De Montfort University is continuing to help former Soviet Union nuclear physicists and engineers find employment after running a short English language and business skills course for the second year in a row.
Before Iraq's 'weapons of mass destruction' worried the world, another less well-known - but very real - nuclear threat existed following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
Almost overnight, thousands of nuclear physicists and engineers became unemployed and communities that relied on the development of weapons for their livelihood were left without a future.
The West feared that many of these highly intelligent and skilled scientists would sell their services and secrets to rogue states and equip them with nuclear weapons.
But Britain is playing a part in ensuring this part of the cold war legacy does not lead to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction around the world, with the UK government promising ï¿½4m a year to work on programmes to retrain nuclear scientists.
Last year saw the launch of a new course at De Montfort University in Leicester to help former nuclear scientists to find "more peaceful" careers.
Now in its second year, engineers and scientists from Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine have just finished taking part in the short course which focuses on English language skills as well as business management and "personal professional" development to help the scientists widen their career prospects in their own countries.
David Boydon is course leader at De Montfort, where the second annual intake of students recently completed the four-week training. He said the skills participants gained from the course could be put to a variety of "peaceful" uses.
"The course focuses on business entrepreneurial skills, so the sky's the limit as long as the idea is right, the product is right, and the backing is sound - the same as any entrepreneurial venture, really," he said.
Students from last year's course are now employed as translators, administrators, managers and senior researchers. Mr Boydon feared there might have been language difficulties, but found that participants readily used English rather than Russian. "The cross-cultural capability of international students continues to impress me," he said.
Kairat Kadyrzhanov, former director of Kazakhstan's Institute of Nuclear Physics, was the most senior member of the last intake of students. "We live in new times with a new direction for our country to a market economy," he said. "More and more of my job is committed not to science and physics but to new products that are interesting for our population."
Russia established 10 "closed" nuclear cities in the 1940s and until the late 1980s their residents enjoyed a substantially better standard of living than many other places in the country. Unemployment in these cities is now high and it is hoped that this retraining programme will help some people find jobs.
An environmental watchdog group has asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to reverse its recent approval of a plan to test fuel made with weapons-grade plutonium at the Catawba Nuclear Station.
The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League claims the decision March 3 to allow Duke Power to test mixed-oxide, or MOX, fuel at the York County nuclear plant before an NRC licensing board rules on security concerns violates agency policy.
"It is illegal to issue a license during the hearing process," said Diane Curran, the organization's attorney.
An NRC panel heard four days of testimony in January concerning security issues raised by the Blue Ridge group for how the fuel rods containing weapons-grade plutonium would be protected from theft and terrorism at the Catawba plant. A ruling is expected by the end of the month.
The league claims the decision to approve the test program did not take theft and terrorism risks into consideration. An NRC spokesperson called that assertion ridiculous and said the agency has done nothing illegal.
"There is nothing in the law or regulations that would require the agency to wait for those contentions to be resolved," said Dave McIntyre.
The decision to go ahead with the approval was based on a number of things, McIntyre said. Those include:
Duke Power is scheduled to refuel Catawba's Reactor 1 this spring;
Safety contentions about using MOX fuel at the Catawba plant have been resolved; and
NRC staff had completed its review of the security plan Duke Power submitted for transporting, protecting and loading the MOX assemblies.
"I don't understand what they are arguing," McIntyre said. "The NRC staff evaluated enhancements to the Catawba plant to provide for the protection of the fuel while on site. For them to say we haven't even looked at security is ridiculous."
Steve Nesbit, the MOX fuel manager at the Catawba plant, said the NRC has put Duke's application through a rigorous review process for both safety and security. He added that U.S. nuclear power plants are among the best protected nuclear sites around.
"So claiming that this is the weak link where these materials could be stolen is pretty farfetched," Nesbit said.
The petition filed Wednesday alleges the approval was unlawful because it was made before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board issued a decision on the Blue Ridge group's security contention. Details of the security concerns are classified, but they address a request by Duke Power to be exempt from certain security regulations normally required to protect plutonium fuel from being stolen.
"We think in a post-Sept. 11 era, that is a mistake," said Dr. Ed Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientist, who is helping the Blue Ridge group. "The threat of nuclear terrorism is on everyone's minds these days."
Additional security measures are required by the NRC when a facility has more than 2 kg of highly enriched plutonium on site. Lyman said it would not take much more than that amount to create a crude nuclear bomb.
Each of the four MOX test assemblies that would be used at the Catawba plant have 20 kg of highly enriched plutonium.
"If those exemptions are granted, then they cannot provide assurance that the MOX fuel would be protected," Lyman said.
Both Lyman and Curran said they believe the licensing board will rule in their favor. Such a decision would not stop the MOX test altogether but would delay it from beginning until a new security plan is created and the measures are put in place.
"One of the goals here is to assure if this test goes forward ... it protects the safety and security of the public," Curran said.
Should the NRC not consider the petition, the organization could file suit in federal court, Curran said.
The MOX test assemblies are expected to be shipped from France to Charleston in April. They would then be trucked to York County. The assemblies would be stored in an underwater facility at the Catawba plant before being loaded into the reactor.
The MOX test would last for about three years to determine if weapons-grade plutonium can be used safely as fuel in commercial power plants.
Catawba will be the first U.S. plant to use MOX fuel and the first in the world to use weapons-grade plutonium. Between 30 and 35 nuclear plants in Europe use MOX fuel, but the plutonium is not weapons-grade.
The MOX program is designed to dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium taken from nuclear warheads by burning it in U.S. nuclear reactors. The same will be done in Russia to reduce that country's nuclear stockpile.
1. Could Microbes Solve Russia's Chemical Weapons Conundrum?
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One of nature's most versatile microorganisms ï¿½ a bacterium called Pseudomonas putida ï¿½ could help mop up the toxic by-products caused by the destruction of the chemical weapon mustard, write Russian researchers in Journal of Chemical Technology and Biotechnology this month.
At 40,000 tonnes, Russia houses the world's largest stockpile of chemical warfare agents (CWAs). The country faces a race against time to dispose of the stockpile by 2007, in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). This disposal must be achieved in an ecologically-sound manner.
Dr. Inna Ermakova and colleagues from the GK Skryabin Institute of Biochemistry and Physiology of Microorganisms at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Puschino examined the possibility of using P putida to transform the toxic by-products contained in reaction masses (RMs) that arise when mustard is destroyed by chemical detoxification (a procedure developed in response to the CWC).
Currently, incineration or a process called bitumenisation are employed to deal with RMs, how-ever both methods are highly expensive and pose environmental risks.
Mustard is a blistering agent that was first used in World War I. Found in both liquid and aerosol form (mustard gas), it can cause severe burns to the skin, and severe damage to the respiratory system and internal organs if ingested or inhaled. It accounts for around 2 percent of Russia's CWA stockpile.
Around 60 percent of the mustard RM consists of derivatives of a toxic compound called 1,4-perhydrothiazine (PHT).
Ermakova's research team grew P putida in cultures containing mustard RM. They then moni-tored the levels of PHT derivatives in the cultures until the bacteria stopped growing, using monoethanolamine (MEA) and ethylene glycol (EG) ï¿½ both residual components of the initial de-toxification process that are present in the RM ï¿½ for growth.
The results showed that the concentrations of each PHT derivative decreased significantly when P putida was grown in the presence of these carbon sources.
By the time the bacteria had stopped growing, the concentration of the PHT derivatives had de-creased by 50-55 percent. When further MEA and EG were added, the overall PHT decrease was 83 percent.
In the absence of a carbon source other than PHT, the PHT levels remained constant. When no bacteria were present, the PHT concentrations also remained constant.
The authors conclude that the 1,4-perhydrothiazines undergo transformation by the microbial cells when a growth substrate (MEA/EG) is present. However as the cells did not grow in the presence of PHT alone, the authors conclude that the bacteria cannot use them for growth.
The group hopes that the bacterial strain can be used in the context of plant-microbial associa-tions to create a new generation of biotechnologies for remediation of soils contaminated by CWAs or products of their detoxification.
"Bioutilization of organic compounds of reaction masses is a biotechnological method that pro-vides maximum environmental safety, since the pollutants are naturally degraded to innocuous products such as carbon dioxide and water, as well as microbial biomass," said Dr. Ermakova.
In a dangerous world, the biggest threat to international security emanates from the possibility that nuclear weapons might fall into the hands of terrorists.
During the Cold War, the threat of mutual assured destruction deterred both great powers from using their nuclear arsenals.
Today, no deterrent exists for non-state actors on what they consider a suicidal mission from God. Keeping the nuclear assets of the former Soviet Union out of terrorist hands is an essential component of the international effort to avoid a nuclear catastrophe.
That effort thus far has been insufficient. A recent report by the National Intelligence Council, a consortium of U.S. intelligence agencies, concluded that smuggling of Russian nuclear material has occurred and expresses concern about how much material is missing.
CIA Director Porter Goss told a Senate hearing he could not rule out the possibility that Russian nuclear material already has made its way into terrorist hands.
President Bush addressed these issues with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their recent summit in Bratislava.
The two leaders committed to improve security at Russia's nuclear installations with U.S. help, develop procedures for responding to terrorist attacks and prevent nuclear fuel for energy from being diverted to military uses.
Critical issues remain, including the process to dispose of 68 tons of excess Russian and American weapons-grade plutonium.
The Bush initiative to secure Russia's loose nukes, however, is a welcome change after 13 years of delay and neglect.
It was reported yesterday that in January Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov had discussed Russia's withdrawal from the Soviet-US Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with his American counterpart, Vedomosti writes.
Donald Rumsfeld is said not to have protested Russia's hypothetical withdrawal from the treaty. However, during further talks, the Russian Foreign Ministry allegedly disavowed Mr. Ivanov's statement.
A source close to the Defense Ministry leadership said that Mr. Ivanov asked Mr. Rumsfeld's opinion about how America would react to Russia's hypothetical withdrawal from the treaty during his January visit to Washington. A political decision on the issue, however, has not been made so far.
Experts doubt that a rapid withdrawal from the treaty would be practicable. This treaty is the only agreement that prohibits an entire class of missiles, said Mr. Robert J. Einhorn, an expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Russia has enough weapon systems to deter any potential adversary in the next ten years, and hence does not need to create a missile shield, says Anatoly Dyakov, the director of the Russian Disarmament Center.
Observers do not expect Russia to be punished with sanctions if it withdraws from the INF treaty. This will not pose a threat to NATO, as the Russian military most probably intend to use intermediate-range missiles with conventional warheads for strikes at terrorist bases in the south.
Experts believe maintaining these missiles will be cheaper than restoring the combat ability of its air fleet and ground forces. Russia has the technical capabilities to resume the designing and construction of missiles.
Under the 1987 INF treaty, Russia and the USA destroyed over 2,000 missiles with a range of between 500km and 5,500km. The treaty also prohibits work to design and produce such missiles. According to Article 15, the parties may withdraw from the treaty after notifying the other party of this intention six months in advance.
2. Russia Confronted Rumsfeld With Threat to Quit Key Nuclear Treaty
Hubert Wetzel, Demetri Sevastopulo and Guy Dinmore
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Russia's defence ministry recently confronted the US with the possibility of withdrawing from a key nuclear missile disarmament treaty that formed the bedrock of arms reduction efforts during the cold war.
At a January meeting in Washington, Sergei Ivanov, the Russian defence minister, asked Donald Rumsfeld, his US counterpart, how the Bush administration would respond if Russia quit the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, the Pentagon said.
In a blow to Russian military hawks, a delegation from the Foreign Ministry later travelled to Washington to withdraw the proposal, a Russian insider said.
The fact that Russia's military establishment was considering such a radical break with a pillar of the international arms control regime reflected a serious deterioration in relations between Russia and the West.
The Pentagon and US State Department said they could not confirm the withdrawal of the Russian proposal.
The INF treaty required the US and Soviet Union to eliminate and renounce permanently an entire category of weapons - nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500-5,500km, able to hit targets in Europe but not the US, barring Alaska.
Some 2,692 missiles were destroyed by June 1991. In 2002 Bulgaria became the last east European state to destroy them, with US funding. According to another US official and the Russian insider, the Pentagon raised no objection to the proposal.
Mr Rumsfeld told Mr Ivanov that he did not care, the Russian said, but the Pentagon denied this. Larry Di Rita, Pentagon spokesman, said: "The US is a signatory and it is a treaty that is serving a useful purpose...The issue arose in the context of general discussion and the secretary said that it was an issue for the inter-agency [process], it was not a [Pentagon] issue."
Matthew Bunn, a nuclear arms expert at Harvard University, said Russia's military hawks had wanted to quit the INF treaty for some years in response to Nato expansion and a possible threat from China. But, he added, Russia understood very well the "political pain" it would suffer if it did abrogate the treaty.
Arms control advocates in Washington said a collapse of the 1987 treaty would be a disaster for non-proliferation efforts and Russia's relations with Europe and the US. Hardliners in the US expressed less concern, however.
Henry Sokolski, a former arms control official who heads the private Non-proliferation Policy Education Center, said his response to Mr Ivanov would have been: "Make my day".
"If [the Russians] want to go ahead and break out - fine," he said, arguing that such a move would damage Russia's relations with China and Europe but would not have a direct impact on the US.
1. Duma Deputy Speaker Says West Has Decided to Unleash New Cold War and Urges Putin Not to Sign Accord With U.S. on Tighter Nuclear Arms Controls
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Sergei Baburin, Duma deputy speaker and deputy head of the Motherland faction, told utro.ru on 4 March that he is "absolutely convinced that the West has already made a decision to unleash a new Cold War against Russia," but this decision is very "short-sighted." If the United States tries to sink the Russian Federation, they are making a strategic mistake and, instead of "tranquillity" and "obedience" in Eurasia, they will get a "black hole," Baburin said. "And no one has ever won a battle with a black hole." Baburin said he thinks it is unlikely that Russia could disintegrate in a similar way to the Soviet Union, despite the fact that the USSR was stronger. "If weapons explode inside a tank, you should not blame its armor, but the situation inside the tank. But this is what happened with the USSR," Baburin noted. "I hope that Russia will avoid the mistakes made with the demise of the Soviet Union."
In the same interview, Baburin said that, during the February U.S.-Russia summit in Bratislava, both sides dropped from the agenda the issue of tightening nuclear arms controls and a proposal that would have given the United States "unprecedented access to Russian nuclear facilities." According to Baburin, both sides discussed such an accord during preliminary talks and a draft of a possible agreement briefly appeared on the Russian presidential administration's website (http://www.kremlin.ru). The Kremlin press office has said that the release of the text was due to a "computer error" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2005), but Baburin speculated that it was an intentional leak. "I believe that the United States will soon raise this issue again," Baburin said. "I must say, without being diplomatic: If Putin makes concessions on this issue, it will be the end of his political career."
1. Russian Plant Ready to Send Nuclear Fuel to Iran
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Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrates Plant said it is ready to send nuclear fuel to Iran ï¿½as soon as it is requiredï¿½.
The plantï¿½s managing director, Vladimir Razin, quoted by ITAR-TASS news agency, said at a press conference on Thursday that ï¿½168 fuel rods have been manufactured for the Iranian nuclear power stationï¿½ in Bushehr.
The fuel ï¿½contains no military component, it is for a purely commercial reactor designed to generate electricity,ï¿½ Razin said. ï¿½The spent nuclear fuel is not radioactive waste ï¿½ it is a raw material component in future reprocessing.ï¿½ The spent nuclear fuel is to be stored in Krasnoyarsk Territory.
The first part of the Iranian nuclear power station, which is being built by Russian specialists, will be commissioned in 2006. The fuel for the reactor is due to be delivered in about six months. The Novosibirsk plant is Russiaï¿½s biggest fuel producer for nuclear power stations.
1. North Korea Has No Nuclear Weapons: Russian Official
Yonhap News Agency
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North Korea has no nuclear weapons, despite its repeated claims to the contrary, Itar-Tass quoted a high-ranking Russian official as saying on Thursday.
Russia's Deputy Atomic Energy Minister Sergei Antipov made the comment during an interview with Russian news agency Itar-Tass in Tokyo. He is currently visiting Japan to discuss cooperation between the two countries on several nuclear projects.
North Korea told the Russian government in advance of its intention to make the Feb. 10 announcement in which it declared it possessed nuclear weapons, a reliable source in Beijing said yesterday. The step by Pyeongyang to inform Moscow angered Chinese officials.
Analysts here said North Korea may have informed Russia in order to express irritation with China's posture on the stalled six-nation nuclear disarmament talks.
The Chinese official, thought to be well-informed about North Korea affairs, told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday that Pyeongyang had informed Moscow privately through diplomatic channels that it was going to claim it had nuclear arms before making the statement publicly.
The Foreign Ministry in Pyeongyang said Feb. 10 that North Korea had manufactured nuclear arms and that it was not going to attend the six-nation talks indefinitely.
After learning that the Russians had been tipped off, the Chinese leadership reacted with fury, the source said. North Korea and China have been allies for more than a half-century, and the two countries normally carefully coordinated sensitive diplomatic affairs.
Experts here said North Korea is walking on tightrope between China and Russia before returning to the six-party talks. "While China, along with the United States, has been very stern about North Korea's nuclear arms development, Russia has been the most favorable and tolerant among the six governments participating in the talks," said Jun Bong-geun, head of the Institute for Peace and Cooperation, a Seoul-based think tank. "North Korea, aware of the stances, is making a reciprocal diplomatic gesture."
The source also added North Korea's cabinet chief, Pak Pong-ju, will visit China around March 21 to discuss nuclear issues and economic assistance.
3. South Korea Seeking Moscow's Help to Revive Nuclear Disarmament Talks With North
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Russia could help lure North Korea back into six-party nuclear disarmament talks, South Korea's foreign minister said Wednesday as his country's top envoy on the nuclear crisis headed to Moscow for discussions.
Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said that given Russia's close relations with North Korea, Moscow could play "several roles" in fostering the six-nation talks aimed at getting Pyongyang to give up any nuclear arsenal and halt weapons development.
Ban said all issues, including North Korea's demands, could be discussed at the nuclear talks.
"It is only right for North Korea to return to the negotiating table," he told journalists.
During a five-day visit to Russia, South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Song Min-soon will meet his counterpart, Alexander Alexeyev.
Song is Seoul's top negotiator for the six-party talks that involve the United States, Russia, China, Japan and the two Koreas. Three rounds of the talks in Beijing since 2003 failed to reach any breakthrough.
Diplomatic efforts to bring North Korea back to the six-party talks gained urgency following the North's Feb. 10 claim that it has nuclear weapons and would indefinitely boycott the negotiations.
Also Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Christopher Hill planned to depart for a visit to Japan for talks on North Korea. Hill _ Washington's top envoy to the nuclear talks, who has also been nominated to head the U.S. State Department's East Asia and Pacific bureau _ will meet Thursday with Kenichiro Sasae, director-general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asia-Oceania bureau.
From Japan, Hill is expected to travel to Washington for more consultations on the North Korean nuclear crisis.
His trip also paves the way for U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's planned visit later this month to China, Japan and South Korea.
4. South Korea's Deputy Foreign Minister Expected in Russia
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Deputy foreign minister of South Korea Song Min-soon, who represents his nation at bilateral talks handling North Korean nuclear issue, is expected today in Russia on a visit. Song Min-soon is to meet his Russian counterpart Alexander Alexeyev to discuss the possibility of restarting negotiations. Presumably, the South Korean official will urge Russia to help bring Pyongyang back to table talks.
The five-day visit is yet another attempt of the negotiations to resume bilateral debates. This February, official spokesmen for South Korea, the USA and Japan discussed the issue in Seoul as well.
1. Sweden Grants Russia 6 Million Dollars for Nuclear Safety Cooperation
Xinhua News Agency
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The Swedish government has decided to grant nearly six million US dollars during 2005 for nuclear safety cooperation with Russia, Radio Sweden reported on Tuesday.
The money will be transferred to Russia through the Swedish Nuclear Power Inspectorate and the Swedish Radiation Protection Institute.
The cooperation covers four main areas: reactor safety, waste management, radiation protection and preparedness.
Among the projects that will receive financing are a number of security enhancement initiatives at two Russian nuclear power plants. The support also includes a preliminary study for managing radioactive waste, initiatives to facilitate monitoring and control of radioactive discharges and Nordic coordination with Russian authorities in issues of preparedness.
Much of the work will take place in consultation with the European Union and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
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