President Bush came back from Russia last week with good news for the Savannah River Site, according to U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman: SRS is a healthy step closer to getting its long-sought mixed-oxide plant.
With the hearty support of SRS officials, Bush wants to build a so-called ï¿½MOXï¿½ plant at the Aiken nuclear energy campus that could dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium. The plan is that a twin plant would be built in Russia with the shared goal of turning the weapons fuel into a fuel suitable for commercial power reactors.
One problem with the plan is that the Americans and Russians have been haggling for years over the liability of U.S. companies working on the project in Russia.
But that stumbling block is nearly removed, according to a letter sent from Bodman to members of Congress last week.
Bodman reported Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin made ï¿½significant progressï¿½ in their Moscow meeting and have agreed on a common approach to resolving their differences ï¿½soon.ï¿½
Bodman goes on to encourage the chairmen of the House and Senate committees on Armed Services ï¿½ among other key lawmakers ï¿½ to grant the president the full $339 million he has requested for the SRS MOX plant for fiscal 2006.
MOX critics ï¿½ and some in Congress who are unsure about the programï¿½s readiness ï¿½ are pushing for less than that amount.
Environmental activists say they worry the MOX program will make South Carolina more vulnerable to nuclear accidents and terrorism.
Tom Clements, a nuclear nonproliferation expert with Greenpeace, said the U.S. Department of Energy is getting ahead of itself with this recent letter to Congress.
Resolution of the liability issue has been coming ï¿½soonï¿½ for quite a while, he said. ï¿½The reason for this letter is that the mood in Congress is to cut funding out of the program.ï¿½
Two LDPR deputies on Thursday pressed for former Nuclear Power Minister Yevgeny Adamov be sent back to Russia and darkly warned that if the United States succeeds in extraditing him from Switzerland on fraud and money-laundering charges, the Kremlin could face a popular uprising.
Sergei Abeltsev, a State Duma deputy in Vladimir Zhirinovsky's ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party, told a plenary session of the Duma that Adamov posed a national security risk because he might hand over state nuclear secrets in exchange for leniency.
"The Orange Revolution in Kiev began after [former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo] Lazarenko handed over all of Ukraine's state secrets to the Americans," Abeltsev said in remarks shown on NTV television. U.S. authorities charged Lazarenko with fraud and money-laundering in 1999, and he is now being tried by a San Francisco court.
"For this reason, I suggest appealing to the Russian Prosecutor General's Office and other competent agencies to take immediate and decisive actions to return Adamov to Russia," he said.
"If this is impossible," he added, "then assign special services to liquidate the nuclear scientist-businessman."
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the Duma that efforts were being made to secure Adamov's return, but he declined to elaborate.
Adamov, 65, was detained last week in Bern on a U.S. arrest warrant. He and and an associate, Mark Kaushansky, are accused of diverting some $9 million in U.S. funds meant to improve safety at Russian nuclear facilities. Adamov served as nuclear power minister from 1998 to 2001, when he was dismissed amid accusations that he had received kickbacks through his U.S. companies.
LDPR Deputy Alexei Mitrofanov told the Duma that an appeal to prosecutors was needed because Adamov was one of a few people familiar with top-secret information, including Russia's construction of a nuclear reactor in Iran.
After a long pause, Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said, "We'll discuss it."
Prosecutor Ksenia Chernikova declined to comment. "Until such an appeal has been approved [by the Duma], it's pointless to fantasize," she said.
Meanwhile, Adamov's lawyer, Timofei Grindev, said his client might change his mind and agree to a quick extradition to the United States but only after consulting with a U.S. lawyer set to arrive in Bern by the end of the week, Nezavisimaya Gazeta said Thursday.
2. Former Russian Nuclear Minister's Arrest Unrelated to Politics - Swiss
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Swiss authorities are denying the presence of any political underpinning in the arrest of former Russian atomic energy minister Yevgeny Adamov on charges of embezzlement brought on by the U.S.
Folco Galli, an official spokesman for the Swiss Department of Justice and Police, told Itar-Tass Thursday the arrest was not a matter of politics.
He declined to comment on the opinions voiced in the Russian mass media by experts and news analysts that a decision to arrest Adamov, a man with detailed knowledge of Russian nuclear secrets, covered up the Americansï¿½ willingness to exert pressure on Russia in connection with its civilian nuclear projects in Iran.
Galli said the Swiss law enforcers had arrested Adamov on the grounds of a bilateral agreement obliging this country to act promptly on U.S. requests to arrest anyone suspected of activity the Americans find unlawful.
It was upon a similar request by Switzerland that the U.S. authorities detained the former chief of Kremlin property department and a man close to Boris Yeltsin, Pavel Borodin in 2001, Galli said.
In that episode, Borodin stayed for three months in a U.S. jail and was subsequently extradited to Switzerland.
The Swiss detained Yevgeny Adamov in Berne May 2 at a request by the U.S., where he is suspected of misappropriating the monies the U.S. Administration allocated in the past for measures to enhance the safety of Russian nuclear facilities.
He was taken to custody in Berne.
Adamov denies any charges against him and dismisses the incident as a provocation.
He rejected a voluntary extradition to the U.S. and the Swiss are now awaiting an official request from Washington to extradite him.
Adamov will have to stay in custody before they get a paper from the U.S. According to the rules for extraditions, the Americans have 40 to 60 days to draft that request.
Galli said the Swiss have no plans of initiating hearings on or questioning of Adamov before they get the American request.
At the same time, the former minister retains the right to a voluntary extradition without awaiting the arrival of whatever requests.
The dispute over Iran's nuclear programs is reaching a new level. The Iranian authorities promised yesterday to resume uranium enrichment operations. In response, Great Britain, Germany, and France threatened to end talks on the Iranian nuclear issue, which is fraught with its inclusion on the agenda of the UN Security Council. The only member of the nuclear club to maintain an Olympian calm is Russia, which claims that Teheran's nuclear ambitions are legitimate.
Hopes for a constructive dialog, which existed until yesterday at talks between Iran and the EU held under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, were not justified. The Iranian authorities abruptly aggravated the situation on Thursday by announcing their readiness to break their previously declared moratorium on implementing uranium enrichment programs. ï¿½A continuation of the talks in their present format is impossible,ï¿½ Iranian National Security Council chief Hasan Rohani said in a statement on Iranian television. ï¿½The fundamental proposition that the Islamic Republic of Iran will resume its nuclear development in the near future is beyond question.ï¿½ Vice President of Iran Golam Reza Agazade, who is head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, made a similar statement in Teheran. In his words, Iran intends to resume a ï¿½significant partï¿½ of its uranium enrichment activities suspended in November 2004, especially at the facility in Isfahan.
Meanwhile, the Iranians made a number of statements yesterday that seemed to indicate there was still a possibility, even if only a purely formal one, of reaching a compromise and continuing the talks with the EU. The reports of international agencies added to the confusion. First, with reference to Iranian diplomatic sources, came information that Teheran had still not actually made the decision to resume uranium enrichment operations; then it was learned that a letter with official notification of the end of the moratorium, which they were expecting at the IAEA headquarters on Thursday, had still not arrived in Vienna.
The reason for Iran's ambiguous position, allowing Teheran to back down at the last minute, may have been a stern letter from Great Britain, Germany, and France sent to the Iranian capital on Wednesday. The letter, signed by the foreign ministers of the three leading European powers, stated that the resumption of uranium enrichment operations would ï¿½signal the end of the negotiation process, which will inevitably have negative consequences for Iran.ï¿½ Yesterday a senior European diplomat in Teheran, who wished to remain anonymous, explained that Iran's resumption of its uranium enrichment programs would automatically put the Iranian nuclear question on the agenda of the UN Security Council. In the experts' opinion, a discussion of the problem of Iran at that level could entail the imposition of international sanctions against that country. In its commentary yesterday, the Washington Post pointed to the fact that the European ultimatum to Teheran meant that the EU and the United States were drawing closer on the Iranian nuclear issue. The situation where Europe and America cease to be the good and evil policemen and start to take a unified stand deprives Iran of the opportunity to play on the conflicts between them and continue their diplomatic maneuvering.
Meanwhile, Russia also revealed its position yesterday. It became clear that Moscow and the West were even further apart on the question of how to deal with Iran. An anonymous official of Russia's Ministry of Atomic Energy said that Iran's nuclear intentions were legitimate and would not lead to a cessation of Russianï¿½Iranian nuclear cooperation. In his words, Iran's uranium enrichment program did not represent a threat to international security, since the uranium would be used for peaceful purposes under strict IAEA supervision. A statement yesterday by Konstantin Kosachev, the chairman of the State Duma's foreign affairs committee, was clearly at odds with the position stated in the letter of the three European countries. In his opinion, Moscow must do everything possible to prevent the immediate transfer of the Iranian question to the jurisdiction of the UN Security Council. ï¿½In this situation, Russia must be the one to restrain the emotions of those who are trying to bring the problem of Iran to the UN Security Council for consideration, which could lead to sanctions against that country,ï¿½ Kosachev noted.
Thus, Moscow finds itself in a very difficult position. On the one hand, in a recent statement made during his visit to Israel, Vladimir Putin made it plain that Moscow was opposed to Iran having the full cycle of uranium enrichment. On the other hand, Moscow's stubborn unwillingness to join supporters of strong measures against Teheran is coming into ever-increasing conflict with Russia's efforts to demonstrate full mutual understanding with the West on one of the key problems of international security.
Russia says Iran's nuclear conversion plan is 'legitimate' Thu May 12, 7:09 AM ET (AFP)
Iran's intention to restart sensitive nuclear activities earlier frozen under a deal with the European Union is "legitimate" and will not alter Russia's nuclear cooperation with the Islamic state, a Russian nuclear official told AFP.
"The fact that Iran has restarted conversion will not have an impact on nuclear cooperation between Russia and Iran," said the official, speaking on condition she not be named.
"This does not threaten international security because this uranium will be used for peaceful ends and under the strict IAEA control," the official said Thursday, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"It is legitimate and legal," she said, adding that differences between Russia and the United States regarding Moscow's nuclear cooperation with Iran were "narrowing."
The official's comments came after a top Iranian nuclear official said the country was set to announce the resumption of "a noticeable part" of uranium conversion work, a precursor to uranium enrichment.
A European diplomat told AFP in Tehran that such a move would automatically trigger referral of the Iranian nuclear issue to the United Nations Security Council.
"The Iranians are well aware of the consequences," the diplomat said. "If they do decide to resume conversion, or any other activity linked to the process of enrichment ... the matter will be sent to the United Nations Security Council."
In a newspaper interview published Thursday, the head of Russia's atomic energy agency, Alexander Rumyantsev, said Russia planned to make its first delivery of nuclear fuel to Iran at the end of the year or early next year.
Russia and Iran signed an agreement in February under which Iran agreed that all spent nuclear fuel from the civilian reactor being built at Bushehr under Russian direction would be repatriated directly to Russia for reprocessing.
"They have to start to fire it up in mid-2006," Rumyantsev said, referring to the Bushehr reactor. "The fuel has to be at the plant six months before that."
Under the accord between Russia and Iran signed in February, Russia is to send nearly 100 tonnes of fuel to Iran in several consignments under IAEA supervision. Tehran initially rejected the condition that it repatriate to Russia the spent nuclear fuel, but relented after two years of negotiations.
"All the necessary precautions have been made in line with international standards," Rumyantsev said.
The United States alleges that the Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran is part of a cover for weapons development.
Washington is convinced that Iran is seeking to build atomic weapons -- charges that Tehran denies -- and has been trying to convince Moscow to halt its nuclear cooperation.
Three EU countries -- Britain, France and Germany -- have been leading efforts since last year to persuade Tehran diplomatically to drop any activities in the treatement of uranium that could result in acquisition of capacity to build a nuclear weapon.
But Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, a vice president and head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, told state television, that Iran intended to resume some activities that it had suspended under a deal with the EU countries.
"Based on the reviews and decisions which were made, we are going to restart a small part of the suspended activities," including some work at a uranium conversion facility near the central city of Isfahan.
The Isfahan facility is used to convert mined uranium "yellowcake" into uranium tetrafluoride (UF4) and then into uranium hexafluoride (UF6), a feed gas for centrifuges that carry out the highly sensitive enrichment process.
2. Russian FM: Nuclear Cooperation with Iran, North Korea to Continue
Islamic Republic News Agency
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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said here Thursday that his country will continue peaceful nuclear cooperation with Iran and North Korea.
The minister made the remarks in an open session of the State Duma (Lower House) during which he termed the cooperation as being compatible to the international laws and regulations.
Meanwhile, Chief of the Russian Federal Nuclear Power Agency, Alexander Rumyantsev, said in an interview on Thursday that Russia will deliver the nuclear fuel of the Bushehr power plant in late 2005 or early 2006.
He added Iran and Russia signed an additional protocol according to which Iran would return the spent fuel to Russia.
He stressed that the delivery of the fuel should be made six months before the completion of the power plant and the date mentioned is the due time.
3. Neither Iran Nor World to Gain if Nuke Dialogue with EU Stops, Warns Moscow
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Russia is calling on Iran to carry on negotiations with the European Union that are to settle a controversy round Iranian nuclear programs, said Sergei Kislyak, Russia's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, while in conference with Hasan Rohani, Iran's Supreme National Security Council Secretary.
Kislyak highlighted necessity for further dialogue with the European Troika of the UK, France and Germany, and the utmost importance of focusing efforts on Iranian nuclear program issue settlement.
"The European Union has said it is willing to promote Russo-Iranian cooperation for civil-oriented nuclear efforts. Given the Islamic Republic's patience... we can expect impressive positive fruit of talks with the European Troika, which promise to spectacularly enhance Tehran's contacts with the EU," said the Russian diplomat.
The Iranian conferee, in his turn, welcomed all-round Russian-Iranian cooperation stepped up. If President Vladimir Putin visits Iran, the contacts will get much closer, he added.
"If Iran had not used its lawful right to develop civil-oriented nuclear technologies in compliance with the NPT [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty], we would not be holding in respect that international agreement and our obligations," Rohani said, referring to Iran joining the NPT as early as the mid-1960s, under the Shah.
"Iran will use the complete nuclear cycle within the NPT and other international treaties. That is the Iranian nation's final and categorical resolution. If efforts are made to limit Iran as it implements its lawful rights, the Iranian people will not succumb to whatever pressure.
"Iran has never intended to make an A-bomb, and has no such intention now. On the contrary, we are anxious to cancel international fears and alarm concerning our nuclear programs.
"Today, international understandings are coming under an ever greater impact of US policies. That is why other countries are to clarify their position - to say whether they abide by the law or are exposed to Americans' interference and aggression," stressed the Iranian official.
Iran has been considering for several days now whether to partly resume works at the Isfahan Nuclear Technology Center, whose activities were suspended, toward last year's end, to produce a confidential atmosphere at negotiations with the European Union.
To resume the Isfahan routine is Iran's lawful right, stresses Tehran. Meanwhile, uranium enrichment efforts in Natanz remain suspended.
As Iranian experts see it, Tehran's latest announcements of prospects to resume uranium enrichment aim to bring the European Union to make practical resolutions on previous Iranian initiatives, with their objective guarantees of Iranian nuclear programs' civil orientation.
1. Nuclear Engineers From India Arrive in Russia For Consultations
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A group of nuclear engineers from India has arrived in the town of Novovoronezh for consultations and training at the Rosenergoatom Training Centre. In future, the Indian experts will work at the Kudankulam nuclear power plant which is being built in southern India with Russiaï¿½s assistance, Chief of the Novovoronezh Training Centre Alexander Ivanchenko told Tass.
First, the Indian experts will take a course in theory and then will go to the Kalinin nuclear power plant in the northwest of Russia for training to operate the VVER-100 nuclear reactor similar to a nuclear reactor at the future Indian nuclear power plant.
The Indian nuclear engineers will finalize training at the Novovoronezh Center and then will work on the premises of the Indian nuclear plant guided by Russian experts.
The first nuclear reactor of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant will be commissioned in 2007, and the second nuclear reactor - in 2008.
1. Russia Also Voices Concern About N. Korea's Nuclear Move
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Russia is concerned about North Korea's alleged action to finish extracting 8,000 spent fuel rods from a nuclear power plant, a possible step for producing plutonium for more nuclear weapons, a Russian Foreign Ministry source said Thursday.
Interfax news agency quoted the source as saying that Russia is closely following developments and collecting data in connection with the North's nuclear ambitions.
2. N. Korea Nuclear Crisis Provoked by U.S. ï¿½ Kosachyov
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The nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula was provoked by the tough position taken by the U.S. towards North Korea, said State Duma International Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachyov.
"At the same time, I cannot excuse Pyongyang's actions and deem its decision to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty and consecutive statements that it possesses such weapons as erroneous," Kosachyov told a press conference at the Interfax main office.
A regiment of the Strategic Missile Forces deployed in Teikovo, Ivanovo Region (Central Federal District) will be rearmed with the Topol-M mobile missile systems.
Forces commander Nikolai Solovtsov said at the enlarged session of the force's military council that the rearmament timeframe and procedure had been coordinated.
The fourth launch of a Topol-M missile was carried out successfully in December 2004, completing the program of state trials of the system created by the group of chief designer Yuri Solomonov in the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology.
The missile is a mobile analogue of the silo-launched missile of the same name, which was put on combat duty in December 1997 in Tatishchevo outside Saratov. As of now, one more regiment of the Tatishchevo missile group is being rearmed with the silo-launched Topol-M systems.
The mobile Topol-M system has cross-country chassis and can avoid space reconnaissance satellites and AWACS planes. Its warhead, which flies at supersonic speeds, can maneuver very smartly, evading modern or even prospective air defense systems.
The press service of the Strategic Missile Forces reports that the troops are working to confirm and prolong the service life of their missiles. "The task of maintaining missiles in combat readiness is fulfilled despite the physical aging of weapons and hardware," runs the statement by the press service.
1. Two New Reactors Planned for Russian Nuclear Plant Near Finland
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Russia is planning to build two new reactors at the nuclear power plant in Sosnovyi Bor on the south shore of the Gulf of Finland.
The new units are to come on line in 2013 and 2015.
The present four reactors, built in the 1970s and 1980s, have long been a cause for concern in Finland.
Although the initially planned 30-year life span of two of the reactors has come to an end, the Russian power company running the units wants to extend their operation by another 15 years.
The continued use of the antiquated reactors is a cause of worry on the northern shore of the Gulf of Finland. The Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority of Finland has provided aid to the Russians in upgrading safety at the Chernobyl-type reactors.
Heikki Reponen, the head of the expert service unit of the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority in Finland says that weaknesses were noted in the operational and fire safety, and in the physical shielding of the plant.
Finland has supplied the plant with fire detectors and firefighting equipment, turnstile gates, card readers, and other access control devices.
A radiation monitoring network has been built around the power plant, and the readings can be watched in Finland.
Finland has provided EUR 7 million in aid for the safety projects.
A more extensive article on the Sosnovyi Bor nuclear power plant will be included among our weekly features on Tuesday.
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