1. Ex-USSR Scientists Can Apply for US Employment-Based Visas
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A new rule published by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the Federal Register on April 25, 2005 classifies some scientists from the Commonwealth of Independent States of the Former Soviet Union and the Baltic States as employment-based immigrants.
The new rule reinstates the authority of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to allot visas to eligible scientists or engineers from these regions who have "expertise in nuclear, chemical, biological, or other high-technology field or defense projects," and it is effective as of May 25, 2005 and will expire on September 30, 2006.
The previous rule -The Soviet Scientists Immigration Act of 1992 (SSIA) - allowed for 750 of such visas to be issued. The rule expired on October 24, 1996. The eligibility period was reopened on September 30, 2002 by the Foreign Relations Authorization Act FY03 and lasted for 4 years. This act also raised the limit to 950 visas. Spouses and children of the principal applicant are not counted toward the 950 limit.
1. President Delivers Export Control into the Good Hands - Of the Defense Minister
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President Vladimir Putin yesterday signed a decree setting up an export control committee after appointing its new members and a new chairman ï¿½ Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov. Under his direction, the revived committee must not only ensure that Russia fulfills its arms export control obligations, but also watch how other countries observe these obligations.
The government export control committee was set up by decree of Boris Yeltsin ï¿½to ensure a unified government export policy.ï¿½ The functions assigned to it included the fulfillment of international arms and military equipment export control obligations. Staffing of the committee was entrusted to the prime minister, whose duties at that time were being performed by the president himself. In 2001, the government committee was disbanded, and replaced by a new one set up directly by the president and having the status of a federal interdepartmental agency. It was assigned the same functions as the government committee, i.e., the fulfillment of Russia's international obligations for nonproliferation of nuclear, rocket, chemical, biological, and other armaments and weapons of mass destruction, as well as components for manufacturing them, and control over export goods and dual-purpose technologies.
Today, the fundamental document on export control of technologies in the nuclear, rocket, and other hi-tech fields is presidential decree No. 96 of January 29, 2001, which implemented the provision on the export control committee and determined its membership. But while the provision remained unchanged, the committee's membership often changed. Only the main rule remained the same ï¿½ the deputy prime minister for the military industrial complex was appointed committee chairman. However, administrative reform began in March 2004, as a result of which 19 of the 22 committee members lost their jobs, and the prime minister was left with only one deputy ï¿½ Aleksandr Zhukov. As a result, the committee's work was paralyzed
Yesterday's presidential decree finally restored its ability to work. The main point of the amendments is that now the committee must not only ensure that Russia fulfills its arms export control obligations, but also watch how foreign countries observe these obligations.
Specifically, the committee is directed to predict and uncover threats to Russia's security connected with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and means of delivering them, as well as to prepare proposals for counteracting these threats. The committee will analyze the effectiveness of international cooperation in the area of nonproliferation of WMD and prepare proposals on the lines and forms of cooperation with foreign countries and international organizations in the indicated fields. A new line of work for the committee will be to prepare proposals for annual government reports to the president on the situation with nonproliferation of WMD and means of delivery.
The president also showed a new approach on the staffing question. For the first time, the defense minister rather than the deputy prime minister has been named chairman of the committee. As a high-level source in the White House explained to Kommersant yesterday, there was nothing sensational about this. ï¿½This is not a reduction of the committee's status or a promotion for its new chairman. It's just that a single deputy prime minister can't physically head the majority of existing committees.ï¿½ This is why this function was turned over to the Ministry of Defense, to which President Putin previously turned over the Federal Technical and Export Control Service (FSTEK), formed in March 2004 as the result of a merger between the president's State Technical Committee and the export control department of the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade. Incidentally, Colonel General Aleksandr Prigorov, the head of FSTEK, was appointed deputy chairman of the export control committee yesterday.
Nevertheless, the Ministry of Defense regarded yesterday's presidential decree as good news. A Kommersant source in the ministry's central staff viewed Ivanov's appointment as committee chairman increased the ministry's influence.
In a recent story by three Washington Post writers, including Bob Woodward of Watergate fame, a case has been made that Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network may have made strides toward obtaining plans or materials to make a crude radiological weapon that would use conventional explosives to spread radioactivity over a wide area.
In layman's terms, that's a "dirty bomb.'' The story says U.S. intelligence agencies recently made these conclusions from interrogations of captured al Qaeda members or associates. Some come from evidence gathered in the last month on the ground in Afghanistan by CIA officers and U.S. Special Forces from former al Qaeda facilities.
In addition, the story reports recent U.S. intelligence documents describe a meeting within the last year in which bin Laden was present when one of his associates produced a canister that allegedly contained radioactive material. The associate waved the canister in the air as proof of al Qaeda's progress and seriousness in trying to build a nuclear device.
One hand-drawn diagram found in a Taliban or al Qaeda facility showed a design for a "dirty bomb,'' according to U.S. officials. The bomb would be made by taking highly radioactive materials such as spent nuclear fuel rods or Cesium 137 - used for medical purposes around the world - and wrapping them around conventional high explosives.
This has always been America's worst fear. One government official said, "The Radiological Bomb, or a 'poor-man's nuke' as it has been called, is primitive, dirty, and very dangerous. Take a 55 gallon drum, throw in about 10 pounds of plutonium oxide, a fair amount of C-4, blasting caps, and a timer, and you have America's worst nightmare.''
Experts say such a crude device could easily be made by terrorists if they had enough radiological materials.
Russia and Pakistan are considered the two most likely sources of radioactive material for al Qaeda. Russian officials have reported dozens of attempts to steal enriched uranium or plutonium since 1990. Last month, a Russian general said unidentified terrorists recently had twice tried and failed to penetrate Russian top-secret fortified nuclear storage facilities known as "S-shelters.''
While the intelligence on an al Qaeda dirty bomb is shaky at best, it still sends a chill down the spine to even think of the possibilities such a weapon poses in the hands of such an evil organization.
Some nuclear weapons experts say while a dirty bomb would likely terrify the public, it would not kill many more people than a conventional explosion - if any - and thus might not be the weapon of choice for terrorists.
We would have to disagree in this case because psychologically it is the best weapon to use and that's exactly what al Qaeda will be looking for in regards to America.
1. Russia: Special Site For Storing Nuclear Fuel Built at Severodvinsk Shipyard
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Specialists of the Severodvinsk-based Zvezdochka ship-repair plant have completed the construction of the second stage of a special site for temporary storage of spent nuclear fuel unloaded from nuclear-powered submarines subject to scrapping.
The new site will be officially opened on 10 May, the plant's press service told Interfax.
"The site's commissioning will double the area for temporary storage of spent nuclear fuel, i.e., it will be possible to store up to 60 transportation containers here. The site will also make it possible to unload the fuel regardless of the schedule of the special train that delivers spent nuclear fuel to the Mayak plant in Chelyabinsk," a press service official said.
The facility for safe treatment of radioactive materials was built within the framework of the Cooperative Threat Reduction Programme (CTR - also known as the Nunn-Lugar Programme), which was adopted in 1992 under START-1.
Zvezdochka has received over 60m dollars in the CTR framework. The funds were used to build three specialized sites for cutting up hulls of nuclear-powered submarines, an automatic cable processing station and a facility for disposing of low-yield solid and liquid radioactive waste. In addition, five strategic nuclear-powered submarines of Project Murena were disposed of thanks to these funds.
"With the commissioning of the new storage site, Zvezdochka will possess the full cycle of nuclear-powered submarine scrapping technology. In addition, the new facility will ensure nuclear and radioactive safety at all stages of unloading, transportation and storage of spent nuclear fuel," the yard stressed.
During last week's visit to Moscow, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice created quite a stir when she told journalists that progress has been achieved in talks to allow American inspectors access to Russian nuclear installations. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov was quick to deny this: "Visits by U.S. inspectors to nuclear installations in Russia are not under consideration. It's not an issue."
During the summit between President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush in Bratislava, Slovakia this February, the official Kremlin web site published, apparently by mistake, a preliminary draft of the Joint Statement on Nuclear Security that contained a sentence about U.S. inspectors having access to nuclear installations. The official text of the statement did not contain this clause.
Since then, there has been much speculation about the issue in Moscow. Within nationalist circles connected to the military, it is believed that the Kremlin is in secret negotiations to sell control over Russia's nuclear deterrent to the Americans.
It is an idea that has been much harped on since the demise of the Soviet Union. Under the pretext of ensuring nuclear security, the United States will occupy Russian nuclear bases. The last Soviet superpower feature it still has will be lost, and Russia will be under the full control of the secret World Government. Ivanov was so categorical in his denial because fear and opposition is rampant.
In fact, the U.S. military has been performing on-site inspections of Russian nuclear bases regularly since the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty was ratified in 1991. Russia has provided detailed data about the performance of test flights of intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs.
At present, the main problem is access to specific nuclear industrial installations within so-called "closed nuclear cities." As the Bratislava Statement put it, "While the security of nuclear facilities in the United States and Russia meets current requirements, we stress that these requirements must be constantly enhanced to counter terrorist threats."
Most experts, Russian and foreign, agree that nuclear warheads attached to ICBMs are secure: In their concrete silos on land or in silos on submarines, the warheads are well guarded by minefields, barbed wire and concrete -fortified machine-gun positions. During the Cold War, the military believed that U.S. forces would attempt to take over the Russian nuclear arsenal before it had the opportunity to fire, which explains the heavy security. To better guard nuclear weapons from ground attack, our ICBMs were gathered into regimental positions of 10 missile silos in one cluster with one command silo and a common defense perimeter. The United States, in contrast, scattered its ICBM silo positions to make them less vulnerable to a "disarming" Russian ICBM attack.
Nuclear materials and parts of fully or partially dismantled warheads are stockpiled in several of the 10 closed cities of the nuclear ministry, or Minatom, which later became the Federal Atomic Energy Agency, or Rosatom. An official paper signed in November 1997 by Minatom Minister Victor Mikhailov stated that over 500 tons of arms-grade plutonium and uranium were stored in Russia in conditions that "do not meet international safety standards." As the dismantling of the Soviet nuclear arsenal continued, warhead assembly factories, which did not have adequate storage facilities, were saturated with nuclear materials. More than 20,000 nuclear weapons can be made out of 500 tons of arms-grade plutonium and uranium.
The U.S. has over the last decade spent billions of taxpayer dollars to upgrade nuclear security in Russia and is ready to help elevate the security of nuclear material storage within Rosatom. But without inspections and control, the U.S. Congress is reluctant to provide funding for security upgrades.
Rosatom is not happy to comply, afraid the inspectors will spy on Russian nuclear secrets, recruit locals in closed cities or simply discover and make public the embarrassing backwardness of security procedures. However, a high -ranking U.S. official told me that officials are indeed close an agreement to gain access to a large number of previously closed nuclear industrial sites.
It is good news that Moscow and Washington are close to finding a formula for jointly addressing the vital issue of the vast stockpiles of arms-grade nuclear materials in Russia. It is bad that negotiations are being conducted Soviet-style in almost complete secret allowing conspiracy theories to dominate public debate.
1. U.S. Inspectors Visit Russian Facility Scrapping Topol Missiles
BBC Monitoring and Itar-Tass
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Pentagon representatives have inspected for the first time the production base in Votkinsk, where overage Topol intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are scrapped. The Russian Defence Ministry told ITAR-TASS today that "the inspection was carried out as part of the Russian-US [as received; should be Soviet-US] Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START-1)".
"In Udmurtia, US servicemen observed for a week the scrapping of mobile-based RS-12M Topol ICBMs (foreign designation SS-25 Sickle)," the spokesman told the agency. "Solid-fuel Russian ICBMs are produced in Votkinsk. Under the START-1 treaty, a group of US observers is permanently based there," he said. "In addition, a site for scrapping Topol missiles has been set up at the plant."
The Russian side has now destroyed about 900 nuclear delivery vehicles within the framework of the START-1 treaty. Since the beginning of 2005, specialists from the National Nuclear Threat Reduction Centre of the Russian armed forces have carried out eight inspections at US strategic facilities.
The United States and Russia are sending teams of software, missile defense, experts to each others military facilities to conduct joint training anti-missile exercises. Both nations are exploring ways to combine their anti-missile defense efforts with those of other NATO nations. Although Russia is on good terms with Iran right now (because Russia is providing Iran with nuclear power plant technology), Russia also knows that hard liners among the Islamic conservatives that control Iran would love to fire a nuclear tipped missile at Russia. Thereï¿½s also the danger that Pakistan might fall under the control of Islamic radicals. So effective ballistic missile defense is something both nations, and many others in Europe as well, are interested. Next year, Russian technical teams will come to the United States to conduct more joint missile defense simulation exercises.
The "unanimity" displayed by Moscow and Tehran on the eve of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to the Russian capital was most opportune.
Moscow had called on Iran to show a certain restraint in terms of using its right to develop nuclear technologies, and Iran had obliged by treating these wishes with understanding.
Hussein Musavian, chairman of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council's foreign policy committee, said that, during his recent talks in Moscow, Russia had supported Iran's right to develop modern peaceful nuclear technologies. But Moscow had stressed that it would be undesirable for Tehran's wish to exercise this right to undermine the current atmosphere of trust between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"We intend to retain our rights," said Musavian. "However, we also believe maintaining the atmosphere of trust existing between Iran and the IAEA to be essential." These comments can only mean that Iran will not lift the moratorium on uranium enrichment or withdraw from the negotiating process either at the current Geneva talks with the EU on the fate of the Iranian "nuclear file" or in the near future.
The statement is highly symbolic, considering that on the eve of the meeting between the Iranian and EU working groups in Switzerland, Sirus Naseri, Iran's senior negotiator on nuclear talks with Europe, said Iran would withdraw from the negotiating process with the EU unless progress was made in this dialogue.
By progress at the talks, Tehran means the EU's unconditional recognition of Iran's right to create a full fuel cycle of its own, in other words, to develop a uranium enrichment program. This demand is completely unacceptable for the EU, considering that America is strongly opposed to anything of the kind.
Musavian's statement is also symbolic because it was made literally a few hours before Rice arrived in the Russian capital.
Russian-Iranian cooperation in the nuclear field has blighted Russian-U.S. relations for years. An agreement on supplies of Russian nuclear fuel to Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, signed in Moscow right before Vladimir Putin met George Bush in Bratislava, was fiercely criticized by many figures within the US president's inner circle. The secretary of state was no exception in this case. No one doubted that Rice would raise the matter in Moscow in a bid to clarify the Kremlin's position in the run-up to the next presidential meeting on May 9.
Moscow's position on the Iranian "nuclear file" is fundamentally different from Washington's and prioritizes the IAEA's role and diplomatic efforts, notably, Tehran's talks with the EU troika: Britain, Germany and France. Moscow has never concealed its belief that a perfect solution for all sides would be if Tehran and the IAEA signed an additional protocol giving the Agency the right to conduct inspections without prior notification and Iran promised to maintain its uranium enrichment moratorium in the near future.
Musavian's visit to the Russian capital showed that on the one hand, nothing has changed in Russia's position either in Iran's or America's favor, and on the other, that sometimes Tehran is inclined to heed Moscow's wishes, if not recommendations. Many experts are inclined to think that Moscow deliberately timed Musavian's arrival in Russia to pre-empt the US secretary of state's visit.
All this has a logic of its own. Moscow let the U.S. understand that it still intends to be guided by its own interests and uphold its own position in nuclear cooperation with Iran, whatever Washington's reaction. Lastly, by declaring its position in advance, Moscow saved the White House envoy the trouble of clarifying some details that may be unpleasant for the U.S.
When talking about Iran's nuclear project in the Russian capital, Rice did not fail to point to the "dubious" nature of Iran's civil nuclear research. This was hardly a surprise. What was genuinely surprising, though, was that Rice acknowledged that from the standpoint of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the agreement between Russia and Iran on the supplies of nuclear fuel for the Bushehr nuclear power plant "promotes the cause."
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he opposed any Iranian effort to a build a nuclear bomb and stressed that nuclear cooperation between Moscow and Tehran was limited to civilian activities.
"We are working with Iran in order to develop the atom for peaceful ends and we are against any programme seeking to endow Iran with an atomic weapon," Putin told a news conference after talks with his Israeli counterpart Moshe Katsav.
Russia has helped to develop Iran's civilian nuclear programme, which Israel, the United States and the European Union fear could mask a secret military agenda.
Russia is "categorically against any attempt by Iran to get nuclear weapons," Putin added.
Unlike the open disagreement between the two presidents over Moscow's planned sale of anti-aircraft missiles to Damascus, Katsav appeared to suggest that the policy gap between the two powers over Iran was narrowing.
"I feel there is some forward movement," he said, referring to the two leaders' discussions on Iran.
Israel is widely considered to be the sole, if undeclared, nuclear force in the Middle East.
But with Putin on the first visit to Israel on a mission to improve ties with the Jewish state, Washington announced that it plans to sell Israel 100 of its most effective bombs designed to destroy deep underground facilities.
"The general suspicion would be that Iran would likely be on the receiving end of that weapon," Francois Boo, an analyst from the military affairs think tank GlobalSecurity.org, told AFP.
3. Russia Plans Nuke Fuel Shipments to Iran Mid-2005
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The Russian nuclear fuel trader TVEL should start fuel shipments for a Moscow-built nuclear reactor in Iran six months before the unit becomes operational in early 2006, a senior company official said on Thursday.
Russia is building a 1,000-megawatt nuclear plant in Iran despite strong opposition from the United States, which believes Iran could use Russian know-how to make nuclear weapons.
Tehran denies wanting a bomb and says its atomic ambitions are limited to the peaceful generation of electricity.
"The construction of the Bushehr's plant is progressing and as part of the technology process, half a year before launching the unit, the fuel should be supplied," Anton Badenkov, vice president of TVEL, who is on a visit to Sofia, told reporters.
"The unit should become operational in the beginning of 2006," said Budenkov, who also chairs the board of directors of Atomstroiexport, the company building the Bushehr's plant.
In February, Moscow and Tehran signed a fuel supply deal, under which the spent fuel will be sent back to Siberian storage units after about a decade of use, a condition that Badenkov said removes all obstacles before the project.
"We have already signed the deal to take back the spent fuel from the plant, for which the international agencies were insisting, and all obstacles are removed," he said.
TVEL, Russia's state nuclear fuel producer, has for years kept the fuel, produced for the Bushehr plant, at a storage facility in Siberia, awaiting greenlight from the country's Atomic Energy Agency to start shipments.
"We are now awaiting a licence from the Russian authorities for nuclear fuel exports," Badenkov said.
1. Russia to Get 2 Newly Equipped Nuclear Submarines in 2006
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The Russian navy will get two newly equipped nuclear submarines in 2006. The Yuri Dolgoruky and Dmitry Donskoy submarines will be armed with new Bulava-M intercontinental ballistic missiles, Russiaï¿½s naval chief said.
Commander-in-chief, Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov, was quoted by Associated Press as saying the submarines should join the navy by the end of next year. The missiles have a range of 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles) and are in the midst of a three-year testing program. Each submarine will be equipped with 12 missiles.
In December, Putin encouraged the Defense Ministry to keep up production of new strategic missile systems, a process slowed in the past by a shortage of funds. Construction began on the Yuri Dolgoruky in 1996; the Dmitry Donskoy was built in 1982 and has been undergoing thorough modernization since 1989.
Yuri Dolgoruky was a Russian prince of the 12th century, a possible founder of Moscow. Dmitry Donskoy, a Moscow prince, won a significant victory over the Tatars in the 14th century.
1. Putin: Russia Ready for Nuclear Cooperation with Israel
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Russia is prepared to develop peaceful nuclear cooperation with Israel, said Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"Israel does not need assistance in some areas," he said. "As for developing peaceful nuclear cooperation, we are ready to do it," he said at a press conference in Jerusalem.
He noted at the same time that Iran should terminate its nuclear weapons technologies. "Iran should abandon its nuclear weapons technologies and stop hindering IAEA control of its nuclear facilities," he said.
The Russian president said that Russia planned to sign an agreement on military-technical cooperation with Israel. "We are for developing such cooperation and plan to sign an agreement" in this sphere, he said.
Vladimir Putin said replying to a question: "If we could sign an agreement with your assistance on the delivery of Russian combat aircraft to Israel worth at least a couple of billion of dollars, I would grant you the Russian order For Services to the Homeland."
2. India, USA, France and Russia in Possible Nuclear Cooperation
Press Trust of India
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The Minister of State for External Affairs, Shri Rao Inderjit Singh told the Lok Sabha today that the India-US Energy Dialogue announced during the Washington visit of Shri Natwar Singh on 14-15 April, 2005 would be led by the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia and the US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. The main components of this dialogue would include civil nuclear energy, hydrocarbons and cleaner technologies.
The Minister further informed that the Government is engaged in a dialogue with key interlocutors such as Russia and France for furthering cooperation in the energy sector, including nuclear energy, as it has placed considerable importance on nuclear energy in its energy mix, as a cheap and clean source of energy.
Shri Singh, however, added that in order to facilitate international cooperation in nuclear energy, India will not change its policy on the NPT. Any programme for such cooperation will be pursued in a manner consistent with the requirements of our national security, he said.
3. Russia and France to Deliver Uranium and Build Reactors
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Russia and France intend to broaden co-operation in the field of uranium product deliveries and construction of the reactor units in the third countries.
A Federal Nuclear Power Agency representative stated that to the ITAR-TASS news agency in the end of March. ï¿½Russian companies and enterprises are already co-operating with the biggest in Europe International Corporation ï¿½AREVA group ï¿½ on construction of the power units in Chinaï¿½ the representative said. At the moment, France mostly delivers uranium to Russia for enrichment and then the enriched uranium is used in the French or third countriesï¿½ reactors, he added.
4. Russian Nuclear Power Industry Needs Investments
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The Rosenergoatom concernï¿½s general director believes an investment program is necessary for the Russian nuclear power industry.
The Russiaï¿½s state-owned nuclear generation company Rosenergoatom launched two million kW of new capacities from 2001 to 2004, said the Rosenergoatom concernï¿½s general director Oleg Sarayev at the Russian Energy Forum on March 21, RIA-Novosti reported. He said the nuclear industry needs investment programs as the current investment sources do not provide regeneration and development of the nuclear power plants. He said 1.26 billion roubles (about $45m) are needed for nuclear energy development.
If by 2020 the Russian nuclear power plants reach 270 million kW electricity production then investment deficit can be 350 million roubles (about $12.6m). Sarayev believes the nuclear power industry should develop in the following directions: construction of new reactor units, development of the design base and infrastructure, prolongation of the existing units for 10-20 years more.
1. Bellona Conference on Lespe Pits Skepticism Against Optimism in Europe
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Members of European Parliament (MEPs), the European nuclear industry, and NGOs gathered Tuesday to discuss the fate of one of Northwest Russiaï¿½s greatest radioactive contamination threats, the Lepse spent nuclear fuel storage vessel.
The hull of the vessel itself, a rusted-out hulk of a former nuclear ice-breaker service ship, is docked in the middle of Murmansk harbourï¿½just four kilometres north of the Murmansk itself and its 500,000 strong populationï¿½in the port of Russiaï¿½s nuclear ice-breaker repair yard Atomflot. The vessel remains the property of the ice-breaker operator, the Murmansk Shipping Company.
The Lepse and its safe dismantlement have been a headache for European nations since 1994 when they stepped in with offers of financial and technical assistance. The vesselï¿½s hull is currently laden with some 639 spent nuclear fuel assemblies, many of them so damaged they cannot be removed by conventional means and will require special robotic technologies depending on what decommissioning plan is agreed on.
According to Russian authorities, the total cost for dismantling the ship by the target year of 2008 is $30.7m plus an addition $3.3m in development and technical planning. There are, at current, EUR 12,028,000 to be put toward the project.
It was not until the May 2003 signing of the Multi-lateral Nuclear Environmental Programme in the Russian Federation, and the subsequent build-up and release of funding held by the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership (NDEP) fund that any real progress could begin on any substantive European-Russian bilateral nuclear clean-up projects. Funding floodgates also opened from G-8 nations, which promised Russia $20 billion over 10 years toward nuclear remediation.
But the general consensus among those leaders who attended ï¿½EU funds for nuclear clean-up in Northwestern Russia: Money put to good use?ï¿½ held Tuesday by the Bellona Foundation at its Brussels office, was that the Russian side is still hedging on information that is crucial for donor nations to move forward in their efforts to assist in the Lepseï¿½s dismantlement. In this information brown-out, those nations who can now contribute are reluctant to do so.
ï¿½The conference was a good, small step forward, but no big decisions are likely to be made until the CEG meeting in Murmansk,ï¿½ said Bellonaï¿½s Nils Bï¿½hmer, referring to the planned May 24th gathering of the Contact Expert Group of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Murmansk. Tuesdayï¿½s conference was attended by some 20 EU Parliament and Commission representatives, NGO heads and European nuclear officials.
ï¿½Small amounts of money have been spent on the Lepse project, but not much,ï¿½ Bï¿½hmer said, adding that many of the powers governing the expenditures ï¿½need a better planï¿½ for the Lepse from the Russian side than what they have seen so far.
Russia develops a ï¿½Master Planï¿½
For their part, the Russians adopted a so-called Master Plan to dismantle aging nuclear submarines and clean-up nuclear facilities in North West Russia that was approved at the NDEP donors meeting held in London in December. The planï¿½s main features include prioritising those radioactive dangers that need to be tackled first. It is as yet unclear where the Lepse falls in that list of priorities.
Many members of European Commission (EC) who attended Tuesdayï¿½s conference remain unimpressed by the Russia Master Planï¿½s apparent attempt at openness. Italian EC member Fausto Gasperini, in particular, noted that Europe has been trying for 10 years to secure access to information on the Lepse.
In that sense the Russian Master Plan, with its promises of greater transparency and inspection rights for donor nations funding nuclear remediation projects in Russia should come as a consolation. But Gasperini soft-pedaled hopes he might have about the Master Plan opening previously locked doors. He could not be reached for further comment on Tuesday.
The jaded view of Russian transparency from the ECï¿½which would ultimately be one of the biggest players in the Lepse projectï¿½in Bï¿½hmerï¿½s opinion will lead to the Commission taking a ï¿½wait and seeï¿½ attitude, especially the Commissionï¿½s Lepse steering committee, comprised of the EU, Norway, France and Russia. Bï¿½hmer noted that, though the European Parliamentï¿½s power supercedes that of the Commissionï¿½s on matters of overall governance, Parliament cannot force the Commission or the Commissionï¿½s Lepse steering committee to adopt what he assessed as the Parliamentï¿½s more optimistic view.
ï¿½The Parliament is more active in this programme than the EC, which has a lukewarm attitude toward the project,ï¿½ he said. ï¿½But the Parliament can put pressure on the Commission, so the Commission will wait to see what Parliamentï¿½s approach will be before taking more decisive steps.ï¿½
Indeed, German Green Party MEP Rebecca Harms saw the apparent new openness implied in Russiaï¿½s Master Plan as an opportunity to lay the ground-work for as much transparency as possible. She urged that participation in the project come from several quarters, including NGOs, public meetings, and stipulated that projects should follow standard EU practice, including environmental assessments and monetary transparency.
A brief history of the Lepse problem
Presenting the history of the Lepse in Brussels Tuesday from its commissioning to decommission, and following conversion to a floating radioactive waste dump in an urban area, was Bellonaï¿½s Igor Kudrik. Kudrik explained that not a single nuclear-powered vessel has been taken out of naval service that contains as much spent nuclear fuel, and with such a high degree of activity, as the Lepse.
Construction of the Lepse as a dry-cargo motor ship began at the Nikolayev shipyard in 1934. A special project called for the ship to be re-equipped as a technical support vessel at the Admiralty Shipyard 40 years ago. For 20 years, the Lepse was responsible for re-fuelling nuclear-powered icebreakers until its eventual decommissioning in 1988.
Among the spent fuel assemblies (SFAs) in the Lepseï¿½s holdï¿½consisting of casks and caissonsï¿½are the damaged assemblies that were removed from the ice-breaker Lenin following a 1964 accident aboard that vessel.
The SFAs in casks and caissons in the storage hold of the Lepse are corroded, deformed, and damaged by the leakage of the fuel composition, making it impossible to easily extract them from the storage hold in using conventional methods.
The activity of the spent nuclear fuel in the storage hold is currently about 2.5 x 1016 Bq (680,000 curies), which is commensurate with the radioactive waste that was spilled during the accident at the Mayak Chemical Combine in the southern Urals 1957. It has been calculated that the fuel on the Lepse contains 260 kilograms of uranium-235, 156 kilograms of its fissile products, and eight kilograms of the fissile isotope plutonium-239. The gamma radiation dose rate in the storage hold, and its adjacent areas, exceeds the normal background radiation found in nature by hundreds of thousands of times.
In 1988, the Lepse was taken out of use, and, in 1990, it was categorized as a "laid-up vessel"ï¿½though its main engine was maintained. Following repairs at the Murmansk Regionï¿½s Nerpa dry dock in 1999, the vessel was categorized as non-self-propelled.
Since then, the ship has been moored at Atomflot in the Kola Bay, near heavy ship traffic. Despite measures taken to ensure safety, the likelihood of a another ship colliding with it is high. With the existing physical wear and tear and the aging of the Lepseï¿½s hull due to decades of sea water corrosion, a collision with another ship would sink it, causing an ecological disaster in the waters of Kola Bay.
At current, several variants for dismantling the ship are under considerationï¿½some of which involve such extraordinary measures as cutting the hull from the rest of the ship in Murmansk harbor. Bellona opposes this measure, though the foundation does endorse not removing the fuel from the hull. But before any dismantlement plans are implemented, said Kudrik, they must undergo rigorous environmental impact and risk assessment studies. Western donors must then assess what portion of the dismantlement they are willing to finance.
Current stakeholders in the project are the French Development Agency (AFD), which has earmarked EUR 1,372,040, which pledged its funding in 2000. With the signing of the MNEPR agreement came the creation of the "Grant Allocation Agreementï¿½Project to extract fuel from Lepse," signed by the Murmansk Shipping Company and the Nordic Environmental Finance Corporation (NEFCO). This garnered another EUR 4,623,530 toward the Lepse project from Norway and the Netherlands. The European Commission pledged another EUR 6,032,430, thus meeting a project budget of EUR 12,028,000ï¿½but falling several million short of the $30.7m figure the Russian government projects for the Lepseï¿½s complete and total dismantlement.
The new Russian Master Plan for dismantling aged submarines and cleaning up long dilapidated and contaminated nuclear installations like the Lepse will, as promised by the Russian side, be sent for public approval in those areas in Northwest Russia that will be most effected by the projects.
Sergei Zhavoronkin of Bellonaï¿½s office in Murmanskï¿½around which the bulk of the Master Planï¿½s activities will be implementedï¿½will be improving on these efforts by setting up an information clearing house for the public.
ï¿½We want to inform the public about the situation in the area,ï¿½ he said at the conference.
ï¿½But the problem is a continual lack of transparencyï¿½ from Russian nuclear officials.
The Russian Federal Agency for Atomic Energy (Rosatom) has a long history of holding its cards close to its chest, which it justifies by not wanting to panic the public, who in Rosatomï¿½s view, has little to no grasp of radiation dangers and thus assume the worst in the wake of Chernobyl.
But Zhavoronkin pointed out several examples where official silence caused havoc rather than quelled public hysteria. In November, a purported radiation leak at the Balakovo nuclear power plant in Russiaï¿½ Saratov region that Russian authorities refused to clarify caused a run on drugstores as people, acting on unofficial information, cleared the shelves of iodine solution in hopes of avoiding radiation sickness. Whatever sparse official information that was available was contradictory and vague.
Emergency rooms subsequently filled with people who had overdosed on iodine or were in just in search of general information. When Rosatom finally broke its silence days later, the population remained skeptical of the all-clear signal, thus underscoring the need for transparent, accessible and neutral nuclear regulatory structure in Russia that would offer clear and timely instruction during such incidents.
Zhavoronkin, in agreement with Bellona-wide policy, stumped for a totally independent nuclear oversight body in Russia that has nothing to do with the Federal Service for Energy, Technology and Atomic Oversight (FSETAN in its Russian abbreviation) which replaced Gozatomnadzor, Russiaï¿½s former nuclear regulator, in an August government shake up.
Bellonaï¿½s view of the Russian Master Plan
Though The Bellona Foundation also endorses a ï¿½wait and seeï¿½ approach to Russiaï¿½s NDEP-approved Master Plan, it also supports Russian authorities who developed the plan. In itself, the plan is the theoretical cornerstone that will ensure NDEP donor nations that their money is being spent wisely through audits, site access, environmental impact studies carried out before projects begin, and a host of other transparency measures. Bellona hopes that the theory will become reality.
Speaking in Brussels, Zhavoronkin called for a plan that would gauge the success of the Master Plan in Northwest Russia and then introduce it, if it achieves the desired results, more broadly across Russia on a region by region basis.
2. Kazak Woman's Battle Against Nuclear Waste Gets Recognition
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The Republic of Kazakhstan bears the scars of its Soviet past. Intensive agriculture has drastically shrunk the inland Aral Sea, creating one of the world's worst ecological disasters, while decades of nuclear testing have poisoned the landscape and its people. The country -- which is dominated by vast stretches of steppe grassland, and underlain by rich oil and mineral deposits -- currently harbors some 237 million tons of nuclear waste. (By comparison, recent estimates by the U.S. Department of Energy say America houses 54,000 tons.)
Kaisha Atakhanova, a biologist from Karaganda, Kazakhstan, has dedicated herself to repairing this damage. The founder of the Karaganda Ecological Center, or EcoCenter, Atakhanova recently helped defeat legislation that would have allowed even more nuclear waste to be commercially imported into the country. She and her allies argued that Kazakhstan's mineral wealth made it unnecessary for the country to earn money from waste disposal, and pointed out that contamination would discourage international tourism.
EcoCenter's broad and well-orchestrated campaign led the national parliament to drop the legislation in late 2003, and the victory has encouraged the growth of a grassroots environmental movement in Kazakhstan. Atakhanova, 47, continues to direct the EcoCenter, and has helped to develop a nationwide network of more than 100 activist groups.
Kaisha Atakhanova was awarded one of six 2005 Goldman Environmental Prizes in a ceremony in San Francisco on April 18. Atakhanova plans to invest her $125,000 prize in educational and environmental projects in Kazakhstan. She spoke to Grist through a translator.
Grist: How has the Soviet nuclear legacy affected the people of Kazakhstan?
Atakhanova: Over 100 tests were done openly in Kazakhstan, and many more were done underground. Together, the radiation was more than 100 times that of the Hiroshima bomb. Many millions of people were affected by it. The nuclear testing site was closed by the president of Kazakhstan in 1990, but he was not able to stop the radiation. That will continue for years to come. And the worst effects were not with the first and second generations of people -- the worst will come with the third, fourth, and fifth generations.
Grist: What inspired you to found the EcoCenter?
Atakhanova: I used to do a lot of scientific research [on the genetic effects of radiation exposure], but I realized that it was only useful for me, not for doing anything good for the people around me. I needed to make a change, to work with the people who had been exposed to radiation. EcoCenter has [operated] for 12 years, and many biologists and former students now work with me. Our purpose is to provide information to people so they can understand the conditions they are living in, and how to change them.
Grist: Who have your strongest allies been?
Atakhanova: It's really hard to do the work we do by ourselves. There were a total of 15 organizations that started our campaign, and now there are 100 of us [in a network called EcoForum]. We've also gotten a lot of support from our Russian colleagues -- from environmental groups in Russia -- and from other international colleagues and donor organizations.
Grist: Tell me how you stopped legislation that would have allowed nuclear waste to be commercially imported into Kazakhstan.
Atakhanova: It was a two-year-long campaign. We did not do a public protest on the street with banners. Instead, we had long conversations with scientists, with people in politics, and we did a "fax attack." People put together letters and sent them to parliament by fax. A kids' organization wrote letters to the president's wife, and youth groups organized debates on the issue -- everybody had a role, everybody, on their level, contributed to the campaign. So the government received a very well-thought-out campaign.
Sometimes it's not very productive to yell and scream -- we had a very strong argument, with very good background on the issue.
Grist: What do you think convinced the government to listen to you?
Atakhanova: They realized that we had a very strong backbone and a lot of expertise, and that there were a lot of people supporting us -- that this was bigger than the territory of Kazakhstan.
Grist: How has this victory affected the environmental movement in Kazakhstan?
Atakhanova: It was very important to have this victory, very important for the movement to realize that we could make this happen. Our experience was used by other organizations in their campaigns -- environmental organizations fighting deforestation used our strategy. We even put together a brochure about our strategies. This campaign was also very important in getting the government to acknowledge us. We've become like partners for the government -- now, they turn to us as experts.
Grist: What do you consider the most serious environmental problem facing the country today?
Atakhanova: The majority of our problems are coming from our use of natural resources -- gas, oil, uranium. A lot of problems are coming from the fact that we're seen as a resource country, that people are taking resources from the land without thinking of the environmental impacts. When we have economic, political, and environmental issues involved, the political and economic issues usually swing over the environmental issues. We hope the environment will become a bigger part of our decision-making process.
Grist: What do you hope Kazakhstan looks like in 20 years?
Atakhanova: I hope that in 20 years, there will be a stable government with stable politics, and a clear policy on environmental impacts. I hope we will have a sustainable and truly democratic state.
Vladimir Putin gave a bizarre speech this week in which he described the fall of the Soviet Union as "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century" and said that an "epidemic of collapse has spilled over to Russia itself."
The sad thing is he is half right.
Most of us are grateful for the fall of communism, but the phrase "epidemic of collapse" is not a bad description of what Russian society is suffering through right now. You can measure that collapse most broadly in the country's phenomenal population decline. According to U.N. projections, Russia's population will plummet from about 146 million in 2000 to about 104 million in 2050. Russia will go from being the 6th-most-populous country in the world to being the 17th.
That population decline has a number of causes. The first is the crisis in the Russian family and the decline in fertility rates. Between 1981 and 2001, marriage rates in Russia dropped by a third, and divorce rates rose by a third, according to Russian government estimates. As Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute pointed out recently in one of the last issues of The Public Interest, Russia now has three divorces for every four marriages, an astounding rate of family breakups.
As the Soviet regime disintegrated, Russian fertility rates fell through the floor, from 2.19 births per woman in 1986-87 to 1.17 in 1999. Birth rates have now recovered somewhat, but they are not even close to replacement levels. According to Eberstadt, Russia currently has about 160 deaths for every 100 births.
The more shocking reason Russia's population is declining is that people are dying younger. Russians are now much less healthy than their grandparents were in 1960. In the past three decades, Russian mortality rates have risen by 40 percent. Russian life expectancies now approximate those in Bangladesh and are below India's.
The health care system is in shambles. The risk of suffering a violent death is nine times as high for Russian men, compared with men in Israel. There's an explosion of heart attacks and strokes, thanks to smoking, increased vodka consumption and other ruinous lifestyle choices. The H.I.V./AIDS epidemic hasn't even been fully factored into the official statistics. According to Russian statistics, a 20-year-old man in 2000 had only a 46 percent chance of reaching age 65. (American 20-year-olds had about an 80 percent chance.)
What we are seeing, in short, is a country with nuclear weapons that is enduring a slow-motion version of the medieval Black Death. Perhaps we should be thankful that the political and economic situation there isn't worse than it is.
For, indeed, the paradox of Russia is that as life has become miserable in many ways, the economy has grown at an impressive clip. We can look back on this and begin to see a pattern that might be called Post-Totalitarian Stress Syndrome.
When totalitarian regimes take control of a country, they destroy the bonds of civic trust and the normal patterns of social cohesion. They rule by fear, and public life becomes brutish. They pervert private and public morality.
When those totalitarian regimes fall, different parts of society recover at different rates. Some enterprising people take advantage of economic recovery, and the result of their efforts is economic growth.
But private morality, the habits of self-control and the social fabric take a lot longer to recover. So you wind up with nations in which high growth rates and lingering military power mask profound social chaos.
This is what we're seeing in Russia. It's probably what we would be seeing in Iraq even if the insurgency were under control. And most frighteningly, it could be what we will be seeing in China for decades to come.
On the surface, China looks much more impressive than Russia. But this is a country that will be living with the consequences of totalitarianism for some time. Thanks to the one-child policy, there will be hundreds of millions of elderly people without families to support them. Thanks to that same policy, and the cultural predilection for boys, there will be tens of millions of surplus single men floating around with no marital prospects, no civilizing influences, nothing to prevent them from assembling into violent criminal bands.
At some point the power-hungry find a way to exploit social misery. At some point internal social chaos has international consequences. Fasten your seat belts. We could be in for a bumpy ride.
1. Canada Signs Second Agreement to Help Russia Dismantle Nuclear Submarines
Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of Canada
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Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew today announced the signing of a second agreement for $32 million to assist Russia in the dismantlement of its decommissioned nuclear-powered submarines. The initiative is part of Canadaï¿½s pledge to contribute up to $1 billion over 10 years, under the G8-led Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction.
ï¿½Our dismantlement assistance continues successfully to address proliferation and the environmental risks associated with the spent nuclear fuel of submarines from Russiaï¿½s Northern Fleet,ï¿½ said Mr. Pettigrew. ï¿½This initiative is a concrete expression of Canadaï¿½s international security and non-proliferation agenda.ï¿½
Russia currently has 49 retired nuclear submarines in the Barents Sea region awaiting disposal. Canadaï¿½s contribution will be used to assist in towing eight Victor Class submarines to the Zvezdochka shipyard and the subsequent de-fuelling of four, as well as the full dismantlement of three of those eight submarines. The remaining submarines will be dismantled under future agreements.
Canadaï¿½s previous $24.4 million agreement, which was announced in August 2004, covered the de-fuelling and dismantling of three Victor class submarines. De-fuelling of the three submarines has been completed. The first submarine has been fully dismantled and the second is more than half-completed. The third submarine will be berthed in dry dock in early May in preparation for dismantlement.
In all, Canadaï¿½s Global Partnership Program expects to dismantle 12 nuclear-powered submarines over four years, at a total cost of approximately $116 million. Canada is also working through the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to ensure that the spent nuclear fuel removed from the submarines is safely secured and stored.
Our assistance for submarine dismantlement is made possible by a bilateral agreement signed at the June 2004 G8 Sea Island summit. This agreement provides a framework that governs cooperation between Canada and Russia on Global Partnership projects. Other countries also involved in submarine dismantlement efforts are the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway, Japan and Germany.
2. United States and Latvian Governments Sign Agreement to Allow Nonproliferation and Threat Reduction Cooperation
Department of Energy
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As part of the Bush administrationï¿½s ongoing efforts to secure vulnerable nuclear materials worldwide, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Latvian Ministry of Environment signed an agreement today that will allow collaboration in nonproliferation and threat reduction areas.
Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman and Latvian Minister of Environment Raimonds Vejonis signed the agreement, which will provide for repatriation to Russia of Soviet/Russian-origin nuclear fuel from Latviaï¿½s shutdown research reactors at Salaspils; security enhancement of the reactor site and storage of the nuclear materials at the site; and safe and secure storage of Latviaï¿½s nuclear materials, including improved methods of protection, control, and accountability of nuclear materials to reduce the risk of theft or possible diversion of nuclear materials stored at the premises.
ï¿½Reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism is a priority for President Bush and my department, and this agreement with Latvia is another important step in our effort to keep nuclear weapons material out of the hands of terrorists,ï¿½ Secretary Bodman said. ï¿½We applaud the Latvian government for its ongoing work to reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation, and we look forward to our new partnership.ï¿½
The Salaspils research reactor was permanently shut down in 1998 and is being prepared for decommissioning. The agreement signed today will allow DOEï¿½s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to remove the Soviet- and Russian-origin nuclear fuel containing highly enriched uranium (HEU) now stored at the facility.
The work is a component of NNSAï¿½s Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) and an essential part of the presidentï¿½s efforts to end the use of HEU in research reactors worldwide. To date, Russia has accepted approximately 105 kilograms of fresh Russian-origin HEU from six countries under GTRIï¿½s Russian Research Reactor Fuel Return Program. The most recent shipment repatriated six kilograms of fresh HEU from the Czech Republic in December 2004.
The goal of GTRI, announced by the administration on May 26, 2004, in Vienna, Austria, is to identify, secure, remove, or facilitate the disposition of vulnerable nuclear and radioactive materials and equipment around the world that pose a threat to the international community as quickly and expeditiously as possible. International partners, such as the government of Latvia, are key participants in this new initiative.
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