1. BIOLOGICAL SECURITY CONFERENCE OPENS IN NOVOSIBIRSK
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An international conference on the questions of cooperation in the field of biological security, the fight against infectious diseases and countering bioterrorism opened in Novosibirsk at the Vektor State Scientific Center of Virology and Biotechnology on Wednesday.
The center's press service said that more than 300 scientists and specialists from Russia, CIS countries and other countries are attending the conference.
During the conference, scientists from different countries will present their research on infectious diseases, as well as discuss developing and testing vaccines, diagnostic and anti-viral medication in accordance with international quality standards and environmental problems.
Vektor Deputy General Director Sergei Netesov noted that a large amount of attention is paid to research in the field of biological security and countering bioterrorism throughout the world.
The development and effectiveness of cooperation of scientists from different countries in this sphere is immensely important for both science and society, Mr. Netesov emphasized. Scientists' research on infectious diseases is no less important, he added.
"The results of joint work like today's international conference are a giant step in the development of research in this area for scientists throughout the world," he said.
Experts have reassessed the threat posed by radiological dispersal devices, or dirty bombs and they conclude that the threat is far greater than previously imagined. Poor international regulation makes it relatively easy for terrorists to acquire radioactive material.
Many experts now believe that the terrorist use of radiological dispersal devices (RDDs or ´┐Żdirty bombs´┐Ż) would not merely constitute a weapon of disruption capable of inflicting economic damage, but that some forms of radiological attack could also kill tens or hundreds of people and sicken hundreds or thousands. This is in marked contrast to earlier assessments that concluded that an RDD would be unlikely to cause death or injury beyond the area immediately destroyed by the high explosives.
RDDs are devices using conventional explosives to spread radioactive material over a large area, exposing people to both internal and external radiation doses. Costly clean-up is required and access to buildings and contaminated areas would be denied. The radioactive materials are readily available for medical or commercial use. They include, primarily, cobalt-60, strontium-90, cesium-137, iridium-192, radium-226, plutonium-238, americium-241, and californium-252. Uranium would not be much use in a RDD as, unlike cesium and cobalt isotopes, it has extremely low radioactivity and can only cause injury if ingested or inhaled. Nevertheless, people would probably still be unwilling to enter an area that had been contaminated with uranium or anything else connected with radioactivity.
Much depends on the amount and type of radioactive material used. Radioactive isotopes can also be spread widely with or without high explosives. Disruption will always be the result, but casualty levels and an increase in cancer risk are variable. The shorter the half-life - the amount of time it takes for half of the atoms in a given sample to decay - the more intense the radiation. Cesium-137, for example, has a half-life of 30 years.
As fears of new terrorist attacks jolted Russia, President Vladimir Putin last week issued a first-time-ever order that should have been front page news everywhere. Especially here in the United States. For it told as much about the security gap in America's homeland security as it did about Russia's. But no U.S. newspaper or television network put the news anywhere where you'd see it.
Belated News Flash: Putin has just dispatched Russian military troops to guard all of his country's far-flung, frighteningly under-secured nuclear weapons facilities. Yes, the same facilities his government always insisted were perfectly secure. Putin was forced to drop his government's Potemkin-false-front assurance because the latest Chechnyan terrorism in Russia (schoolhouse slaughter, subway bombing, two airline crashes) proved terrorists were capable of buying or stealing Russia's vulnerable nuclear weapons and materials - and launching a nuclear terror attack inside Russia.
That gut-check reality apparently demanded a new level of truth-telling far beyond what was acceptable back when Russia's vulnerable nukes were seen as just potential weapons for terrorists targeting Americans.
Putin's order is powerful confirmation of what some of us have been warning for years: Russia's so-called loose nukes pose a security threat for the entire planet. That warning has been sounded for more than a decade by a few bold political leaders such as former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn and his colleague Sen. Dick Lugar, as well by a number of smart nuclear-weapons experts and a handful of nuclear-concerned journalists (that's where I fit in, in a bit role).
In 2002, in Moscow, I interviewed Minister of Atomic Energy Aleksandr Rumyantsev about Russia's under-secured nuclear facilities (while researching my recent book, "Avoiding Armageddon" and serving as managing editor for the PBS series of the same name). I'd gathered stories of two Russian nuclear thieves, a civilian and a Navy captain, who'd stolen nuclear fuel and were caught only after bungling efforts to sell it on the nuclear black market.
"I can guarantee you total security of those materials and the sites of its storage today," said Rumyantsev. I asked about a member of Russia's Duma (parliament) who'd just entered a Russian nuclear site by sneaking through some unguarded barbed-wire. No big deal, Rumyantsev dead-panned, the barbed wire was only intended to keep out "stray people and stray animals who might approach the facility."
Putin's rushed troop deployment says otherwise. It is the boldest effort to address the problem since the Soviet Union's collapse left its arsenals unsecured - leading Democrat Nunn and Republican Lugar to forge the historic Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Act, providing U.S. funding to destroy much of Russia's nuclear arsenal and secure the rest of it.
Bizarrely, after 9/11, when al-Qaida was clearly seeking weapons of mass destruction to use against us, President Bush froze all Nunn-Lugar funding for a year over a technicality. At the present rate, Russia's vulnerable nuclear arsenals won't be secured until well into the next decade. Which means that, while Russia's new nuclear troops are on guard, America's homeland is still at risk.
What now? In separate interviews, Nunn and Lugar, being clear-eyed visionaries, offered next-step solutions. While Putin has recognized the "extreme vulnerability" of many Russian nuclear facilities, Nunn said, both countries must respond to terrorist threats with new urgency: "We need to secure all materials."
Lugar noted that in recent months, Russia's Duma has been the party that has dragged its heels by delaying a ratification vote of an agreement to facilitate new funding by the world's industrialized nations to secure Russian weapons of mass destruction. "Russia's Duma and the Russian hierarchy felt this (effort to secure vulnerable arsenals) was interesting but not very essential," Lugar said. "Perhaps now they should ... act with urgency."
Nunn focused upon the now crucial need to safeguard the homelands of both Russia and the United States by safeguarding small nuclear weapons - "weapons that one man can carry that can wipe out a good part of a major city." Neither country has been keen on sharing info with the other about these weapons, but Nunn said that must change in light of the new terrorist threats. "Both countries should have transparency to assure that small weapons that can be transported easily are secured," he said.
Nunn proposed one more common-sense solution. Russia's nuclear arsenal is spread over its vast land that spans 11 time zones. Dispersal was once a security precaution, assuring some survival of a U.S. attack; today it is a security problem, since some arsenal somewhere will surely be vulnerable to terrorists.
"We should offer to help Russia consolidate their nuclear weapons in a few areas," Nunn said. "And then guard the heck out of them."
A flood of radioactive sources, from discarded cancer treatment machines advertised on the Internet to misplaced industrial gadgets that turn up in junkyards, have yet to be corralled by U.S. authorities three years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, experts say -- and could easily be exploited by terrorists seeking to make a dirty bomb.
The material is so abundant and easy to obtain, the experts say, that it is almost inevitable that a U.S. city will be the target of a bomb salted with radioactive waste.
And if a terrorist attaches ordinary chemical explosives to stolen radioactive sources, then detonates the bomb in or over a city -- spreading a "hot" plume over a huge urban area -- the consequences could be devastating.
Despite valiant efforts by emergency preparedness and military agencies to prepare for such an attack -- including a simulated dirty bomb "attack" in Los Angeles on Aug. 5-6 -- a real-life, devastating attack could cause property losses far in excess of Sept. 11 and have unforeseeable health effects, analysts warn.
The list of woe includes:
-- "There are more than 2 million radioactive sources in the U.S. (that are) used for medical procedures, research, and industrial processes," noted Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., in a statement late last year. "In the past five years, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reported that nearly 1,500 radioactive sources have been reported lost or stolen in the U.S., but less than half of them have been found."
-- The Internet provides a potential route for the irresponsible to obtain deadly radioactive sources, Markey warned in mid-August. As an example of what he called the "atomic EBay," he cited a recent online offer by a hospital in Beirut to give away -- for free -- a used cancer therapy machine, containing a highly radioactive cobalt-60 source, to anyone who would pay to remove it.
-- Because radioactive grains can "chemically bind to asphalt, concrete and glass," in the words of Jaime M. Yassif of the Federation of American Scientists, some cleanups might require the use of exotic new tools such as concrete-eating bacteria. Just locating all contaminants could be nearly impossible, given the ease with which they're absorbed by soil and disappear into cracks in wood and pavement.
"In a recent and very realistic Swedish exercise using instruments in cars, trucks and aircraft to search for concealed (radioactive) sources, only about half of the sources were found by any given team, and some sources were not found by any of the search teams," write physicist Peter Zimmerman, former chief scientist for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Cheryl Loeb, research associate at National Defense University at Ft. McNair in Washington, D.C., in the January issue of Defense Horizons.
While there's disagreement over how many people would be killed in a dirty bomb assault -- perhaps thousands, perhaps a few, perhaps nobody if people evacuated quickly enough to safe sites where they could remove contaminated clothing, then shower -- the economic impact could be cataclysmic. .
The long-term health issues are difficult to assess.
For many decades, experts have fiercely debated radioactivity's lasting effect on the human body. Some experts believe that radioactivity below a certain intensity isn't dangerous, and say the public is overly scared of low-level radioactive sources; others say there is no safe level of radiation. But plenty of high-level radionuclides are used in medical, industrial and research facilities -- and, if procured by terrorists, would make a devastating dirty bomb.
A cancer therapy machine with a cobalt-60 source might have thousands of curies, the unit used to measure radiation. Yet even "a 100-curie source (is) extremely dangerous," Zimmerman and Loeb note.
Given the uncertainty about health effects, some experts regard a dirty bomb as being, first and foremost, a psychological weapon, one that sparks mass hysteria and social disruption -- even if the fear isn't necessarily justified by a specific attack.
Mind you, the news isn't all bad.
Three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, federal authorities have made progress toward rounding up radioactive sources. In May, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham announced that the Department of Energy "surpassed a congressional target of recovering and securing 5,000 radioactive sources domestically within an 18-month time period." Hospitals are trying to minimize their reliance on radioactive sources for therapy, diagnosis and research.
At UCSF, the amount of radioactive medical waste generated annually plunged from 11,000 cubic feet per year in 1992 to 2,280 cubic feet in 2003, said Ara Tahmassian, associate vice chancellor for research.
One reason is the development of highly sensitive devices for measuring trace amounts of radioactivity injected into the body or used in research.
In a typical experiment, Tahmassian noted, "we were using milliliters (of chemicals) and now we're using microliters" -- a thousandfold difference. In the last five years or so, the drop in waste has relieved the once-worrisome pressure on UCSF's limited storage facilities for radioactive waste. After such waste decays to a safe level, it is shipped to a low-level radioactive waste site in Utah.
Also, the number of U.S. cancer radiation therapy machines that use radioactive sources has fallen from more than 1,000 to about 100 since the 1970s because of the development of alternatives such as particle accelerators, said Charles D. Ferguson, a science and technology fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C.
On another front, the U.S. steel industry has lessened its reliance on radiation-equipped gadgets that were once routinely used to check the integrity of welds. Many years ago, these radiation sources occasionally fell into molten vats. If not recovered, some ended up in steel scrap yards, where no one realized how "hot" they were.
Despite such improvements, the threat of a dirty bomb attack remains ominous.
"I don't want to fan hysteria but ... a dirty bomb attack is all but inevitable in the coming years," Ferguson said in an interview.
Ferguson has struggled for the last three years to prevent such a disaster. He was a foreign affairs officer at the U.S. State Department on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists hit the World Trade Center and Pentagon. His boss ordered him: "Charles, I want you to start drafting a memo to Secretary (of State Colin) Powell -- we need to get his attention on the dirty bomb issue."
Another leading anti-dirty bomb activist is Rep. Markey of Massachusetts, who frequently assails what he views as the nation's -- and in particular the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's -- sluggish pace in preparing for such a catastrophe.
"FedEx and Lands' End seem to do a better job at tracking clothing purchases," Markey has said, "than the NRC does at tracking radioactive materials."
1. Sweden to help Russia dispose of radioactive wastes on Kola Peninsula
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Sweden will contribute to Russia's efforts aimed at disposing of liquid radioactive wastes on the Kola Peninsula.
A contract envisioning a feasibility study of these operations in the Andreyeva Guba radioactive wastes storage facility, which is the largest one on the Kola peninsula, was signed by representatives of the Swedish International Project on Nuclear Safety, the administration of the Murmansk region, and SevRAO officials in Murmansk, SevRAO head Valery Panteleyev told Interfax on Thursday.
If there is any issue on which leaders from all sides of the political spectrum agree, it is the importance of preventing nuclear terrorism. As the independent commission that investigated the September 11 terrorist attacks recently stated, ´┐ŻThe greatest danger of another catastrophic attack in the United States will occur if the world´┐Żs most dangerous terrorists acquire the world´┐Żs most dangerous weapons.´┐Ż
In their rhetoric and in their actions, both President George W. Bush and his Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, have demonstrated the seriousness with which they treat the issue, calling the possibility of terrorists armed with nuclear weapons the ´┐Żgravest danger´┐Ż and ´┐Żgreatest threat´┐Ż confronting the United States. Both have taken significant steps to curb the threat: Bush has rolled out a number of new programs since the September 11 attacks, and Kerry has offered a detailed and innovative policy blueprint of what he would like to do if elected.
Yet, the differences between the candidates´┐Ż perception of the problem and their proposed solutions are profound. Further, neither candidate has given sufficient emphasis to what should be the next president´┐Żs top priority: preventing terrorists from getting their hands on highly enriched uranium (HEU), the essential building block for producing the simplest nuclear weapons.
Defining Nuclear Terrorism
Terrorists have essentially four mechanisms by which they can exploit military and civilian nuclear assets around the world to serve their destructive ends:
´┐Ż The seizure and detonation of an intact nuclear weapon. ´┐Ż The theft or purchase of HEU or plutonium, leading to the fabrication and detonation of a crude nuclear weapon, or an improvised nuclear device (IND). ´┐Ż Attacks against and sabotage of nuclear facilities, such as nuclear power plants, to try to cause the release of large amounts of radioactivity. ´┐Ż The unauthorized acquisition of radioactive materials contributing to the construction and detonation of a radiological dispersion device, popularly known as a ´┐Żdirty bomb,´┐Ż or a radiation emission device.
The greatest risk in terms of severity of consequences combined with the likelihood of an attack is that a well-funded and well-organized terrorist organization could seize enough HEU to build and detonate the simplest nuclear bomb, a gun-type weapon. Like a gun, this device shoots a piece of HEU down a gun barrel to combine with another piece of HEU. The two pieces form a supercritical mass needed to sustain an explosive chain reaction. For example, the Hiroshima bomb. used the gun assembly method, and it required no nuclear testing because of the design´┐Żs simplicity. Most physicists and nuclear weapons analysts agree that building such a device would pose few technological challenges to reasonably technically competent terrorists. The main barrier remains acquiring a sufficient amount of HEU.
Of course, HEU is not the only material that can fuel a nuclear bomb; plutonium can also be used. Plutonium cannot power a high-yield, gun-type weapon, however, because this method does not allow efficient use of this fissile material. Plutonium would have to employ the more technically challenging implosion-assembly method, which uses conventional explosives to squeeze plutonium into a supercritical mass. If the implosion, or squeezing, of the fissile material does not occur smoothly, the bomb would probably result in a dud or an explosion with a much lower yield thanexpected from a properly designed weapon. Moreover, unlike a gun-type device, an implosion bomb requires high-speed electronics and high-explosive lenses, complex technologies that terrorists would have substantial difficulty acquiring. Because of the relative ease of use of HEU and the large stockpiles of weapons-usable HEU throughout the world, the United States should adopt an HEU-first strategy emphasizing securing; consolidating; and, as much as possible, eliminating HEU.
The Candidates´┐Ż Stance
Kerry seems to have a stronger plan than Bush for dealing with this threat. In his policy announcements, the longtime member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has been quite explicit in targeting nuclear terrorism, while Bush has talked more generally of the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction, a term that can also encompass biological and chemical weapons and missiles or other means of delivery. Both leaders have proposed to secure nuclear materials, but the Bush campaign´┐Żs rhetoric has emphasized the terrorists as the threat, while Kerry has pointed to the materials themselves: ´┐ŻRemember, no material, no bomb, no nuclear terrorism.´┐Ż Kerry has pledged to appoint a badly needed presidential coordinator to counter nuclear terrorism and oversee efforts to secure nuclear materials. He has also promised to ramp up spending on securing former Soviet nuclear weapons and materials so that such programs would be completed within four years rather than the administration´┐Żs current pace of more than a decade.
The Bush administration, however, has already taken some steps to do what Kerry proposes. The Bush campaign also doubts Kerry´┐Żs ability to carry out his ambitious plans, no matter how much money he is willing to allot to it.
Richard Falkenrath, a former top Bush administration official working for the president´┐Żs re-election campaign, derided Kerry´┐Żs plan as ´┐Żhollow promises and empty rhetoric.´┐Ż He elaborated that ´┐Żit´┐Żs simply a preposterous claim for anyone to be able to say that the American government could compel the Russian government to transfer its nuclear materials from one facility to another´┐Żno amount of bribery or coercion or arm-twisting could ensure that.´┐ŻWe´┐Żre making progress where progress is possible.´┐Ż
On Kerry´┐Żs pledge to work immediately with Russia ´┐Żto develop a strategic plan to secure all these weapons and materials,´┐Ż some like Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) have said that Russian resistance will be one of many major obstacles. Additional impediments include bureaucratic inertia, Russian fears of U.S. intelligence collection, Russian resentment of NATO nuclear weapons deployed in Europe, and U.S. concerns that ´┐ŻRussia will rise again as the nuclear enemy of the West´┐Ż and that helping to secure their nuclear forces today will create ´┐Ża nuclear threat tomorrow.´┐Ż
But the administration seems to be paying attention to Kerry´┐Żs proposal. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham vowed on July 17, 2004´┐Żone month after the publication of the Kerry plan´┐Żthat his department will finish securing 600 metric tons of weapons-usable material in Russia by 2008, ´┐Żtwo years ahead of the schedule we inherited.´┐Ż
Laudably, the Department of Energy has also stepped up efforts with Russia to secure Soviet-origin fresh and spent nuclear fuel containing HEU residing in more than 20 research facilities in 17 countries. On May 26, 2004, Abraham launched the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, a $450 million program that aims to repatriate all fresh HEU fuel to Russia by the end of 2005. The initiative also calls for returning to Russia all the spent fuel by 2010.
Just as Kerry´┐Żs plan might be faulted as too grandiose, however, these goals will remain overly ambitious unless the U.S. government learns from the difficulties encountered in past repatriation operations. Each operation was a complex undertaking, which usually required many months, sometimes years, of planning and generated much controversy among responsible agencies in the U.S. and other governments. Moreover, technical setbacks in developing low-enriched nuclear fuel not usable in weapons, and a paucity of economic and political incentives for HEU research reactors to convert to these fuels will continue to delay achievement of these goals unless the U.S. government places a higher priority on this endeavor.
In addition, Kerry would like to expand the decade-old Cooperative Threat Reduction program ´┐Żwhere necessary for countries to meet´┐Ż an international standard for ´┐Żthe safe custody of nuclear weapons and materials.´┐Ż Such an expansion should urgently target Pakistan, a nation where a volatile mix of al Qaeda and Taliban operatives co-exists with a nascent nuclear command and control system. Consistent with the requirements of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the United States should share unclassified technology to help Pakistan secure its nuclear weapons and materials. The Bush administration has reportedly provided some assistance along these lines, but it should also develop contingency plans, if it has not already done so, involving the use of nuclear recovery teams or specialized military forces to recover Pakistani nuclear assets soon after diversion is detected.
The administration also deserves credit for forming the Group of Eight (G-8) Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, even if this 2002 initiative is still about $3 billion short of achieving its pledge goal of $20 billion and much of the pledged money has not yet been directed toward accomplishing projects. By the same token, though, Kerry is right to point to a fairly simple step the Bush administration has failed to take that might have aided efforts to halt nuclear terrorism. Bilateral U.S. and Russian presidential summits have come and gone without Bush making a high-priority push to President Vladimir Putin to accelerate securing potentially vulnerable nuclear weapons and materials.
Moreover, in negotiating the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) with Russia, also known as the Moscow Treaty, the Bush administration left a loophole that terrorists might be able to exploit. Although fewer strategic nuclear warheads will be deployed and therefore transported under the treaty, there is no requirement to dismantle any warheads. Each side is permitted to keep as many nondeployed warheads in storage as it wants, thereby potentially increasing the risk of terrorist acquisition of portable strategic warheads kept in reserve. Although the Bush administration appears reluctant to press for verifiable and irreversible nuclear arms reductions, the Kerry strategy proposes to ´┐Żwork with the Russians to accelerate the timetable of planned and agreed consolidation and reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.´┐Ż
Putting HEU First
Despite important strides, neither candidate can be said to have given sufficient emphasis to what should be their most important priority: securing HEU. The Bush administration has moved to protect fissile materials abroad, but it has not explicitly recognized the unique dangers of HEU. It still spends considerable political capital on ginning up a plutonium disposition program in which the United States and Russia have each pledged to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium. That program remains mired in disputes over liability coverage and in finding enough donor support to pay for the Russian part of the program. Moreover, over the next four years, the United States intends to place 25 tons of plutonium retrieved from disarmed Russian weapons in the recently opened Mayak Fissile Material Storage Facility. This facility was originally designed to accept HEU, however, and a better allocation of resources would be to place 200 tons of weapons-usable HEU into this high-security facility.
The Kerry strategy calls for substantially accelerating the down-blending of HEU to non-weapons-usable low-enriched form. One way to assuage concerns over Kerry´┐Żs apparently ambitious nuclear security schedule could be by ensuring that the elimination of HEU receives the first crack at any resources, so that any cuts would affect less urgent plutonium disposition.
Whether Bush is re-elected or Kerry becomes president, either man will have to quicken efforts to secure nuclear weapons and materials before terrorists seize them. Shrugging off bureaucratic inertia will require mobilizing a bipartisan coalition within Congress and sustaining a multinational partnership to accomplish the most urgent nuclear security tasks confronting the United States and the world community. Both men should build on the cooperative endeavor launched by Lugar and former Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) 13 years ago. As Nunn is fond of saying, ´┐ŻWe are in a race between cooperation and catastrophe.´┐Ż A primary way to gain a competitive and cooperative advantage in that race is to concentrate first on denying weapons-usable HEU to terrorists.
The following two events occurred almost simultaneously: a meeting in St. Petersburg between Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov and his American counterpart Donald Rumsfeld, and Ivanov and other senior defense officials reporting to President Vladimir Putin on the drafting of a defense budget for 2005.
In St. Petersburg, journalists asked Sergei Ivanov about his attitude to the possibility of American military bases moving from Germany to closer to the Russian borders (Poland or the Baltic states, for example). "We know about the U.S. plans to reconfigure its forces, and we understand them. I see nothing disquieting in these plans," the minister said rather unexpectedly. But at the meeting with the president, he spoke loudly enough for the press to hear about the completion of state tests of a new tactical missile system called the Iskander. In 2005, the system will go into quantity production and toward the end of that year, Russia will have a brigade armed with it. The minister mentioned no other systems that are to enter service next year, although he could have.
A specialist eye will spot here an obvious connection: the Iskander is a successor to the OTR-23 Oka tactical system, or the SS-23 Spider, as it was named in the West, which was abolished in 1989 under the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate and Shorter-Range Missiles (INF Treaty).
The tale of the Oka is a sad one, as the Oka's combat characteristics in no way qualified it to being axed under the INF Treaty. The treaty covered missiles whose range was between 500 kilometers and 5,500 kilometers. The OTR-23 had a maximum launch range of 400 kilometers. However, the Americans were afraid of this system, because it was unmatched by anything else in the world.
The missile system was mounted on one truck, as distinct from the Pershing-2 or Pershing-1A, which required a cavalcade of many types of vehicles to get launched. This made them cumbrous, ill camouflaged and easily vulnerable to an enemy strike. The Oka was manned by a three-man crew (!). The men did not even need to get out of the cab to launch the missile. It could be guided throughout its flight trajectory, not only from a ground command post, but also from an A-50 airborne early warning radar system (the Russian equivalent of Awacs). In mid-air, the missile could be retargeted, was immune to electronic countermeasures and had high hitting accuracy. Its warhead could be nuclear, explosive fragmentary, cluster-type, or fuel-air. It had no problems penetrating any anti-aircraft and missile defense systems. Also, at that time (15 years ago), the missile design employed the Stealth technology known from American low-observable planes.
The OTR-23 could also negotiate any terrain features, including water obstacles, because it was like a speedboat on water. It could be transported to any place on earth in Ruslan-type cargo transport aircraft and in railroad cars in a matter of hours.
And although the Oka failed to make it to the troops, the U.S. administration had it included in the systems that would be eliminated under the INF Treaty. America's negotiating partners - General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee Mikhail Gorbachev and USSR Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze - without consulting with Defense Minister Marshal Dmitry Yazov, General Staff chief Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, or Oka general designer Sergei Nepobedimy, accepted the American demand without demur and gave the Americans a great present.
The rest of the story was that in 1989, in the steppe outside Almaty, 360 SS-23 Spider systems were blown up (239 were combat-ready and 121 were for training). All tooling for the production of the vehicle and all technical documentation were destroyed at Kolomna KB of engineering. The ground forces of the Soviet Union and later Russia had lost their main striking force.
Then in a different era (the late 90s), Kolomna KB, which was in a difficult financial position, followed up its earlier work to develop a new tactical system called the Iskander-E. The name suggests that it was first intended for export (the letter E stands for export), primarily to the Middle East. The Iskander is the name used in Arab countries to describe Alexander the Great. That name is to symbolize to system buyers its invulnerability and high combat efficiency.
The Iskander possesses all these qualities in full measure. It bears a close resemblance to its predecessor - the OTR-23 Oka. It may be said that it has retained all the best features incorporated in the SS-23 Spider. The only difference is that the new export system has a firing range of only 280 kilometers instead of 400 kilometers. This is the restriction placed by the non-proliferation of missile technology treaty. Missiles with a range of 300 kilometers and longer are banned for export. Another specific feature is the absence of a nuclear charge. The reason is understandably the same as for the system's range. But in one respect, the missile is better than its predecessor, the Oka. The vehicle carries two missiles, rather than one. And each of them can be independently targeted in a matter of seconds. Moreover, they can be retargeted during flight not only to fixed objects, but also at moving objects like a tactical missile launcher on its way through the woods, a tank column, or a convoy of multiple launch rocket systems. The Iskander has another unique feature: its optical warhead, which can also be controlled by a coded radio signal, including from an Awacs or an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), has a self-homing capability. The missile's onboard computer receives an image of the target, or, more plainly, one or more photographs. Then the missile, by locking on the target with its sights, will travel toward it at supersonic speed, disregarding any countermeasures. No army has ever been able to redirect a supersonic warhead from its set path.
Kolomna KB said that talks on Iskander exports had been going on for some considerable time now. And not only to the Middle East, but also to North Africa, India (New Delhi has already bought an A-50 early warning aircraft, which can control tactical missile systems). China is interested too. It is not inconceivable that relevant contracts may be signed soon.
However, it was news when the defense minister and the general staff chief told the president that such systems will be put into service by the Russian Army.
The most interesting aspect of this is the timing the announcement was made: right after Ivanov's meeting with Rumsfeld and before a debate on the military budget for 2005 in the State Duma. Understandably, the country's leadership cannot influence American redeployment plans, but countries that are prepared to accommodate these bases on their territories, especially those on Russia's borders, should realize that the Kremlin and its generals had to react to this. And the answer may be that they put the new Iskander tactical missile system into service.
Without the E, which stands for export, it will probably have a range greater than 280 kilometers, but not more than 500 kilometers, the cap set by the INF Treaty. And its warhead is likely to be not only explosive fragmentary, as is the case now.
1. Russian, U.S. diplomats to discuss non-proliferation cooperation
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Russian-U.S. consultations on non- proliferation issues will be held in Geneva at the end of this week, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak, who heads the Russian delegation in the talks, told Interfax on Monday.
"I and my counterpart in the U.S., U.S. Under Secretary of State John Bolton, will discuss the entire range of bilateral relations, as well as all non-proliferation issues," Kislyak said.
An official with the U.S. embassy in Moscow told Interfax earlier that the consultations will be held in Geneva on September 9 or 10 as part of preparations for G-8 officials' meeting.
1. IAEA report on Iran positive - Russian foreign minister
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Moscow believes there has been positive progress on the issue of the Iranian Nuclear program, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, following the release of a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). on Iran.
"We have received the report of the IAEA Secretary General and are studying it. The first impression is positive," he said.
The report "confirmed further progress in the solution of problems highlighted by the Agency," the minister said. "There are still one or two questions that can be resolved within the next two or three months," he said.
Russia's attitude to Iran and the Iranian nuclear program "will be based on objective and professional conclusions of the Agency," he said.
He reaffirmed that Russia would continue atomic energy cooperation with Iran.
2. BUSHER ATOMIC POWER PLANT AT FINAL STAGE OF CONSTRUCTION
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The construction of Busher atomic power plant is proceeding behind of schedule, an official at the Federal Agency of Atomic Energy told RIA Novosti.
"The power plant is being constructed, and the construction is virtually at its final stage - equipment is being assembled and cables laid. Unfortunately, the process is behind of schedule, but there are no serious problems," he said.
He elaborated that this was mainly caused by the fact that Russian technologies and equipment used there are substantially different from those of Siemens company which had previously worked at the construction site. "We are currently installing water-cooled 1000-energy reactor," the official added.
According to him, the power plant is to be launched in 2006. "It is difficult now to speak about first criticality, but it must take place in 2006, and fuel must be delivered 6 months before," the official said, adding that first criticality meant the load of fuel and launching of the reactor's active part.
3. RUSSIA'S POSITION AS REGARDS IRAN'S NUCLEAR PROGRAMME WILL COMPLY WITH THE IAEA'S STAND
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By the end of the week, the Federal Nuclear Energy Agency of the Russian Federation will formulate its position on the report of the IAEA's Board of Governors about Iran's nuclear programme. The Federal Agency's press service informed of this Monday.
A session of the IAEA's Board of Governors, the Agency's supreme executive body, will be held at its Vienna headquarters on September 13-17. Among other issues, the session will discuss Iran's nuclear programme. Representatives of Russia's Federal Nuclear Energy Agency will also take part in the session.
Last week, Russian experts received the Board of Governors' report to familiarise themselves with the document and take a decision on it. A resolution on Iran's nuclear programme is to be adopted on the basis of a consensus following the discussion of the report, the press service's representative said. According to a Russian Agency's spokesman, the Federal Nuclear Energy Agency's position on the report about Iran's nuclear programme will hardly be unexpected. "We have a common stand on Iran, we fully support the IAEA, and Russia's position on the report will comply with the IAEA's position," the spokesman said.
On June 18, 2004, the Board of Governors adopted a resolution on the report of Mohammed ElBaradei, IAEA's director general, on Iran's compliance to the nuclear security standards as following from the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The resolution pointed out that Iran took a decision (on the voluntary basis) to terminate its uranium enrichment and reprocessing programmes and allow the IAEA to carry out inspections in Iran to verify this process.
At the same time, the document stressed that Iran's cooperation with the IAEA was incomplete and not as active as it should be, in particular as regards the inspection of the P-2 centrifuges which could be used for uranium enrichment. Members of the Boardof Governors called on Teheran to step up its cooperation with the IAEA so as to convince the world community of the peaceful characters of Iran's nuclear programmes.
The resolution does not contain a provision on the transfer of the Iranian nuclear dossier to the UN Security Council for its consideration and possible adoption of anti-Iranian sanctions. However, the question of the closure of the Iranian nuclear dossier (as it was previously done as regards the Tripoli regime), for which Teheran is stubbornly pressing now, remains open. This will be a central issue at the Board of Governors's session which will start work on September 13 and at the IAEA's General Conference to be held on September 20-24.
4. Russian-Iranian nuclear cooperation is peaceful ´┐Ż Lavrov
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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed the peaceful nature of Russian-Iranian nuclear cooperation during his visit to Israel. "The question of Iran was raised. I have informed the [Israeli foreign] minister that Russian-Iranian cooperation, including in the sphere of peaceful energy generation, is in line with Russia's international obligations and the IAEA and therefore this cooperation poses no threat to peace," Lavrov said.
Yekaterinburg and Borisoglebsk atomic power submarines of the Northern Fleet, made successful launches of ballistic missiles from the Barents Sea towards the Kura testing range on Wednesday, says the report of the Russian Navy's press service, which RIA Novosti received.
The head parts of the missiles reached the Kura testing range in Kamchatka exactly at the set time.
Commander-in-chief of the Russian Navy Admiral of the Fleet Vladimir Kuroyedov observed the launches staying aboard the Northern Fleet's flagship Pyotr Veliky cruiser, the press service reported.
"The successful launches of ballistic missiles confirmed the preparedness of the marine strategic nuclear forces and of the system of combat command and control. The crews of the Yekaterinburg and Borisoglebsk atomic power submarines showed a high professionalism and battle training," says the report of the Navy's press service.
A nuclear reactor that can meet the energy needs of developing countries without the risk that they will use the by-products to make weapons is being developed by the US Department of Energy. The aim is to create a sealed reactor that can be delivered to a site, left to generate power for up to 30 years, and retrieved when its fuel is spent.
The developers claim that no one would be able to remove the fissile material from the reactor because its core would be inside a tamper-proof cask protected by a thicket of alarms.
Known as the small, sealed, transportable, autonomous reactor (SSTAR), the machine will generate power without needing refuelling or maintenance, says Craig Smith of the DoE's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.
Conventional reactors pose a threat of proliferation because they have to be periodically recharged with fuel which later has to be removed. Both steps offer operators the chance to divert fissile material to weapons programmes- as is thought to have happened in North Korea and Iran.
Another reason to provide a small reactor is that conventional nuclear stations generate around a gigawatt of electricity, and that's overkill for plants in developing countries without an extensive electricity grid to distribute it.
In an SSTAR the nuclear fuel, liquid lead coolant and a steam generator will be sealed inside the housing, along with steam pipes ready to be hooked up to an external generator turbine.
A version producing 100 megawatts would be 15 metres tall, 3 metres in diameter and weigh 500 tonnes. A 10-megawatt version is likely to weigh less than 200 tonnes.
The US will deliver the sealed unit by ship and truck and install it. When the fuel runs out it will collect the old reactor for recycling or disposal. The DoE hopes to have a prototype by 2015. For this to happen, it will have to overcome many technical challenges.
In conventional reactors, the nuclear chain reaction depletes the fissile isotopes in the fuel rods, which is why they have to be replaced every few years.
To sustain power generation for 30 years, the sealed reactor will have to be engineered to act as a breeder, using some of the neutrons to convert non-fissile isotopes such as uranium-238 into fissile plutonium-239.
To further extend the reactor's life, the cylindrical core will be engineered to sustain fission only when surrounded by a metal cylinder that reflects neutrons back into the fuel.
This mirror will start at one end of the core, and over the course of the reactor's lifetime move slowly along to the opposite end, consuming the fuel as it goes. Engineering long-term reliability into such a system will be a major task.
Automated controls will monitor the sealed reactor, Smith says, adjusting its electrical output and shutting it down if faults or tampering are detected.
Alerts will be sent over secure satellite radio channels to the DoE or to an international agency overseeing the reactors. The project faces strong political obstacles.
Michael Levi of the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington DC, questions whether developing countries will be prepared to leave the keys to their electricity supply in the hands of the US. He also doubts that SSTAR will be as proliferation-proof as the DoE hopes.
While the design makes it hard for countries hosting the reactors to cheat without getting caught, "what happens if they don't care about what we think?" he asks. It would then be possible to break into the reactor and reprocess the plutonium-rich fuel to make weapons, he says.
1. Managing Knowledge in Nuclear Fields - France Hosts Global Conference
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More than 200 experts, scientists and officials from 40-plus countries are meeting this week in France at the IAEA´┐Żs International Conference on Nuclear Knowledge Management. The focus is on strategies, information management and human resource development.
Like any highly technical endeavour, the use of nuclear technology relies heavily on the accumulation of knowledge. This includes technical information in the form of scientific research, engineering analysis, design documentation, operational data, maintenance records, regulatory reviews and other documents and data. It also includes knowledge embodied in people ´┐Ż e.g. scientists, engineers and technicians and human resources.
In recent years, trends have drawn attention to the need for better management of nuclear knowledge. Depending on region and country, they include an ageing workforce, declining student enrolment figures, the risk of losing nuclear knowledge accumulated in the past, the need for capacity building and transfer of knowledge, and recognition of achieving added value through knowledge sharing and networking.
The global conference is organised for the first time by the IAEA and the Government of France through the Commissariat de l´┐Ż´┐Żnergie Atomique (CEA) in cooperation with a number of other international organizations. Sessions run through 10 September at the National Institute of Nuclear Sciences and Technology (INSTN) in Saclay, France. The conference is chaired by Mr. Bernard Bigot - High Commissioner for Nuclear Energy of France.
Opening addresses were given by IAEA Deputy Director General for Nuclear Energy Mr. Y.Sokolov, CEA Deputy Administrator General J.P. Le Roux and senior officials from the co-sponsoring organizations and institutes. The Conference is providing a forum for useful policy and technical debate, demonstrating the commitment of the entire nuclear community to maintain and develop the knowledge and skills needed for the 21st century.
Sessions opened with presentations on possible strategies for managing nuclear knowledge in governments, industry and academia. Three strategic directions were cited: to preserve the legacy of the nuclear development; to share existing knowledge and assure transfer to next generation; and to create new knowledge.
Additionally, leading experts in the field, industrial leaders and governmental officials delivered keynote speeches, highlighting the important role of the IAEA in nuclear knowledge management.
Over a very short period, the IAEA has underscored the importance of the issue, as demonstrated by various initiatives, meetings and symposia organised since 2002. Within its activities, the Agency has elevated knowledge management to a central position and has launched or supported a number of important global initiatives in response to the requests of its Member States. They include the Asian Network for Education in Nuclear Technology, Asian Nuclear Safety Network, and World Nuclear University, among others. Moreover, INIS (the International Nuclear Information System) has been praised for its important contribution to nuclear information management worldwide.
2. Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov Meets with James Jones, Supreme Commander of NATO's Joint Armed Forces in Europe
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation
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On September 8 Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov received James Jones, Supreme Commander of NATO's Joint Armed Forces in Europe, at his request.
During the conversation, special emphasis was laid on the theme of cooperation in fighting terrorism, inter alia with regard for the results of the Russia-NATO Council emergency meeting on September 7 and the joint statement adopted at it.
In discussing military-political questions of the Russia-NATO relationship, General Jones gave an assurance that NATO will undeviatingly abide by all its military restraint obligations.
The Russian side recalled the continuing problem of military transit to the Kaliningrad Region and noted that it expects from NATO assistance in resolving it.
An exchange of views on Iraq and Afghanistan also took place.
Today, the NATO-Russia Council (NRC), meeting in extraordinary Ambassadorial session, condemned in the strongest possible terms the outrageous terrorist attacks perpetrated against the people of the Russian Federation in late August and early September. These atrocities, including attacks on civilian aircraft, a suicide bombing aimed at a crowded metro station in Moscow, and the brutal hostage-taking and mass murder of innocent schoolchildren and other civilians in Beslan, North Ossetia, underscore the barbaric and insidious nature of the terrorist threat we all face today. These acts pose a direct challenge to our common security and shared democratic values, and to basic human rights and freedoms.
The NRC extends its sincere condolences and deepest sympathy for the suffering inflicted upon the families of the hundreds of victims of these attacks. We stand in solidarity with the people of the Russian Federation, and with all who have suffered at the hands of terrorist violence.
The member states of the NATO-Russia Council stand united in their categorical rejection of terrorism in all its manifestations, and their resolve that those responsible for these atrocities must be brought to justice. There is no cause which can justify these acts; the challenge of terrorism necessitates urgent and wide mobilisation of all nations in combating this scourge. Terrorism has once again demonstrated that it has neither boundaries, nor religious or moral rules. Our common cause is based on our joint resolve to win the struggle against terrorism. We call for unity of action by the international community in addressing this threat.
The member states of the NATO-Russia Council remain determined to strengthen and intensify their common efforts against this shared threat to the security and well-being of their peoples, including through developing an Action Plan specifying practical measures to fight this scourge of terrorism.
The "EUROFAB" operation consists specifically in the manufacture in France, for the US government, of four MOX fuel assemblies made from samples (140kg) of military-grade plutonium supplied by the United States. The manufactured assemblies will then be returned to the United States to be burned in an American nuclear power plant. This one-off operation is necessitated by the requirements for the use of nuclear fuel in US reactors.
France is supporting the American and Russian efforts to reduce their military plutonium designated surplus to security needs. Non-proliferation makes an essential contribution to international security. We fully share the nuclear non-proliferation goals pursued by the United States and Russia. These flow from commitments made by the great majority of the international community, starting with the five nuclear-weapon States (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States), in the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Our contribution to the disposition of this plutonium surplus to security needs falls within the framework of the Global Partnership against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction decided on by the G8 in Kananaskis in 2002, a Partnership whose importance was reaffirmed in Evian (2003) and Sea Island (2004). This project is also in line with the European Strategy against the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and UNSCR 1540 of April 2004. Information on the actual operation will be provided by the relevant industrial partner.
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