programme chugging along by plugging the liability hole in the 2000 accord with the umbrella agreement.
But it is dubious that the Russians would agree to such conditions.
Russian Parliament, or the State Duma, for its part, has never ratified the umbrella agreement, and it is unlikely that the corresponding bill will cross its radar screen any time soon with December Duma elections looming.
With the MNEPR structure on the table as a liability model, plus the Russians’ known difficulties keeping pace with US MOX developments, the prospect of the umbrella agreement’s ratification by the Russians is even less plausible, thus grinding the MOX programme—at least officially, and in the absence of “rogue missions”—to a halt.
1. U.S. Fears “Manipulation” of Russian Legal System in Joint Nuclear Security Efforts
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WASHINGTON — “Manipulation” of the Russian legal system is among the factors behind a U.S.-Russian standoff over liability provisions in agreements on securing nuclear material in Russia, a top U.S. nuclear security official said yesterday (see GSN, Sept. 22, 2003).
The United States and Russia are stalemated over the scope of the liability exemption U.S. officials and contractors should receive while conducting U.S.-Russian programs to secure Russian nuclear materials and technology. Concerned about the possibility of Russian prosecution of the U.S. officials and contractors, Washington is seeking total U.S. exemption from liability.
“The Russian legal system is not yet free from manipulation,” National Nuclear Security Administration head Linton Brooks said yesterday when asked about the dispute. In a rare discussion with reporters, Brooks cited a friend imprisoned in Russia for “normal reporting” and the bankruptcy scandal around the oil and gas company Yukos, in which the company today alleged “a form of blackmail by tax authorities.”
The United States is seeking to impose liability language such as that found in the 1992 cooperative threat reduction “umbrella agreement” ― which, unlike related texts, contains no exception to liability exemption in case of a deliberate act such as sabotage ― as the standard in all such agreements. Summing up the U.S. position yesterday, Brooks said, “The Russian Federation should provide indemnity against liability resulting from accidents and problems [that extends to] deliberate acts of individuals.”
The key question behind U.S. concerns, according to one U.S. official familiar with the situation, is, “What’s a premeditated act?”
“If something goes wrong, the Russians can say, ‘That was a premeditated act.’ … The Russians have this exception, and if something goes wrong ― you know, someone could say Chernobyl was a deliberate act,” the official said.
The two officials’ remarks echoed comments last month by Brooks’ deputy for nonproliferation, Paul Longsworth, who told a Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars gathering that NNSA is concerned about the integrity of the Russian legal system. “We don’t want to subject our companies to that,” said Longsworth.
The liability dispute last year allowed two 1998 agreements governing nuclear cleanup activities to lapse: the Nuclear Cities Initiative agreement and the Plutonium Science and Technology agreement. Both agreements stipulate that U.S. officials and contractors are not exempt from liability for damages and injuries arising from premeditated acts (see GSN, July 25, 2003). Washington and Moscow have agreed to continue existing projects under the Nuclear Cities Initiative agreement, but no new projects can be started (see GSN, Sept. 19, 2003).
The United States allowed the two agreements to expire, said Brooks, because “we were unwilling to suggest to the Russians that we were prepared to back off this important position of principle.” Brooks expressed hope that a replacement for the NCI agreement can be reached “soon,” based on some resolution of the liability dispute.
In a Dec. 2 interview for the Arms Control Association publication Arms Control Today, released today, Brooks said “soon” in the context of the liability talks with Russia means a “single-digit number of months.” He added in the same interview that claims that the Bush administration is using liability as an excuse to end programs already targeted for termination are “nonsense, just absolutely nonsense.”
“Once solved,” Brooks told Arms Control Today, “we will revive, if you will, the Nuclear Cities agreement. It will be formally a new agreement, but it will be the same Nuclear Cities program, with liability solved. Once it’s resolved, we will continue plutonium disposition. So what you’re seeing is the clash of competing values. We want the programs to go forward. We want adequate liability protection. Particular agreements turned out to be the ones that happened to expire in 2003.”
Dispute Holding Up Plutonium Disposition Facility Construction
A “more serious” situation, Brooks said yesterday, involves the 2000 Plutonium Management and Disposition agreement, which contains no liability provisions at all. The 2000 agreement was to have provided the basis for design and construction of plutonium disposition facilities first explored under the aegis of the 1998 Plutonium Science and Technology agreement.
Brooks said yesterday that it would be “impossible” to build a Russian plutonium disposition facility unless liability was worked out under the 2000 text. He expressed hope that an agreement can be reached “soon” but voiced resignation that “a little bit of patience” is often necessary when dealing with Russia.
The 2000 agreement was reached with the understanding on both sides that a liability protocol would be worked out later, but U.S.-Russian differences over liability have so far prevented agreement on such a protocol.
“The 2000 agreement is not finished in the sense that there needs to be a liability protocol before it’s done. … Here we are down to the point where we want to start the basic design work for the industrial facilities, and the relevant agreement … is not finished yet,” said the U.S. official familiar with the situation.
2. Russian Council Approves Multilateral Nuclear Cleanup Agreement
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WASHINGTON — The upper house of the Russian Federal Assembly last week approved the Framework Agreement on a Multilateral Nuclear Program in the Russian Federation, a measure that will govern international efforts to clean up dangerous nuclear materials in northwestern Russia (see GSN, Dec. 1).
The Federal Council’s approval of the agreement follows a similar action late last month by the assembly’s lower house, the State Duma, and leaves President Vladimir Putin’s signature as the last step required before Russia can bring MNEPR into force by depositing its instrument of ratification with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Patrick Reyners, head of legal affairs at the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency, said the “formality” of the president’s signature is expected to come quickly. He called Russian ratification of the agreement “a very strong encouragement for the other countries.”
“The Russians have acted remarkably quickly. Truly, this has been almost a record for speed in ratifying an international agreement,” said Reyners by telephone from Paris.
Meanwhile, the donors and Russia are working out the details of a side letter to the accord that would provide for tax exemption for MNEPR parties engaged in cleanup projects in Russia (see GSN, Oct. 27). There is some disagreement, however, over how much progress has been made on the letter. Reyners said talks are “in the absolute home stretch” and that a solution acceptable to all parties could come this week, while U.S. State Department negotiator Jeff Miller was more cautious.
“We’ve been discussing this issue, and we’d like to resolve it ― we being the donors and, I’m quite sure, the Russians. If that can happen this week, that would be great. It just depends on the outcome of all donor reviews and then communicating our response to the Russians,” said Miller, a senior negotiator on nuclear safety in the department’s Nonproliferation Bureau.
“The NEA is obviously being optimistic, and I’m not going to say I share their optimism,” he added.
U.S.-Russian Liability Dispute Continues
Experts have said Russian ratification of MNEPR could signal a hard line by Moscow on a broad U.S.-Russian dispute over how to assign liability for damages and injuries resulting from activities carried out under such agreements.
At issue is whether Russia should be shielded from liability in case of a premeditated attack causing damages or injuries. The United States has been seeking to impose the language of the 1992 Cooperative Threat Reduction umbrella agreement, which could leave Russia liable in such an attack, as a standard for all such texts. MNEPR liability provisions include the exemption and were drawn up in a separate protocol that was signed by all parties except the United States.
The dispute has led to the termination of two U.S.-Russian threat reduction accords.
3. U.S. Lawmakers Urge White House to Resolve Threat Reduction Liability Dispute with Russia
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WASHINGTON — U.S. lawmakers last week called on the Bush administration to resolve an ongoing dispute with Russia over liability protections in nuclear nonproliferation agreements (see GSN, Oct. 17).
In a provision to the fiscal 2004 energy appropriations conference report, House and Senate negotiators said they were “greatly concerned with the continued impasse” in the negotiations between the United States and Russia over liability protections, which are intended to protect workers involved in cooperative threat reduction efforts. The impasse led the Bush administration to allow two nuclear nonproliferation projects — the Plutonium Disposition Scientific and Technical Cooperation Agreement (see GSN, July 25) and the Nuclear Cities Initiative (see GSN, Sept. 19) — to expire recently.
“The conferees urge a speedy resolution to the liability negotiations,” the report says.
Kenneth Luongo, executive director of the Russian-American Nuclear Security Advisory Council, yesterday praised lawmakers for urging a speedy resolution to the liability dispute.
“The Congress now has clearly stated that the protracted wrangling over liability issues threatens the success of U.S.- Russian nonproliferation engagement. The Administration may find it hard to ignore such a pointed bipartisan message from key legislators,” Luongo said in a press statement.
Last week, U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said the United States and Russia were moving to resolve the disagreement.
“[Russian Atomic Energy] Minister [Alexander] Rumyantsev suggested this summer that we get the legal teams together, and we’ve already had one such meeting. I think it was a positive meeting that hopefully can help lead to resolving these legal issues in terms of interpretation and issues of that sort. We’re obviously each putting a great deal of emphasis on the program,” he said in a Nov. 6 press briefing.
WASHINGTON — The Framework Agreement on a Multilateral Nuclear Environmental Program in the Russian Federation (MNEPR) appears to have been submitted to the Russian Duma as it hurries through its legislative agenda ahead of December elections, meaning the agreement could enter into force within months, the lead international official for the program said today (see GSN, Oct. 17).
Patrick Reyners, head of legal affairs at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Nuclear Energy Agency, said in a telephone interview from Paris that he “understood” at a meeting last week of MNEPR parties that the agreement was in the hands of the Duma. He added, though, that the legal processes of ratification in Russia are not entirely clear and that the Duma may not technically have received the agreement yet.
In any case, Reyners said, “The information we received from the Russian side is encouraging.”
“It’s safe to say they’re going to be submitted [to the Duma] in the near term,” U.S. State Department negotiator Jeff Miller said of the framework agreement and related documents.
MNEPR, under which the United States and European countries are to help secure dangerous nuclear materials in northwestern Russia, would enter into force if Russia deposited its instrument of ratification with the OECD. Sweden and Norway have already ratified the agreement, which was signed in May in Stockholm, and Reyners said “several other countries are very advanced in their ratification processes.” Entry into force requires ratification by Russia and any other signatory.
Last week’s one-day meeting in Moscow was the first meeting of parties since the agreement was signed in May. Reyners and Miller said the parties mainly established principles and procedures for the panel’s future work, as well as conducting an initial review of the first projects under the program.
Miller said Germany announced it is committing more than $350 million to dismantle nuclear submarines, something Norway is already doing in a separate MNEPR project.
A main subject of discussion for the group, according to Miller and Reyners, was a “side letter” from Russia to the other countries on tax exemption for parties as they implement MNEPR projects in Russia. Miller said progress was made on the matter and that the group is close to agreement on how to handle the exemption.
On another matter, a U.S.-Russian dispute over liability protections in threat reduction agreements such as MNEPR, there was no action, Reyners and Miller said.
The United States, seeking to protect its officials and contractors from legal liability in case of damages and injuries resulting from threat reduction activities in Russia, has been pushing for the acceptance of liability language such as that found in the 1992 Cooperative Threat Reduction umbrella agreement as a standard for all such agreements. The umbrella agreement, unlike some related texts, lacks language to exempt Russia from liability in case of a premeditated attack.
The dispute has led to the termination of two U.S.-Russian accords in recent months and caused liability provisions for MNEPR to be drawn up in a separate protocol to the main agreement, which was signed by all parties but the United States and contains language favored by Russia. Some observers have said Russian ratification of MNEPR could signal a hard Russian line on the question and even presage a renegotiation of the umbrella agreement, which Russia has never ratified.
At last week’s meeting, said Miller, the United States presented “our normal statement that we give, which is once we get a liability arrangement in place, then we will be able to move forward in implementing projects.”
“There is a dialogue,” he said, “and … the Russian Federation made reference to our dialogue during the meeting.”
“Nothing happened. There is nothing to say,” said Reyners of the liability question. The next MNEPR meeting is expected around May.
5. U.S.-Russian Liability Dispute Could Bode Ill for Threat Reduction Programs
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As a key U.S.-Russian measure to reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation expires today, observers are concerned the thorny legal questions that sank the agreement could have broader repercussions, ultimately increasing the risk that Russian nuclear technology, materials or know-how could fall into the wrong hands.
Washington is refusing to renew the Nuclear Cities Initiative agreement, which expires today, because of concerns that liability language in the agreement is inadequate to protect U.S. officials or workers in case of injuries or damages arising from activities carried out under the initiative. The move follows the related expiration in July of the Plutonium Science and Technology agreement, another U.S.-Russian threat reduction measure (see GSN, July 25).
NCI is a vehicle for the United States to help Russia decrease activity at nuclear weapon sites, converting some of them to other uses. The U.S. Energy Department has described the program on its Web site as “the only U.S. government program whose primary aim is to help downsize the Russian nuclear weapons complex.”
Sixty-nine NCI projects will continue until completion, despite the end of the pact itself, under an agreement signed Friday in Moscow by U.S. and Russian energy officials (see GSN, Sept. 19). No new projects envisioned by the initiative will begin, though, and U.S. officials expressed concern that the liability dispute could drag on, ultimately affecting Washington’s ability to reduce the Russian proliferation threat.
“It’s significant,” a U.S. official said of the liability dispute, “but you won’t see the effects in NCI. … If we don’t resolve the liability, you will begin to see the impacts at some time.”
The NCI agreement and the Plutonium Science and Technology agreement, both reached in 1998, stipulate broad liability exemption for Moscow, including in cases of “premeditated” actions causing damage or injury. The United States is seeking to have a tougher approach — such as the one taken in the 1992 Cooperative Threat Reduction “umbrella agreement,” which does not protect Russia against liability for premeditated acts — accepted as a standard for threat reduction texts.
The dispute is relevant not only to bilateral measures such as NCI but also to the Group of Eight’s Global Partnership for nonproliferation, an ambitious multilateral counterproliferation program launched in June of last year at a G-8 summit in Canada (see GSN, June 6).
U.S. officials have said G-8 countries generally favored umbrella agreement-style liability protections when they launched the Global Partnership last year. Deeming its position to be bolstered by the G-8 agreement, Washington has been pushing for ratification this year by the Russian Duma of the CTR umbrella agreement, an event that could presage the acceptance of U.S.-sought protections as a template for liability language in threat reduction texts.
A U.S. official said today that President George W. Bush’s administration expects the Duma eventually to ratify the umbrella agreement and that the NCI agreement is no longer a priority for the United States. According to another U.S. official, NCI’s demise is of relatively little significance because of Friday’s extension of ongoing projects under the initiative and the existence of various other mechanisms for advancing the same nonproliferation goals.
Democratic members of Congress and nongovernmental organizations have nevertheless opposed terminating both 1998 agreements. In a statement issued in July as it became clear that the agreements would expire, Russian American Nuclear Security Advisory Council Executive Director Kenneth Luongo said that “allowing these agreements to expire is wrong and unnecessary at this time” and “sends a terrible signal about the importance of securing the largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction on Earth as rapidly as possible.”
At a PIR Center-Carnegie Endowment for International Peace nonproliferation conference over the weekend in Moscow, U.S. and Russian participants disagreed over how best to address the liability impasse.
Russian Ambassador-at-large Anatoly Antonov said the United States has been unwilling to compromise, seeking simply to impose U.S.-style legal standards on the international stage. Citing the possibility of an al-Qaeda strike on a Russian nuclear facility, Antonov criticized the United States for seeking to make Russia liable for the results of premeditated acts.
“Why should Russia be held liable for something somebody else did intentionally?” Antonov asked.
Carnegie Endowment Senior Associate Rose Gottemoeller, a former nonproliferation official in the U.S. Energy Department, said there is “good reason to be looking at some new and innovative approaches to tackling the liability problem.”
Gottemoeller added, though, that the Duma should “release the steam” that has built up over the dispute by ratifying both the CTR umbrella agreement and the Multilateral Nuclear Environmental Program for Russia, signed in May of this year by Russia, European Union countries and the United States (see GSN, May 22). A U.S. official today said the Duma has made MNEPR its priority and is unlikely to ratify the CTR umbrella agreement soon.
Center for Nonproliferation Studies Washington Director Leonard Spector, a former assistant deputy administrator in the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration, called for an international pooling of resources to pay any liability claims under the threat reduction agreements.
Spector, who along with the Fridtjof Nansen Institute’s Douglas Brubaker has published an article in the Monterey Institute’s Nonproliferation Review supporting reform of U.S.-Russian liability arrangements, said asking Russia to accept liability is illogical, since the existence of the threat reduction agreements presupposes financial need on Moscow’s part.
Both Antonov and Natalya Kalinina, an assistant to Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, said that, because of stumbling blocks such as the liability dispute, the West is not making good on its Global Partnership promise of increased nonproliferation aid to Russia. “Realistically, funding has not begun for many of the projects,” Kalinina said.
1. U.S.-Russian Plan to Destroy Atom-Arms Plutonium Is Delayed
New York Times
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 8 — A project to destroy the plutonium from thousands of retired Russian and American nuclear weapons has been delayed, and some experts say they fear that the work may never be done.
The plan was to have both countries build factories that could mix uranium with plutonium, the material at the heart of nuclear bombs, to be burned as fuel for civilian reactors. It was conceived in the mid-1990's at a time of intense concern over the security of weapons materials in the former Soviet Union; Russia agreed to it in 2000.
The point was to ensure that weapons being disassembled by mutual agreement would never be rebuilt, and that the weapons plutonium, the hardest part of a nuclear bomb to make, could not be sold or stolen.
But the Bush administration's budget plan for the Energy Department, released last week, said groundbreaking for a conversion factory planned for South Carolina had been delayed from July of this year until May 2005.
The immediate reason is that the United States and Russia are deadlocked on the liability rules for American workers and contractors that would help build the plant in Russia, and the United States will not break ground first. Each plant is to dispose of about 34 tons of weapons plutonium.
Administration officials want to use terms written for early nuclear agreements that protect American contractors from almost all liability in case of accidents involving the release of radioactive material; the Russians have refused those terms.
But another problem is that after years of effort, Western nations have not raised the approximately $2 billion that the Russians say they need to build and operate their conversion plant. The British said recently that they were withholding any pledge until the liability issue was resolved.
In 1997, when President Bill Clinton's energy secretary, Hazel R. O'Leary, announced that the United States would rid itself of weapons plutonium, she said burning it as fuel in civilian reactors might begin by 2002. But even before the delay made clear in the Bush budget, the American plant, estimated to cost nearly $4 billion, was expected to begin producing fuel only in 2008. The Energy Department's eventual plan is to pay the Duke Power company to use the plutonium in its reactors.
The issue is particularly delicate in South Carolina, because the Energy Department has already been shipping plutonium from its other weapons factories to its Savannah River Site, near Aiken.
In 2002, South Carolina sued the Energy Department in an unsuccessful effort to prevent shipments. The governor at the time, Jim Hodges, said he wanted a binding agreement that the weapons plutonium would be disposed of elsewhere if the plant was not built. The new delay, Mr. Hodges said, "leads me to believe there's no serious commitment from the Bush administration."
But administration officials say the plan is alive. "I'm absolutely confident we're going to resolve this," said Linton F. Brooks, the under secretary of energy for nuclear security. But he could not say when. "Nobody who tells you he can predict how long it will take is worth listening to," he said.
He described the impasse on liability as "a speed bump as opposed to a death blow." The money, he said, would follow quickly once an agreement on that issue was reached.
But a State Department official acknowledged that "between the liability and details of financing, there's a lot of things to iron out."
Some environmentalists oppose turning weapons plutonium into reactor fuel. Dr. Ed Lyman, a senior nuclear physicist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, has argued that a reactor accident would be more serious if the fuel was a plutonium mix rather than simply uranium, because the fuel's constituents are more dangerous if released.
A Greenpeace nuclear expert, Tom Clements, said the plan would leave Russia with a factory that — after the weapons plutonium is processed — could turn additional plutonium into reactor fuel, encouraging the creation and circulation of material that could be diverted into weapons production, or be stolen by a terrorist or militant group.
In Europe, some plutonium is recovered from spent fuel for reuse, and the Russians would like to do the same. In contrast, the Energy Department plans to bury American spent fuel, including the plutonium.
The plan for the South Carolina factory also faces its own hurdles.
The consortium of contractors the Energy Department chose to build it — an affiliate of the Duke Power company; the Stone and Webster engineering firm; and Cogema, a French nuclear company — proposed to meet the limits for radiation releases at the plant by pushing the measurement boundary about five miles from the factory.
The Energy Department insisted that the boundary be the factory site perimeter, requiring changes to the safety analysis the consortium must submit to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to win a license.
October 21 Moscow hosted the first meeting of the Multilateral Nuclear Environmental Program (MNEPR) Committee attended by more than 40 officials from the participating countries – Russia, Belgium, the Great Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, the USA, Finland, France, Germany, Sweden, the European Commission, OECD/Euratom and observers from Canada and EBRD. The meeting appointed the official representatives to the Committee from the participating countries and two co-chairpersons: Deputy Minister of the Russian Federation of Atomic Energy Sergei Antipov – from Russia and Deputy Director of the International Law Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sweden Anders Nystrom – from the western participants. As Deputy Minister Antipov said to Nuclear.Ru, the meeting had discussed the progress of the MNEPR Agreement implementation, particularly, its ratification process in the participating countries. Some countries – Norway and Sweden – have already ratified it, while others do not require this process – the Great Britain, Denmark and the European Commission. Russia has submitted the Agreement package to the State Duma. Belgium and France intend to ratify the Agreement but the process has not started yet. Finland holds interagency consultations on the matter.
The meeting attendees also discussed the status of additional legal and regulatory basis necessary for effective functioning of the MNEPR Agreement. Antipov said there were bilateral agreements with several countries already in place (Germany) while negotiations and consultations were carried out with the others. The participating countries’ officials familiarized the Committee with the activities underway in the frames of MNEPR. In particular, Norway signed contracts for disposition of two nuclear submarines. Four contracts were signed and being executed under AMEC program (Arctic Military Environmental Cooperation) participated by the USA, Norway, the Great Britain and Russia. Besides, contracts with the Great Britain and Germany are at the preparatory stage. The meeting also discussed the tax-exempt issue. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of taxation and the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation have prepared and presented a draft diplomatic note, which describes in detail the tax exempt mechanisms for the MNEPR participants. According to Antipov, all Committee members agreed with the Russia-proposed approach after clarifications on certain points had been made.
The Deputy Minister also said that the civil liability protocol had been signed by all MNEPR participating countries but the USA. This issue was not discussed by the meeting since being a solely bilateral matter its is discussed by legal experts of the two countries. “The USA is not happy with the MNEPR language on civil liability, therefore we are seeking for a compromise between the US and Russia positions”, the deputy Minister said. He reminded that in 1992 Russia and the USA signed the cooperative threat reduction agreement (CTR) dealing with the elimination of missiles, heavy bombers and strategic nuclear submarines. According to this agreement Russia in any case and without exclusion takes on the responsibility and covers all damages including that of third countries. “The US insists that Russia will continue being responsible under such formula but we cannot afford it today”, Antipov said noting that in 1992 such decision was made basing on the political situation of Russia at that time. “Now we are seeking for a language with disclaimers like: we are ready to compensate the damage but only that done indeliberately”, Antipov said. He also said that the next meeting of the MNEPR Agreement Committee will be held in May-June 2004 in Berlin.
2. Minatom of Russia and U.S. DOE to continue NCI cooperation
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The Minatom of Russia and the U.S. DOE are to continue 69 projects under the Nuclear Cities Initiative. It was stated in Moscow, September 19, by Alexander Rumyantsev and Spencer Abraham who attended the signing ceremony of a protocol between Igor Borovkov, First Deputy Minister of Minatom and Paul Longsworth, Deputy Administrator of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation of the National Nuclear Security Administration. The government-to-government agreement that created the NCI was signed on September 22, 1998 for a five-year period comprising more than 200 projects. In July 2003, Secretary Abraham informed A. Rumyantsev that the U.S. would not be able to renew the NCI agreement until the Russian government approves legal provisions intended to provide the broad liability protection of American workers and companies working on projects in Russia.
However, considering the positive experience of the cooperation under the NCI program, a Joint Steering Committee met in Moscow decided to continue existing work on 69 projects. Speaking at the protocol signing ceremony A. Rumyantsev noted: “We are summarizing here a very important work that has been done through 5 years. Nuclear cities cooperation is an extremely sensitive sphere. Still we managed to find a way to make it mutually profitable and showing good results.” Secretary Abraham reaffirmed his support to continue the NCI program and identify new fulfillment mechanisms. “I recognize that it serves a vital nonproliferation goal by assisting in the transition of Russian nuclear scientists and engineers to non-defense, commercial efforts,” he said.
Spencer Abraham also stressed, among others, the tangible success of a joint partnership with Sarov on the establishment of a new company with over US$ 1.5 million in a outstanding sales. Another partnership is with the city of Zheleznogorsk where work moves toward completion of a workforce restructuring plan that will create jobs for up to 6,000 displaced weapons workers and scientists. Secretary Abraham announced funding for a new project, the creation of a US$ 9 million medical imaging centre in Snezhinsk. The project will be carried on with participation of VNIITF, Minatom of Russia, Chelyabinsk Regional Administration, Chelyabinsk region Oncology Centre, West Louisiana Biomedical Research Foundation and Lawrence Livermore National Lab.
1. U.S. Worries About Influence Of Russian Security Services
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WASHINGTON -- The United States is concerned about the growing influence of security services in Russia, which has complicated cooperative programs designed to keep nuclear materials from extremists, a senior U.S. official said Tuesday.
Linton Brooks, undersecretary of energy for national security, said legal liability issues over possible accidents have also interfered with U.S. programs to secure and eliminate Russia's vast store of Cold War nuclear materials.
But at a briefing for reporters, Brooks, who also heads the National Nuclear Security Administration, said his agency was working around the roadblocks with Russia as it accelerated post-Sept. 11, 2001, efforts there and elsewhere to guard against nuclear "terrorism."
The Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration was created three years ago to reduce threats to U.S. national security by closing or redesigning foreign plants making nuclear bomb fuel and improving security at decrepit and porous nuclear facilities, among other steps.
Much of the nonproliferation work involves Russia, which along with the United States is the major source of the fissile material that is the fuel for nuclear bombs.
While Washington has worked with Moscow on the nuclear issue since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s, Brooks said access to Russian sites remains a problem.
"There is no secret that many of us in the United States are worried by what we see is the growing influence of security services in the Russian Federation," he said.
Conservative by nature, these services create "pressures ... to give greater emphasis to denying access in the name of security than to facilitating access in the name of cooperation," he said.
While this is a "real problem ... we are finding creative ways to meet Russian concerns," he said.
Brooks also said the United States wants to bring highly enriched uranium to Russia for safekeeping and convert reactors to low-enriched uranium that is unusable in weapons but this hinges on negotiations with other countries and a Russian environmental review.
1. Russia and US Continue Nuclear Cities Initiative
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The Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy and the U.S. Department of Energy are going to continue the implementation of 69 projects within the Nuclear Cities Initiative, heads of the two departments Alexander Rumiantsev and Spenser Abraham said at a joint press conference Friday.
The inter-governmental agreement on the Nuclear Cities Initiative was signed in 1998 for five years and expired this year. Although it was decided not to prolong the agreement, the parties agreed to accomplish several projects that have already been launched.
Among them is the establishment of a cancer diagnostics centre in Snezhinsk (Chelyabinsk Region, the Urals) worth $9 million.
According to Abraham, the U.S. is planning to continue assistance to Russia's closed nuclear cities.
Under the 1998 agreement, the U.S. planned to allot $80 million for projects in those cities. Only $14 million has been spent so far, and projects worth $26 million are at the development stage.
1. Russia's Nuclear Cities: Swords-To-Plowshares Program Suffers Meltdown
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The United States has pulled the plug on a controversial program to help steer Russian weapons scientists into civilian work. Last month the U.S. government quietly opted not to renew a 5-year agreement with Russia on the Nuclear Cities Initiative (NCI), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) effort that has channeled $87 million into business development at three once-secret cities devoted to nuclear weapons R&D.
Negotiations broke down last month after Russia failed to grant U.S. contractors blanket immunity from legal claims if something were to go awry during an NCI project. Although comprehensive liability provisions are a standard feature of other U.S. nonproliferation programs aimed at helping Russia secure its nuclear stockpile, a recent agreement on similar projects between Russia and several European countries features a shared liability approach. The Russian and U.S. governments "have a disagreement," says NCI director Paul Longsworth. "The U.S. had to draw a line in the sand."
Some analysts, however, contend that by letting the agreement lapse, the Bush Administration has signaled its intention to kill NCI. "The Administration's inflexibility on the liability issue demonstrates an unwillingness to try to preserve the NCI program," says J. Raphael Della Ratta of the Russian American Nuclear Security Advisory Council, a think tank based in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Alexander Pikayev of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Moscow agrees. A senior DOE delegation in Moscow late last month, he says, "seemed to be almost celebrating [NCI's] demise."
Figure 1NCI has been dogged by criticism for much of its 5-year life. In May 2001, the U.S. General Accounting Office rebuked NCI management after determining that 70% of the initiative's funds were being spent in the United States. It also accused NCI of creating too few jobs or sustainable commercial ventures in the nuclear R&D cities of Sarov, Snezhinsk, and Zheleznogorsk. Russia's Ministry of Atomic Energy echoed those concerns, and members of the U.S. Congress called for the program's termination.
In response, NCI officials pushed harder at business and job creation--efforts that seemed to be paying off. A computing center and other new facilities in Sarov "have opened up new job possibilities," says Vitaly Dubinin, deputy director of the All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Experimental Physics in Sarov. And U.S. Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA), an erstwhile NCI critic, is now a convert. "We need to keep our focus on the nuclear cities," he told Science. "The NCI should be renewed."
Longsworth says that all 69 NCI programs now under way will continue, including a $9 million cancer diagnostic center in Snezhinsk that Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham approved on 19 September--3 days before the agreement lapsed. But no new projects will be funded. Longsworth says it's still possible that a compromise over liability provisions could be reached. Other possibilities, he says, include fusing some NCI components with other DOE efforts, such as the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention, or integrating it into the G8's $20 billion Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, which would allow other nations to share the burden of finding more peaceful pastimes for Russia's nuclear elite.
Paul Webster is a freelance writer based in Toronto.
1. Russian bomb makers to have idle hands - U.S. cancels program designed to send scientists into alternate fields
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As the Bush administration touts its success in securing Russia's gargantuan nuclear weapons complex, it also has chosen not to renew the only U.S. program aimed at turning Russian nuclear weapons scientists and factories to nondefense work.
Administration officials complain that the $20 million-a-year Nuclear Cities Initiative didn't give enough protection to U.S. firms against liability for premeditated acts.
U.S. Energy Department and Russian Minatom officials recently agreed that 69 projects will run until their completion, employing weapons workers at making artificial limbs, oil and gas instruments and medical imaging machines for sale abroad, in lieu of putting their weapons skills on the black market.
But the U.S. decision to let the program expire last week means no new projects will be started. And the administration let a companion program to research disposal of excess U.S. and Russian plutonium to expire in July.
"What they allowed to happen is (let) a dispute between lawyers derail a national security program," said Jon Wolfsthal, a former DOE nonproliferation official who negotiated the agreement during the Clinton administration. "It's like letting the engine drop out of your car because you didn't want to pay the price the mechanic was going to charge for a quart of oil," said Wolfsthal, now deputy director of nonproliferation programs at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "It's very short-sighted."
"It strikes me as overkill," said Kenneth Luongo, executive director of the Russian American Nuclear Security Advisory Council. "It's not clear to me the approach was well thought out, and at the same time you're risking the ability to deal with Russian weapons brain drain."
At a Moscow meeting two weeks ago, Russian officials were mystified that their American counterparts were willing to kill a five-year-old program over a seemingly technical issue. Why, the Russians asked, is it so important to indemnify Americans against intentionally injuring or killing Russians?
"It complicates the work with Russia. But the Department of Energy is hunting for work-arounds," said Bill Dunlop, head of proliferation prevention at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. "I'm fairly confident that a work-around can be found."
The reason for the Energy Department's decision lies partly in the Russian judicial system, which would hear lawsuits against U.S. firms engaged in disposing of plutonium or finding new work for Russian scientists. U.S. officials have complained privately that the system is capricious and could rule that all manner of acts are "premeditated."
"The U.S. government and U.S. contractors do not have high confidence in the Russian courts. The suspicion is that if we allow an exception (for premeditated acts), that exception will be used," said Laura S.H. Holgate, vice president for Russia/Newly Independent State programs at the Nuclear Threat Institute, a nonprofit founded by former Sen. Sam Nunn and CNN founder Ted Turner.
In 2001, Pentagon officials targeted the Nuclear Cities Initiative and the plutonium-disposal research for cuts, but both survived a National Security Council review. Some experts suspect administration officials let the programs expire rather than face a budget fight in Congress, where both programs have enthusiastic boosters.
"Given that the Russian government has plans to close a number of facilities in the near future and the concern that a terrorist organization or rogue nation would actively recruit these scientists," said Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, "it only makes sense to continue with the very program that helps them transition into peaceful, alternative careers."
Administration officials see the cancellation of the two programs as mounting diplomatic pressure on the Russian Duma to ratify a larger, older collection of Defense Department programs for dismantling Russian weaponry. Those programs have full liability protections for U.S. industry.
"This is not some sort of cheap political trick. This is serious," said Henry Sokolski, head of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center. "If they can't resolve it, they can't proceed. It would put U.S. taxpayers in a tremendous bind."
But experts are hopeful the nuclear cities program will be renewed and soon, before a new round of budget cuts and layoffs hits the world's largest nuclear weapons program.
"Desperate people might be driven to do desperate things, such as sell weapons materials or their skills to terrorists," said the Nuclear Threat Institute's Holgate. "You don't have to be an altruist to say these are people that you don't want desperate and hungry."
One offshoot of the Nuclear Cities Initiative won't be touched by the cancellation. Livermore and other U.S. nuclear cities still enjoy deep ties with their once-secret sister cities in Russia. Former Livermore mayor Cathie Brown hosted four young leaders from Znezinsk last weekend and soon will fly to a larger U.S-Russian gathering in Wisconsin, where she'll practice her Russian.
Canceling the nuclear cities program is "a big mistake," Brown said. "But the relationships are still there. We're all still very much involved."
1. The Bush Administration's Views on the Future of Nuclear Weapons - Interview with NNSA Administrator Linton Brooks (excerpted)
Arms Control Today
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ACT: I know you’re short on time, so two quick proliferation questions I wanted to ask. One has to do with the programs with Russia, the various programs of cooperation in the nuclear arena. Appropriators expressed concern about the failure of, the lapse of various agreements with Russia, particularly the Nuclear Cities Initiatives and plutonium disposition activities…
Brooks: One of the plutonium disposition activities…
ACT: Right. Can you tell us, first of all, what is the status of negotiations with the Russians, and how would you respond to critics who contend that these programs were already on the administration’s chopping block and the administration is using this holdup as an excuse to drop them?
Brooks: Let me answer the second one first: that’s nonsense, just absolutely nonsense. The Plutonium Disposition Program remains important, and we continue to work on the liability. The Nuclear Cities…the secretary worked with his Russian counterpart to take advantage of a provision in the Nuclear Cities agreement that allows us to continue on-going programs, and we did a survey of all the on-going projects, making sure we got as many as possible started, so they could be called on-going and codified that when Deputy Administrator Paul Longsworth and his counterpart met in September. We did that precisely so we could keep this going until we are able to reestablish a formal agreement.
…The issue with the Russian Federation has been liability. The United States believes that, in the present state of the Russian legal system, it’s important that our contractor and our personnel be indemnified against liability for their acts. The Russians accepted that principle in the Cooperative Threat Reduction Agreement. They accepted it again when they extended it. They are having some trouble in generalizing that principle, and we’re working with them, but I’m confident that it’s solvable.
Once solved, we will revive, if you will, the Nuclear Cities agreement. It will be formally a new agreement, but it will be the same Nuclear Cities program, with liability solved. Once it’s resolved, we will continue plutonium disposition. So, what you’re seeing is the clash of competing values. We want the programs to go forward. We want adequate liability protection. Particular agreements turned out to be the ones that happened to expire in 2003. If there had been some other agreements that had happened to expire, they’d have been the ones, because we were unwilling to renew an agreement without adequate liability, but we are willing to continue working with agreements. We didn’t preemptively cancel Nuclear Cities…
ACT: You said you front-loaded these into the pipeline before the agreement expired. Is there a date when that will bite?
Brooks: Ummm…I don’t know. The Congress last year gave us the authority to merge the Nuclear Cities and the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention into something called Russian Transition Initiatives. Because of that, we have a good deal of flexibility to shift money back and forth, so that also lets us continue the effort. You know, I want to see Nuclear Cities…We are hopeful that the liability issue will be resolved soon. We measure soon, I think, in single-digit number of months. It’s not days or weeks. It’s just a practical matter of dynamics of Russian politics and the Duma elections are such that we’re not going to get this all sorted out until the after the first of the year.
11. The Nuclear Cities Initiative provides U.S. assistance to Russia to shut down former weapons production sites that comprised the core of Russia’s nuclear weapons infrastructure during the Cold War and to channel the talents of former nuclear weapons scientists and engineers into non-nuclear or civilian projects. The plutonium initiative enables U.S. and Russian scientific collaboration to help Russia dispose of excess plutonium, and the program is a key component of current efforts to establish mixed-oxide fuel facilities in both countries to begin disposing of 34 metric tons of plutonium under a September 2000 agreement. Both agreements are set to expire this year if not renewed. Christine Kucia, “Liability Concerns Jeopardize Renewal of Nonproliferation Programs With Russia,” Arms Control Today, September 2003, p. 40.
2. Alexander Yakovenko, the Official Spokesman of Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Answers a Russian Media Question Concerning the Approval by State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation of a Federal Law on Ratification of the MNEPR Agreement
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Daily News Bulletin
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Question: How could you comment on the approval on November 28 by the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation of a federal law ratifying the Agreement on a Multilateral Nuclear Environmental Program in the Russian Federation (MNEPR)?
Answer: The MNEPR Agreement was signed in Stockholm on May 21 this year, and Belgium, Britain, Germany, Denmark, the EU, EURATOM, the Netherlands, Norway, the US, Finland, France and Sweden participate in it along with Russia.
This framework document lays a long-term groundwork for multilateral cooperation in solving the acute problem for us of the disposition of decommissioned nuclear submarines and atomic maintenance ships in the northwest of Russia. It will help to speed up the creation of an infrastructure for the safe handling of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste in the submarine disposition. An important part of the cooperation will be reclamation of the territories of the former Russian Navy coastal bases in the Andreyev bay and at Gremikha. All of this is a practical contribution to solving the common problems of reinforcing nuclear and environment safety.
The importance of the MNEPR Agreement lies in the fact that it for the first time in a multilateral format lays down the rules and norms which are the legal basis for carrying out specific projects in this field. In particular, this concerns regulation of the issues of taxation, exemption from liability and other. A precedent has thus been created which is already being used to draft bilateral agreements under the G8 Global Partnership Against the Spread of WMD.
The decision adopted by the State Duma is an important signal demonstrating in practice the readiness of Russia for partner cooperation in implementing the MNEPR Program with an outlook for its further development.
Now the Duma-approved Law on Ratification of the MNEPR Agreement is to be considered in the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation.
3. Secretary Abraham Extends Commitment to Continue Defense Conversion Projects in Russian Closed Cities - Announces U.S. Funding For New Medical Imaging Project
Department of Energy
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In a Joint Steering Committee Meeting in Moscow, U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham reaffirmed his support to continue existing projects through to completion even though the government-to-government agreement that created the Nuclear Cities Initiative (NCI) program expires on September 22, 2003. The Nuclear Cities Initiative, a component of the Department of Energy's nonproliferation program, transforms former Russian nuclear weapons facilities to commercial, non-defense uses.
To demonstrate his commitment to the long-term objectives of the program, Secretary Abraham announced funding for a new project under the NCI program, the creation of a $9 million medical imaging center that will provide capability for cancer diagnostics in the closed Russian city of Snezhinsk.
"I am proud of NCI's accomplishments and recognize that it serves a vital nonproliferation goal by assisting in the transition of Russian nuclear scientists and engineers to non-defense, commercial efforts," Secretary Abraham told representatives of the closed nuclear cites and Russian government officials.
In July 2003, Secretary Abraham informed Russian Minister of Atomic Energy Alexandr Rumyantsev that the United States would not be able to renew the NCI agreement until the Russian government approves legal provisions intended to provide the broad liability protection of American workers and companies working on projects in Russia. However, he informed the Minister that existing projects would be fully implemented.
Over its 5-year tenure, the Nuclear Cities Initiative has formed lasting partnerships and enjoyed tangible successes. Foremost among them is a joint partnership with Sarov on the development of an award winning road repair vehicle and the establishment of a new company with over $1.5 million in a outstanding sales. Another partnership is with the city of Zheleznogorsk where work moves toward completion of a workforce-restructuring plan that will create jobs for up to 6,000 displaced weapons workers and scientists.
At the same meeting, Secretary Abraham and Minister Rumyantsev also witnessed the signing of a protocol between Paul Longsworth, Deputy Administrator of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation of the National Nuclear Security Administration and Igor Borvkov, First Deputy Minister of Minatom. The protocol developed a set of recommendations so that existing projects can continue under a provision in the expiring agreement.
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