1. U.S. Sees Progress on Closing Russian Plutonium-Producing Reactors, Energy Official Says
Global Security Newswire
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With the awarding late last month of a contract to refurbish an electrical power plant in the Russian city of Seversk, the U.S. Energy Department has made significant progress on a project to shut down three Russian nuclear reactors that produce weapon-grade plutonium, a department official said yesterday (see GSN, June 7, 2004).
Awarding the $265 million contract to the U.S. firm Washington Group International was ï¿½criticalï¿½ to the projectï¿½s successful completion, the official said.
The three reactors ï¿½ two located in the closed city of Seversk and one in the closed city of Zheleznogorsk ï¿½ have been deemed by U.S. congressional auditors to pose a ï¿½serious proliferation threatï¿½ for annually producing a total of up to 1.2 metric tons of weapon-grade plutonium. Such material is enough for as many as 300 nuclear weapons annually, according to the Government Accountability Office.
In addition, the reactors have been operating well in excess of their original estimated service life of 20 years and could pose environmental risks.
Under the contract, Washington Group International will manage the refurbishment of a coal-fired electrical power plant in Seversk to allow Russia to shut down the two reactors located there while continuing to provide heat and electricity to residents of the Siberian city. On the Russian side, the Rosatomstroi firm and various Russian subcontractors will carry out the project.
The United States and Russia have developed a ï¿½quid pro quoï¿½ agreement by which progress made in providing replacement heat- and power-generating capabilities is matched by progress in shutting down the reactors, the Energy Department official said. The Seversk coal plant is expected to be completely refurbished by 2009, though early progress could result in the closing of one of the reactors in 2007, the official added.
ï¿½In fact, as a result of this contract, work has already been initiated at this site,ï¿½ the official said in a written response to Global Security Newswire.
The United States is also aiding the construction of a new fossil-fueled energy plant to replace the power generated by the reactor at Zheleznogorsk. That project is expected to be completed by 2011, the Energy Department official said.
The U.S. firm Raytheon Technical Services Co. was chosen in 2003 to review the Russian preliminary design for the planned Zheleznogorsk fossil fuel plant.
While the original cost for the reactor shutdown project has been previously estimated to be $466 million, some Energy Department officials have estimated the actual cost running to as much as $1 billion, according to the GAO.
A key element of President George W. Bush's plan to slow the spread of nuclear weapons has stalled, with even Washington's closest allies opposing his call to ban all new sales of technology capable of producing fuel for a nuclear reactor or a nuclear bomb.
That proposal is part of a broader plan Mr. Bush put forward last year to overhaul the faltering global system for containing the spread of nuclear arms. Two other ideas on his list also are meeting international resistance: banning sales of all nuclear equipment to countries that refuse to accept more-intrusive inspections from international monitors and a call to revamp the International Atomic Energy Agency, which the U.S. sees as too conflict-averse.
The debate over those proposals is about to intensify with several high-profile international meetings on nuclear-proliferation issues scheduled for this spring and summer. The White House must decide soon whether more pressure, including further efforts to oust IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, or a more conciliatory approach, has the better chance of moving the president's proposals forward.
The debate comes at a time when worries about the spread of nuclear materials and technology are growing, compounded by fears that such material could fall into terrorist hands. North Korea and Iran have more-advanced nuclear programs than once thought, helped in part by a nuclear black market. India and Pakistan's open possession of nuclear weapons, and their ability to escape serious international punishment because of their strategic value to the U.S. and its allies, also have weakened the longstanding taboo against obtaining nuclear arms.
Early Test for Rice
How the U.S. deals with all these problems will be an early test for the new secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, who aides say is committed to repairing diplomatic ties, but also has shown little patience with international bureaucracies and many international treaties.
Officials from Britain and other close allies say they agree that the world's nonproliferation system is in serious need of repair. They also agree that access to uranium-enrichment and plutonium-reprocessing technology -- guaranteed by treaty to all states that forswear nuclear ambitions -- is a dangerous problem. But they warn that the nuclear powers need to move gingerly between promoting reform and provoking a backlash from the nuclear have-nots, who might react to too much pressure by simply walking away from all international controls.
American and other diplomats say arguments could become especially bitter at a conference this May in New York to review progress made under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the main international agreement for containing nuclear arms. There, Washington's demands for reform could be trumped by harsh criticism of its refusal to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and its own research into new nuclear weapons. Some administration officials are arguing that the U.S. should confront critics head-on, dismissing their concerns as Cold War remnants that are diverting attention from the new threats posed by nuclear black markets, North Korea and Iran. Indeed some hard-liners have argued that the U.S. should "unsign" the test-ban treaty as it did the International Criminal Court Treaty -- both bear President Bill Clinton's signature -- to leave no doubt about Washington's views.
Mr. Bush is encountering so much resistance in part because of tactical differences over how best to promote change, but for some nations there also are potentially millions of dollars on the line if the rules on nuclear-technology sales are altered.
The Thorniest Debate
The most difficult debate internationally may be over Mr. Bush's proposal for an across-the-board ban on sales of nuclear-fuel technology to nations that don't already possess full-scale plants. The British and French are instead proposing that new countries still be allowed to go into the business, if they meet a set of criteria that prove they have no weapons ambitions -- criteria that Washington argues proliferators could outwit.
Mr. ElBaradei, the IAEA chief, who shares little else with the U.S. president, has a similar sense of urgency, warning that such technology can turn countries into "latent weapon states." He is calling for a five-year moratorium on the construction of new nuclear-fuel plants, and he has proposed the creation of international consortia to guarantee a supply of nuclear fuel, an idea the U.S. opposes.
President Bush first called for a major overhaul of the nonproliferation system last February, in the midst of wrangling over Iran's nuclear program and at a time when the administration was being criticized for not moving faster to break up the nuclear black market run by Pakistan's Abdul Qadeer Khan.
In the months that followed, Mr. Bush has had success with several of his less controversial proposals. In May, the United Nations Security Council approved a U.S.-sponsored resolution directing countries to enact strict export controls and criminalize proliferation.
Proliferation Security Initiative
The U.S. also has succeeded in signing up new countries to join its Proliferation Security Initiative, a group of 60 countries committed to halting the shipment of dangerous weapons. That group had its first big success in fall of 2003, when the U.S. worked with the Germans and Italians to block a shipment of centrifuge parts from the Khan network bound for Libya.
A U.S. official noted that Russia, which signed up last year but has a long history of proliferating, has moved twice in recent months to block what intelligence reports said were shipments of missile components across its territory from North Korea to Iran. Both times the Russians came up empty-handed, which the official says could either mean that news of the busts was leaked by Russian officials or "the North Koreans are getting nervous" and decided to hold off shipment or chose a different route.
The centerpiece of Mr. Bush's speech last February, however, was his call to curtail the fundamental bargain of the 1970 Nonproliferation Treaty, which guarantees that states renouncing nuclear weapons will in return be allowed full access to civilian nuclear technology. Mr. Bush charged that both North Korea and Iran have abused that bargain, pursuing nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian power program. And he called on the Nuclear Suppliers Group -- 44 states that sell most but not all of the world's nuclear technology -- to restrict sales of enrichment or reprocessing technology to states that aren't already producing their own fuel. He also called on the group to deny sales of all nuclear-related equipment to countries that refuse to accept more-intrusive inspections from the IAEA under the so-called Additional Protocol.
Those proposals have had rougher going. The U.S. did manage to persuade the Group of Eight leading industrial nations to accept a one-year moratorium on all fuel-technology sales to new buyers at last summer's summit in Sea Island, Georgia. That was a relatively easy concession since other than the Iranians there are currently no declared new purchasers. But one senior official says that going into this summer's summit in Britain, "the count is seven to one against a permanent ban."
British and French Alternative
The British and French are instead calling for the adoption of new criteria for purchasers to prove their good intentions, including good standing with IAEA investigators and a demonstration of economic viability of their civilian fuel-production program. Such an approach, they say, is far more likely to win the cooperation of the nuclear have-nots -- something they argue is essential in a world where a Malaysian factory was producing uranium-enrichment centrifuges for the Khan network.
The Canadians and Australians, meanwhile, have more personal reasons to oppose an across-the-board ban: Both have extensive uranium-mining operations and want to keep their options open for future enrichment programs.
U.S. officials say that determined proliferators still would be able to game the system, offering as proof Iran's continued ability to sidestep IAEA censure and U.N. sanctions even after hiding nuclear-related activities from the agency for nearly two decades. U.S. officials also argue that a complete ban will remove all possible temptation for countries such as South Korea and Taiwan, which have been nervously watching North Korea and might be tempted to hedge their nuclear bets with fuel programs that also allow them to stockpile weapons-usable material.
President Bush's call to deny all nuclear sales to countries that refuse to sign on to the Additional Protocol has more support. The two main holdouts in the G-8 are Russia and France, which want an exception for the sales of civilian nuclear reactors, which both countries manufacture and export.
New Push on IAEA
U.S. officials say they plan a new push during the next few months for IAEA overhaul. Mr. Bush has called for creating a special committee within the IAEA's board of governors -- which acts on consensus and can be notoriously slow to move. A U.S. official says Mr. Bush left it intentionally ambiguous whether the smaller committee would be given the power to rule against violators or simply recommend ways to strengthen the agency's performance. The U.S. has since settled on the less-ambitious interpretation.
In Vienna, one IAEA board member says that even that idea hasn't had much traction with diplomats famously jealous of their prerogatives. But the U.S. still could make progress, he says, if Washington "makes it a bilateral issue with capitals." The diplomat also warned that Washington's campaign to block Mr. ElBaradei from a third term, including news reports that it has tapped Mr. ElBaradei's phone, is likely to turn more members away from the idea of reform than it wins over. U.S. officials say Mr. ElBaradei hasn't been tough enough with Iran or the board.
To block Mr. ElBaradei the U.S. needs 12 of the board's 35 members to go along. It has been unable so far to find anyone willing to run against him. But U.S. officials say that support for Mr. ElBaradei is weak and they will continue to lobby members, and solicit candidates, in time for what is expected to be a June vote.
Momentum is building in Congress to revamp and expand a program credited with destroying thousands of nuclear weapons from Soviet stockpiles and keeping them out of terrorists' hands.
For 14 years, the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program has paid for the dismantling of Cold War-era nuclear warheads and other weapons of mass destruction. But bureaucratic logjams have resulted from rules set by Congress to ensure the billions of dollars spent on the program are used properly.
Sen. Richard Lugar (news, bio, voting record), R-Ind. ï¿½ who co-sponsored the original bill with then-Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga. ï¿½ said he will introduce legislation to loosen those restrictions and make it easier to use the program outside the former Soviet Union. Lugar is also proposing a separate program to destroy stockpiles of conventional weapons.
While prospects for passage are uncertain given the vagaries of the legislative process, Lugar has some powerful allies.
President Bush (news - web sites) has backed the Nunn-Lugar program and, in last fall's presidential debates, said the prospect of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists represented the single most serious threat to the United States.
The independent commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks recommended the United States do all that it can to support Nunn-Lugar.
At her confirmation hearing last week to become secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice (news - web sites) said she supports Lugar's proposals and would push for their approval.
"I really can think of nothing more important than being able to proceed with the dismantlement ï¿½ safe dismantlement of the Soviet arsenal," she said under questioning from Lugar, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee that was considering her nomination.
Some House Republicans have had reservations about the program, saying millions of dollars have been spent on facilities that couldn't be used or projects that had little to do with weapons of mass destruction.
But a leading House Republican on national security issues, Rep. Heather Wilson (news, bio, voting record) of New Mexico, said the question is: "Is it worth the risk of possible wasting of some dollars to achieve an end which is the greater control of nuclear materials in other countries?"
"There are people who think we shouldn't do any of these programs unless we have a great audit trail," she said. "Well, there are some places where we are never going to have a great audit trail, where it might still be worth pursuing the program."
Rep. Christopher Cox (news, bio, voting record), R-Calif., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said U.S. disputes with Russian President Vladimir Putin (news - web sites) shouldn't interfere with cooperation on dismantling arms.
"I have a lot of concern with Putin's attack on the media, Putin's attack on democracy and his attack on human rights. None of those concerns is a reason for us not to cooperate on proliferation initiatives," Cox said.
Cox and Wilson spoke at a news conference in which House Republicans released a broad nuclear nonproliferation strategy that included support for expanding Nunn-Lugar "while seeking to improve business practices where needed."
Separately, three House Democrats offered their own bill to step up nonproliferation efforts. That bill calls for an expansion of cooperative threat reduction programs.
Lugar's proposal would eliminate requirements that the president certify that Russia and other participants meet certain criteria, such as investing their own money in destroying weapons, allowing U.S. verification of weapons destruction, and meeting human rights standards. Presidents have often waived those requirements.
The proposal by Lugar would also eliminate additional conditions affecting the construction of a chemical weapons destruction facility in Shchuchye, Russia. The construction has been hampered by disputes between the United States and Russia.
It also would lift the $50 million cap on funds that can be used on Nunn-Lugar projects outside the former Soviet Union. Last year, Nunn-Lugar money was used to destroy chemical weapons in Albania, the first time it was used outside the Soviet Union.
The Nunn-Lugar program is credited with deactivating or destroying 6,564 nuclear warheads, 568 intercontinental ballistic missiles, 761 nuclear air-to-surface missiles, 543 submarine-launched missiles, 28 nuclear submarines and other parts of the Soviet Union's nuclear program.
1. Russia, Iran Hold Strategic Stability Consultations
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Strategic stability was a topic of Russian-Iranian consultations.
A Russian Foreign Ministry official told Itar-Tass on Wednesday that Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak represented the Russian side during the two-day consultations in Tehran.
He met high-ranking officials of the Iranian Foreign Ministry and the Supreme National Security Council.
The conversations addressed a ï¿½broad range of themes of bilateral cooperation and issues concerning transparency and the peaceful character of the Iranian nuclear programmeï¿½, the ministryï¿½s official said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a comment on the situation around Iran last week that ï¿½settlement of the Iranï¿½s nuclear problem should be accomplished with political and diplomatic methodsï¿½.
ï¿½There are all possibilities for that,ï¿½ Lavrov said.
Moscow ï¿½has supported an accordï¿½ between Paris, London and Berlin on the one hand and with Tehran on the other, and ï¿½has held parallel contacts with the European troika and with Iranï¿½.
This is all about ï¿½freezing the uranium enrichment programme and continuing close cooperation between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency without any secret topicsï¿½, Lavrov said.
ï¿½Russia will do everything in order the reached accords are put in practice,ï¿½ he said.
With the worldï¿½s attention focused on Iranï¿½s nuclear progressï¿½and what to do about itï¿½scant consideration has been given to Iranï¿½s chemical weapon and ballistic missile programs. Combined, these pose a more imminent threat than Iranï¿½s nascent nuclear effort, and they reveal Iranï¿½s continued commitment to developing unconventional weapons. These programs are being built with help from Russia and China, whose companies are helping Iran improve the range and accuracy of its missiles, and to master the indigenous production of chemical agents.
In its latest estimate, released last November, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency reported that Iranï¿½s chemical weapon stockpile probably includes blister, blood and choking agents like mustard, cyanide and phosgene, and that Iran is suspected of working on more deadly agents, like VX nerve gas. In addition to the bombs and artillery shells that stand ready to deliver these agents, Iran is now able to mass produce its Shahab-3 missile, which is estimated to travel over 800 miles. This puts Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Caucasus within its range. Often cited as a platform for a prospective nuclear warhead, the missile could also deliver a chemical payload.
But more than just a military menace, Iranï¿½s missile and chemical programs show how little support there really is for stopping the spread of mass destruction weapons. Chinese and Russian companiesï¿½often state-backedï¿½have long been helping Iran, despite repeated pledges by Russia and China to clamp down on such illicit trade. Since 2000, the U.S. State Department has punished groups of Chinese or Russian proliferators to Iran thirteen times. Chinese firms have been particularly egregious: since December 1, ten have been sanctioned by the State Department for selling Iran mass destruction weapon material. Most of the companies produce missile or chemical items.
In an interview with Iran Watch, a senior U.S. official confirmed that ï¿½Iran is still getting essential help from China and Russia.ï¿½ For missiles, Chinese companies are providing ï¿½solid propellant and guidance,ï¿½ while Russian companies are sending ï¿½liquid fuel technology and engineering know-how.ï¿½ These exports will allow Iran to launch its Shahab-3 (based on North Koreaï¿½s No-Dong missile) faster and with greater accuracy. To make chemical warheads for the missiles to carry, Iran has been able to buy glass-lined equipment from Chinese firms. This gear, according to the official, ï¿½is what you need for indigenous chemical weapon production.ï¿½
One of Iranï¿½s most dependable helpers is the China North Industries Corporation (NORINCO), a big state-sponsored enterprise that the State Department has censured five times since 2003, most recently in early January, for spreading missile technology to Iran. According to the U.S. official, NORINCO has shipped metals and chemicals useful in missiles, as well as other items classified at the top level of sensitivity under international export controls.
Iranï¿½s other state-sponsored helpers include China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation (CPMIEC) and China Great Wall Industries Corporation. CPMIEC sold missile guidance components (such as gyroscopes and accelerometers) that the official says ï¿½were extremely helpful.ï¿½ Such specialized gear is needed to allow a missile to fly farther while retaining its accuracy. According to the official, guidance is the ï¿½long pole in the tent of missile technology.ï¿½
From Russiaï¿½s Baltic State Technical University Iran received missile training. This reportedly included a missile education center set up in Iran to facilitate Russian technology transfer. According to the U.S. official, our government ï¿½is not confident that this activity has ended.ï¿½ From the Moscow Aviation Institute, Iranian technicians learned about rocket propulsion and guidance. The State Department punished the Instituteï¿½s Vadim Vorobey in April 2004 for his special help in facilitating this assistance. Vorobey reportedly traveled to Iran a dozen times between 1996 and 2000 to work on missile projects. Also, Russiaï¿½s now defunct Moso Company sold Iran specialty steel for missile fuel tanks.
To produce chemical agent for the missile to carry, Iran has been able to buy glass-lined equipment from a number of Chinese firms. This equipment is resistant to corrosion from the specialized ingredients needed for poison gas production and therefore helps in handling such material. In April 2004, the State Department censured Chinaï¿½s Zibo Chemical Equipment Plant for selling glass-lined equipment to Iran. This marked the third time the company was singled out in as many years. Zibo is one of the few Chinese firms capable of manufacturing large-sized glass-lined vessels. Its illicit activities should be easy for China to keep track of and shut down. The State Department has also censured several other Chinese companies for transferring glass-lined equipment to Iran. These include the Liyang Chemical Equipment Company and the Nanjing Chemical Industries Group. The latter was cited as long ago as 1997 for ï¿½knowingly and materially contributing to Iranï¿½s chemical weapon program.ï¿½
That the activities of Russian and Chinese firms have continued despite repeated censuring by the United States proves that Russia and China are at best indifferent to the key role their companies play in improving weapon programs in Iran. China and Russia seem to value their commercial ties to Iran more than they do their international commitments to stopping proliferation. Indeed, China concluded a preliminary energy deal with Iranï¿½worth an estimated tens of billions of dollarsï¿½in October, as the debate over Iranï¿½s nuclear program was heating up. And Russia has promised to continue selling Iran nuclear technology, which provides an important source of income for Russiaï¿½s underemployed nuclear industry.
In order to convince China and Russia to change their ways, the United States must do more than just revoke the U.S. trade privileges of firms that do little or no business with the United States anyway. These penalties have not inspired a change in behavior. Instead, the administration needs to place dangerous transfers to Iran nearer the top of its bilateral agenda with both governments and be willing to impose meaningful penalties if Russia and China continue to balk at enforcing export controls.
Failure to do so would not only benefit Iranï¿½s chemical weapon and missile programs, but could also impair the Bush administrationï¿½s quest to haul Iran before the U.N. Security Council for its nuclear transgressions. Why should Russia and China be expected to punish Iran for violating its international nuclear obligations if both countries allow their own firms to violate international export control laws with impunity?
By virtue of their indigenous capabilities and their seats on the Security Council, China and Russia have the power to help stop proliferation to Iran or to fuel it. The United States must convince them to switch sides. Pushing Russia and China to start punishing their export control violators would be a good start.
1. Belarus Aims to End Dependence on Russian Natural Gas
(for personal use only)
The leader of the opposition in Belarus, Vladimir Parfenovich, has said the country's government has approved and is enforcing a program under which a nuclear power plant will be built in Belarus as soon as possible, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
The power plant, if it is really built, will free the country from its dependence on Russian natural gas, which currently accounts for over 90% of the energy consumed in the country. President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko is deeply worried that "the gas pipeline is being used as a means of political pressure on Belarus." His two declared targets for the project are to rid the country of Russia's Gazprom-driven natural gas monopoly by finding alternative suppliers and by relieving the general dependence on Russian gas. That can only be achieved by relying on an alternative energy source.
Experts estimate the project could cost billions of dollars. Belarus will inevitably have to borrow to complete the project. Purchasing relevant equipment in the West might encourage Western support for the project, but could create leverage to exert pressure on the uncontrollable Belarussian leader.
Apart from the political aspect of this project, Russia's possible involvement in the construction of a nuclear power plant in Belarus would be profitable for Russia as well. A former Russian nuclear energy minister, Viktor Mikhailov, says, "Such a construction project could help maintain the high level of Russia's nuclear industry." As a solution to the funding problem, he proposed that Belarus could pay off Russia's participation in the construction project from revenues it would receive for electricity exports as soon as the power plant became operational.
The press service of Belenergo, the state-owned energy supplier, said this project could never be developed secretly and described Mr. Parfenovich's statement as "spurious." However, according to Belenergo press secretary Vladimir Korduba, a nuclear power plant has to be built anyway sooner or later.
2. Viet Nam, Russia Pledge to Boost Traditional Friendship
Vietnam News Agency
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Russia Ambassador to Viet Nam Vadim Viktorvitch Serafimov said, "We are proud of the development strength of strategic partnership relations with Viet Nam in many fields."
Ambassador Serafimov made the comment in an exclusive interview with Vietnam News Agency in honour of the 55th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Viet Nam and Russia (January 30). The interview goes as follows:
Viet Nam and Russia will celebrate the 55th anniversary of diplomatic relations on January 30. What is your opinion on this important event?
The anniversary is a milestone which opens a new era in the relations between the two nations, creating a new beginning for our diversified and close co-operation.
These relations have experienced the fierce years of Viet Nam's war for national independence and the hard years of economic recovery.
An example of this close co-operation is the Vietsovpetro joint venture which saw experts from Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union co-operating with Vietnamese colleagues. Russia was also involved in other fundamental constructions of Viet Nam national economy, including the Hoa Binh hydro-power plant - the biggest hydro-electric plant in Southeast Asia.
More than 30,000 Vietnamese students have graduated from our universities, including 3,500 doctors and associate doctors.
I am happy to acknowledge that development of relations with Viet Nam is still one of the priorities in Russia's foreign affair policy for the Asia-Pacific region.
We are proud of the development strength of strategic partnership relations with Viet Nam in many fields.
So far, the Hoa Binh hydro-electric plant and the Vietsovpetro joint venture are still considered symbols for the traditional friendship between the two countries. What bilateral co-operation constructions can become similar symbols for the strategic partnership relations between the two nations in the 21st century? What should we do to boost the commercial economic relation to a higher level that will suit our political relations?
Russia and Viet Nam are two traditional partners in many fields.
Our long-term, diversified and effective co-operation has been formed in commerce and economy. In the past years, the former Soviet Union has helped Viet Nam build more than 300 plants for different industries.
In the early 21st century, we saw a sharp growth in our bilateral commodity exchange. From 2000 to 2004, bilateral commercial turnover exceeded 3 billion USD.
Currently, Russia actively invests in Viet Nam. Vietsovpetro, the 'flag-ship' of Vietnamese industry is successfully operating, producing more than 60 per cent of Viet Nam's oil.
The Vietgazprom joint venture has also begun drilling on Viet Nam's continental shelf.
Besides these landmark industries, there are 45 other projects in Viet Nam which have used Russian capital including the processing industry, transport industry, and seafood processing industry.
We have implemented a commitment signed in March 2002, which was an inter-governmental agreement between the two countries which saw the Russian Government extending Viet Nam a State credit sum worth100 million USD to help build hydro-electric constructions. We also signed another inter-governmental agreement for co-operation to use nuclear energy for peace goals.
We think that constructions that Viet Nam intend to build, such as the Son La hydro-electric plant and the first nuclear electricity plant in Viet Nam, will be constructions that we can co-operate on. Russia's concerned organisations are ready to implement projects for building metros in Ha Noi and HCM City as well as putting Viet Nam's satellite into operation as part of the Vianasat project.
The prospect to increase bilateral commerce can be seen not only in boosting co-operation in traditional fields such as electricity, oil and gas research and exploitation, but also in other fields, including expansion of meetings between high-ranking leaders.
Many Vietnamese have been living, studying and working in Russia, and many Russian experts used to work in Viet Nam. What should we do to make full use of this potential as a bridge to link between the two countries, particularly in cultural and educational exchanges?
The Vietnamese who have lived and studied in Russia often think of Russia with love, and consider Russia their second motherland. Therefore, these Vietnamese are enthusiastic supporters of the development of cultural exchanges and educational co-operation.
Russian experts who have worked in Viet Nam also have warm feelings toward the country, and many participate in activities of the Friendship Association with Viet Nam.
Because these students and workers understand Russian and Vietnamese traditions, customs, cultures, economic management conditions, markets and laws, they are in the position to help entrepreneurs from either side in doing business.-Enditem
Aging nuclear power station is a vital source of energy for Armenia, but its future is uncertain given its location on geological and political faultlines.
Its four giant cooling towers dominating the skyline outside Yerevan, the Metsamor nuclear power station is a huge presence in Armenia ï¿½ and a major controversy outside it.
Armenians depend on the station for about 40 per cent of their electricity, so most believe they cannot do without Metsamor ï¿½ even bearing in mind the potential risks from the earthquake-prone land it has stood on for three decades.
ï¿½I have worked at the station for many years and I donï¿½t think it is more dangerous than any other in the world,ï¿½ said Metsamor employee Araik Ovsepian. ï¿½Of course, it would be better to live further away from it, especially as they keep the nuclear waste on site. But I want to work in my own [professional] field, and I need to feed my family.ï¿½
Constructed in 1976, the twin-reactor station sits near major geological faultlines, one of which caused the Spitak earthquake that killed at least 25,000 people in 1988. Metsamor is also in one of Armeniaï¿½s most densely populated areas. The capital Yerevan is 30 kilometres away.
Only one 440-megawatt reactor is running today, but the European Union says that given the plantï¿½s location and age and the need for its nuclear fuel to travel by air, Metsamor should close down altogether. The plant, which is managed by Russian electricity giant RAO UES, also gives rise to concerns in the immediate region. The Turkish border is just 16 kilometres away, Iranï¿½s about 60 kilometres, and Azerbaijan and Georgia are less than 150 kilometres away.
ï¿½God forbid that there should be an earthquake there. There would be a catastrophe, and there would be radiation fallout within a radius of at least 400 kilometres,ï¿½ said Yetermishli Kurban, deputy director of Azerbaijanï¿½s Seismological Centre.
Georgian Green Party leader Giorgi Gachechiladze added, ï¿½According to computer modelling done by our experts, if anything happens on the Armenian plantï¿½s territory, weï¿½d have only eight hours to evacuate Tbilisiï¿½s population,ï¿½
Alvaro Antonian, the head of Armeniaï¿½s own National Seismic Protection Service, said he couldnï¿½t rule out the possibility of another major earthquake before 2008 or 2010, it would happen in the south of the country, relatively far away from Metsamor.
Armenian officials insist that Metsamor was specially built by Soviet engineers to survive earthquakes of up to 8-9 on the Richter scale. And although of a similar vintage, the VVER-440 reactor it uses is safer than the type at Chernobyl, experts say.
During the 1988 earthquake, the nuclear plant withstood tremors measuring five to six on the Richter scale. Both reactors at the plant were shut down in the aftermath of that earthquake, but the second unit was restarted in 1995 because of the countryï¿½s dire need for energy.
While Metsamor was out of action, the country suffered electricity rationing, economic decline and environmental damage as people felled trees to get through the freezing winters.
ï¿½The tragedy was that many people left in winter, while those who stayed had to warm themselves with firewood and other fuel. This led to deforestation of Yerevan and the surrounding areas and reduction of the population by a third,ï¿½ said a report by the PA Consulting Group, which represents USAID in Armenia.
The European Union argues that the risk of accidents or earthquakes is too great, and that more effort must be made to find alternative power sources. In June last year, the EU froze a grant of 100 million euros because of what it said was the Armenian governmentï¿½s slowness in fulfilling earlier commitments to close the station.
One detail that worries the EU ï¿½ which wants to see the closure of Chernobyl-era power plants right across Europe ï¿½ is Metsamorï¿½s lack of a secondary containment facility, a failsafe in case of radioactive spills.
Another problem is the need to fly in fuel on Russian planes through Georgian airspace to Armenia. That ï¿½is the same as flying around a potential nuclear bombï¿½ said Alexis Louber, head of the EU delegation in Armenia, who has been quoted as saying the plant poses ï¿½danger to the entire regionï¿½.
Metsamor general director Gagik Markosian said the flights, which pass over Georgia, take place once a year.
However, Soso Kuchukhidze, in charge of nuclear energy matters at the Georgian environment ministry, insisted that flights are made only once every five years. and said he thought there was no danger.
ï¿½We know precisely when the fuel is to be transported and on what plane. The fuel which is carried through Georgiaï¿½s airspace is totally harmless and presents no danger whatsoever until it enters the reactorï¿½s active zone and the chain reaction begins. When passing through Georgian airspace, the fuel is a normal substance emitting no radiation.ï¿½
Kuchukhidze said the last load was shifted in the summer of 2004, when two planes transported about 32 tonnes of fuel.
Many Georgians appear poorly informed about the issue, which is rarely, if ever discussed in the media.
Gachechiladze, the Green Party chairman, said he had never been told. ï¿½The law says no sort of nuclear materials can be transported through Georgian territory. We are not talking about ordinary fuel. It must be enriched uranium, which is very dangerous.ï¿½
ï¿½Those who allow it should be imprisoned. Can you imagine what will happen if such a plane crashes?ï¿½
An additional worry is the waste material generated at Metsamor, said Akob Sanasarian from the Union of Armenian Greens. The practice of burying the waste on site ï¿½ in facilities constructed with technical aid from French firm Framatom ï¿½ ï¿½cannot be allowed from a security and ecological standpoint,ï¿½ he said.
But the main obstacle to shutting down Metsamor is that Armenia simply does not have the natural resources or the money to find working alternatives.
Energy minister Armen Movsisian said it would cost one billion dollars to stop the plant. ï¿½Negotiations with the [European] Commission are still underway. Armenia is offering to identify what sources could become the basis for building new, alternative capacities. But today, when we have no financial means available, we cannot talk about the closure or any timelines.ï¿½
One plan, which part of the EU grant was meant to help finance, is to lay a gas pipeline from Iran. However, Movsisian said using gas to power thermoelectric stations would result in higher electricity bills and have a negative effect on the economy as a whole.
Electricity tariffs in Armenia are already double those in Russia, according to RAO UES head Anatoly Chubais. Prices in Georgia are still higher.
Hydroelectric schemes are also limited by the lack of major water resources in Armenia other than Lake Sevan, which is already suffering the effects of Soviet-era ecological damage.
While some have even called for a new nuclear plant to be built, Armenian and Russian experts believe that Metsamor can still function safely for at least another 11 years.
Plant director Markosian said 35 million dollars had been spent on improvements since the reopening of the reactor, and 22 million euros have been provided under the EUï¿½s TACIS programme. ï¿½The safety level at power plant two has increased since 1995 compared with 1989 when the plant was stopped. We can say with assurance that the safety of the plant has been growing yearly.ï¿½
Markosian said that this second unit should be kept running to the end of its 30-year service life. Taking into account the six-year period it was switched off after the earthquake, that would be 2016. However, similar Russian plants have seen their service life extended by another 15 years, raising the possibility that Metsamor will stay in operation until 2031.
For neighbouring Georgia, the Metsamor debate is complex. Though some fear potential disaster, Georgia has its own energy shortages and relies in part on electricity that Armenia, thanks to Metsamor, is able to export.
Georgia buys between 100 and 150 megawatts of electricity daily from Armenia ï¿½ not from Metsamor, but from the Razdan thermoelectric power station. Bur Georgian energy minister Nika Gilauri warns, ï¿½if the Armenian nuclear power station stops, it will be impossible for Armenia to export electricity to Georgia. Armenia will have available 400 megawatts less than now,ï¿½
Despite its oil and gas resources, Azerbaijan also experiences electricity shortages ï¿½ particularly in the southern Nakhichivan autonomous region, which is separated from the rest of the country by Armenian territory, leaving it somewhat isolated ever since the war over Nagorny Karabakh in the early Nineties.
Armenian energy ministry representative Levon Vardanian said at an EU-sponsored conference in Baku last November that Yerevan was ready to export electricity to Nakhichevan.
ï¿½We know that there are certain problems with electricity supplies in the Nakhichivan Autonomous Republic, and we are prepared to cooperate with Azerbaijan in restoring existing links,ï¿½ Vardanian said. ï¿½Energy specialists are always ready for cooperation and politicians must set aside the problems.ï¿½
However, Azerbaijanï¿½s deputy prime minister Abid Sharifov said there was no chance of such cooperation as long as the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia remained unresolved.
ï¿½As long as there is no peace deal with Armenia, there can be no talk of mutual links. They can come here to take part in conferences, but that does not mean we want to begin some sort of links with them,ï¿½ he said.
1. Griffiths Announces ï¿½12 Million Pledge to End Weapons-Grade Plutonium Production in Former Soviet Union
Department of Trade and Industry of the United Kingdom
(for personal use only)
Trade and Industry Minister, Nigel Griffiths will today sign an agreement with the US to provide ï¿½12 million of aid to help accelerate the permanent shutdown of one of the last operating weapons-grade plutonium reactors in the Former Soviet Union.
The agreement will assist in the permanent closure of the final operating plutonium production reactor in the closed nuclear city of Zheleznogorsk in Siberia.
The UK contribution will support the wider US led programme to close the three remaining plutonium production reactors in Russia. These reactors also provide electricity to the two Russian cities of Seversk and Zheleznogorsk with a combined population of 215,000.
The UK contribution to the programme will support the design and construction of a replacement energy plant which should begin operation in 2011. The Russian Government has agreed to permanently shut down the reactors once this energy plant is operating.
Speaking about the signing of the agreement with the US, Trade and Industry Minister, Nigel Griffiths commented:
"The UK is engaged in major programmes across the Former Soviet Union to help tackle the Cold War legacy. These remaining Soviet-era weapons grade reactors produce around 1.2 metric tons of plutonium each year - enough to arm 300 nuclear weapons. This is an urgent non-proliferation concern for the international community.
"I am delighted that the UK, in collaboration with our US and Russian partners can contribute to this vital programme and play a full part in addressing these crucial issues."
Welcoming the UK commitment, U.S. Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Non-proliferation of the National Nuclear Security Administration, Paul M. Longsworth said:
"We are very pleased with the support of the United Kingdom for this important nonproliferation initiative. The goal of this program is to ensure that new plutonium is not created. This is essential because plutonium that is never created does not have to be accounted for, does not need to be secured, and will not be available for use by terrorists."
2. The United States and the United Kingdom Cooperate on Ridding Russia of Weapons Grade Plutonium
National Nuclear Security Administration
(for personal use only)
The United States National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the United Kingdom's Trade and Industry Ministry today signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to assist the permanent shutdown of the final operating weapons grade plutonium production reactor in the closed nuclear city of Zheleznogorsk, Russia.
Under this MOU the United Kingdom will contribute $20M to NNSA's Elimination of Weapons Grade Plutonium Production Program (EWGPP).
NNSA Assistant Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation James Turner signed the MOU with the United Kingdom's Minister of Trade and Industry Nigel Griffiths. The governments of the United Kingdom and the United States are supporting the shutdown of the Zheleznogorsk plutonium production reactor as part of their commitment to the G8 Global Partnership.
"The signing of this MOU is a major step in our collaborative efforts to address our mutual nonproliferation objectives," said NNSA Administrator Linton F. Brooks. "When the Zheleznogorsk reactor is finally shut down, there will be one less source of nuclear weapons grade plutonium in the world."
The EWGPP will result in the permanent shutdown of three Russian nuclear reactors, which currently produce weapons-grade plutonium. These reactors, which are the last three reactors in Russia that produce plutonium that could be used for military purposes, also provide necessary heat and electricity to two regions in Siberia. In order to meet these energy requirements, the EWGPP will provide support to the Russian Federation for provision of replacement fossil energy plants. The Russians have agreed to permanently shut down the reactors once replacement energy is provided.
Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear energy. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad.
3. Report: Threat of Nukes in Terrorists' Hands Is Urgent
House Policy Committee
(for personal use only)
Outgoing House Policy Committee Chairman and Homeland Security Chairman, Christopher Cox (R-CA), joined Congresswoman Heather Wilson (R-NM), Chair of the House Policy Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, today to release a major report on America's efforts to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists.
The report calls for a dramatic increase in U.S. efforts to combat the spread of nuclear weapons, including the development of a single set of goals, priorities and strategies that would be used by all U.S. cooperative threat reduction programs.
The report, crafted by Rep. Wilsonï¿½s Subcommittee, is entitled ï¿½All Tools at Our Disposal: Addressing Nuclear Proliferation in a Post-9/11 World.ï¿½
ï¿½A nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists or a rogue state is everyone's worst nightmare,ï¿½ Wilson said. "Treaties alone will not protect us from this threat."
ï¿½The Homeland Security Committee will rely heavily on this report,ï¿½ Chairman Cox said. "Preventing a nuclear or radiological attack on America requires the interception and diversion of nuclear materials and technology long before one of these deadly weapons can be used on our shores.ï¿½
The report is the result of work the subcommittee did in 2004, during the 108th Congress, on the problem of nuclear proliferation.
The policy report:
Calls for a comprehensive approach to address the many pathways that nations or terrorists could use to gain nuclear capabilities;
Identifies key strategies to strengthen international controls and expand bilateral work with other nations;
Urges strengthening technological means, human intelligence and analytical efforts to detect proliferation activities and networks; and,
Notes the need to deepen cooperation among nations that share U.S. concern, and the need to influence nations that do not share the same sense of urgency.
4. Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov Interview with SANA, the Syrian News Agency (excerpted)
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation
(for personal use only)
[. . .]
Question: What is your attitude to the idea of forming a security system in the Middle East based on the principle of converting it into a nuclear-weapon-free region and of making Israel open its nuclear facilities to international inspection?
Answer: The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction poses a serious threat to international security. New alarming trends have appeared in the world recently, subjecting to a test the nuclear nonproliferation regime.
We welcome the idea of establishing a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East, of which Syria is a co-initiator. Its realization, undoubtedly, would help consolidate security and stability in the region and in the world as a whole.
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