1. Russia, Iran have not yet agreed on JV for uranium enrichment
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The regular Russian-Iranian talks held in Moscow on Monday and Tuesday apparently have not resulted in the agreement to set up a joint venture to enrich uranium for Iran in Russia.
``Iran is prepared to set up a JV in Russia, but it intends to continue the research on its own territory. This variant does not suit Russia, as our proposal for a JV is a comprehensive one,'' a Russian source well informed about the negotiating process told ltar-Tass.
The source said Moscow may agree to the creation of a joint venture only if Iran carries out the entire package of measures,'' which envisages the return to the moratorium on research, the ratification of the additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the resumption of IAEA inspectors' monitoring of Iran's facilities.
The source said that the talks were held on Monday evening and Tuesday morning.
According to sources of Itar-Tass, representatives of various Russian structures involved in the overall negotiating process attended the talks on Monday.
The talks will continue, Itar-Tass learned at the Security Council of the Russian Federation where the talks between secretary of the Russian Security Council Igor Ivanov and deputy secretary of Iran's Supreme Council of National Security Ali Hosseini-Tash were held. It was not specified, however, where and when the talks will continue. The Security Council does not supply information about the results of the Moscow meeting, stating only that the talks are over. ``During the discussions, the Russian side confirmed its adherence to the diplomatic way of resolving the problem, drawing on the potential of the lAEA,'' a representative of the press service of the Security Council said. ``The consultations will continue,'' he noted.
Another well-informed source told Itar-Tass ``the talks may continue in Moscow or in Tehran.'' ``The question of creating a JV is very complicated, as we are setting up not a fly-by-night firm, and it is necessary to resolve a multitude of financial, juridical and organizations matters, the more so as Russian laws on atomic supervision are very strict,'' said the source.
2. NUCLEAR INCOMPATIBILITY - Tehran rejects Moscow's joint venture proposal
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TEHRAN SAYS NO TO RUSSIA'S URANIUM ENRICHMENT PLAN; Tehran continued to exacerbate the crisis yesterday, rejecting Moscow's proposal to establish a joint venture for uranium enrichment on the territory of Russia and threatened to start industrial enrichment of uranium.
Tehran continued to exacerbate the crisis yesterday, rejecting Moscow's proposal to establish a joint venture for uranium enrichment on the territory of Russia and threatened to start industrial enrichment of uranium. That was Tehran's response for Moscow's "treason", which, according to the Iranians, went after Washington. The failure of the Russian initiative, which had been considered the last chance of solving the Iranian crisis by many experts till yesterday, intensifies voices of those who appeal to introduce international sanctions during the discussion in the United Nations Security Council board in New York dedicated to the discussion of the Iranian problem.
"The Russian proposal is out of agenda now", Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said in Tehran yesterday, having crowned all the desperate attempts of Moscow to arrange things with "Iranian partners" abut establishing the joint enterprise on enrichment of uranium for the needs of the Iranian nuclear industry in the Russian territory. "The circumstances have changed. We have to wait and to see how the events in five "veto" countries would be developing", Hamid Reza Asefi explained a new turn of the Iranian position.
As it may be concluded out of official explanations, "changed circumstances" is the decision made by the latest IAEA Board meeting to report the Iranian nuclear program to the UN Security Council. Having declared that the decision made in Vienna was "political unacceptable", the Iranian representative made it clear that Tehran had something to response with. According to his words, the Iranian parliament is not intending to ratify the additional protocol to the Nuclear Weapons Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). As for the decision about enrichment of uranium on the industrial scale, it was not made - but only by now. "We shall wait for two or three days and see how the situation changes", the Iranian representative noted significantly. At that, Tehran reminded that it possessed such powerful armament as oil. Saturday, Iranian Interior Minister Mustafa Purmohammadi declared that Iran could used export of oil as political armament of resistance, if the UN Security Council votes to introduce sanctions. However, Iranian Foreign Minister Manucher Mottaki decided yesterday not to anticipate events and disavowed the declaration of his colleague. "Iran will not use oil as an instrument of foreign policy", he declared. Having calmed down the world community in the respect of Iran oil exporting, Mr. Mottaki threatened at that that Iran could review its nuclear policy in general and quit the NPT. Laying stress on the fact that membership in NPT provides the states with a right to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel, Mottaki made it clear that in case this right would not be followed, Iran would probably change its attitude towards NPT.
Despite the fact that Tehran explained its refusal of the Russian proposal by "unconstructive", in its opinion, IAEA position, observers paid attention to one important circumstance: the yesterday's declaration of the Iranian side appeared the next day after a voiced Saturday's declaration of unknown member from the Russian delegation at the negotiations with Iran. Having appealed Iran for following the IAEA rights again, the Russian representative pointed to the fact that the fate of the Russian-Iranian joint enterprise depended on the conduct of the Iranian side. "Russia considers it impossible to establish a joint enterprise in case the Iranian side does not comply with the demands of IAEA", the source noted. At that, the Russian representative heavily criticized the alternative idea voiced by the Iranian side in the territory of Turkey. "For experts who understand the problem clearly, this proposal is absurd. Turkey does not have necessary technologies of nuclear-fuel cycle. And the theoretical dispatch from NATO partners would be infringement of NPT. There is not a single ground to believe that proposal", the Russian representative declared.
To all appearances, the Iranian side decided to deny Russian proposal after they understood the essence: under the conditions of escalation of the Iranian nuclear crisis, Moscow is not intended to be an international solicitor of Tehran not dependent on the Iranian conduct. There is a great deal of evidence for that. The most prominent was Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's visit to Washington, during which both sides made it clear that they had found mutual understanding in the respect of the Iranian question and were intended to attain the Iran's fulfilling the IAEA demands. During the negotiations in Washington, it became clear that the Russian position does not distinguish from those of "European three" and the US. To all appearances, the Iranian side could not forgive that. It is symbolically that the proposal about establishing the Turkish center on uranium enrichment came into light the next day after negotiations of Mr. Lavrov in the United States.
3. Tehran triangle: Russia, U.S. and nuclear power
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RIA Novosti continues a series of Viktor Mikhailov's interviews with military commentator Viktor Litovkin.
Viktor Mikhailov, a full member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the director of the Institute of Strategic Stability of the Russian Federal Agency for Nuclear Power, a chief expert of the Russian Federal Nuclear Center (Research Institute of Experimental Physics), a holder of the Soviet and Russian Lenin and State awards, and the nuclear minister in 1992-1998, shares his insight into Iran's nuclear capabilities and ambitions.
Question: What is your general assessment of Iran's nuclear capability now?
Answer: Though I am hardly in a position to judge, I have seen and talked to talented young experts when visiting their nuclear centers. Many of those people had graduated from universities in Western Europe and the United States; moreover, I just recently made a small inquiry to learn that around 10,000 young specialists are still being trained there. Russia has never trained Iranians, except for Bushehr power plant operators.
The West has helped greatly build Tehran's nuclear industry, a great embarrassment for the Americans nowadays: when they tell me they do not believe Iran really needs a national nuclear power industry, I just ask them: "OK, but were it not you who once said you were going to build 20 NPPs there? Could you then explain why we cannot do now what you thought was quite appropriate for yourselves?"
They won't answer, but the answer is simple enough. A country with a national nuclear power capability sets firmly on the cutting edge of global technology. This means that there will always be jobs at home, and young people will stay at home. A country has no future if its young generation is fleeing abroad.
My assessment of Iran's nuclear level would be straightforward: it is very high. I have seen people working with neutron generators there who could very ably handle the 3D neutron registration software, a very complicated package (they received it from France) which shows a very realistic pattern of neutron flows stemming from a nuclear fission reaction.
In the early 1990s, when I was in Iran for the first time, I saw there the magnificent American Sun 4 and Sun 5 computers, which the U.S. barred from selling to Russia but sold freely to Iran; and they were working there very effectively. It is true that Iranian girls wear black shawls to conceal their hair but the girls I saw - who had also graduated from U.S. universities - were very smart when it came to handling state-of-the-art computers. The Iranians just took the United States by surprise by toppling the shah and starting a new state that would not pander to Washington. In short, it was the United States who built Iran's nuclear workforce.
Historically, Persian people have been very intellectual. Of course, Iran saw a major setback in the beginning of the 19th century when Europe took the lead. But they have sent their young people to learn from the West, many are trained in the West now, and, I think, their research capability is very good.
And it has, in fact, very little to do with oil and gas. What the Americans do not like is Iran's national status, its government, its independence, and its reluctance to take orders from U.S. diplomats. This is a separate issue and it has nothing to do with Iran's nuclear program.
Q.: Do we need to worry about an Iranian nuclear bomb in the near future?
A.: People often ask me this question, which sometimes is formulated somewhat differently: "Do you think they want it or think about it?" I answer, yes, I do; they definitely want it and they clearly think about it, as nuclear weapons have become a critical factor of independence and sovereignty. The U.S. policy is mainly about exporting democracy by making offers one cannot refuse. They are doing this to countries whose history dates back millennia and who have unthinkable contributions to mankind under their belt. What Americans do not know how to do is take into account others' national sensitivities, customs, and traditions. What they are doing is trying to inculcate those countries with American lifestyles - something that is hardly possible.
Q.: Back to Iran. Can it ultimately create a nuclear weapon?
A.: Of course, it can. Any highly developed country can do this, it's available on the Internet, if you like. The truth is that one needs much money and time. In the case of Iran, I think, they will do it in 5-10 years. I mean, they will be able to build a basic nuclear weapon. This weapon will not be as modern as Russian or American, but it does not matter - the Americans are afraid of any, even old, nukes. Washington understands, sure enough, that however hard they try to build a nuclear missile shield, you don't have to deliver a nuke through space where the entire world will see it. There are many other ways, and what they are ultimately afraid of is at least one blast inside the United States. Their people will bury any administration that allows it to happen.
Q.: The West does not trust Tehran. Why is Russia selling its nuclear technology to Iran?
A.: Russia has never sold any nuclear technology. To tell you more, Russia, since Soviet times, has been constantly on watch for nuclear proliferation. Proliferation was something only the West, with its century-old free market economy, could engage into. This is just because a free market economy is profit-oriented. If some relevant materials or technologies appeared and was not included in prohibitive lists fast enough (state authorities were rarely fast enough), it was sold without ceremony.
Everything the Iranians have today has come from the West. Even our fuel for nuclear power plants will be withdrawn for reprocessing at home and replaced with fresh cells. What President [George W.] Bush is promoting now, as if it were his own brilliant idea, a nuclear fuel leasing system, when a country pays for fuel and we deliver on the conditions of removing fuel wastes. Some Russian experts and I proposed it more than a decade ago. But the Americans did not support us. Their millionaire Alex Copson was in this business then and he wanted to do this, but President Clinton did not allow him to.
Q.: Was Copson working with the Department of Energy?
A.: He wasn't. Our acquaintance was a coincidence, in fact; he came to me with a project to lease a Pacific atoll and to use it as nuclear dumpsite and production facility for nuclear fuel - in order to have a dumpsite in a remote...
Q.: And well-guarded, I expect?
A.: ...absolutely - remote, neutral territory. Well, the point is, we have never sold anything abroad because the Americans were there. They sold, I have already mentioned that, even plutonium, to say nothing of other things. Do you know how Israel and South Africa gained access to nuclear weapons? It's clear they did.
A.: With help from the U.S.
Q.: There is information that the British helped Israel...
A.: They did but they were far from alone there. Israelis got a great deal of help from Washington through a British-American company in South Africa. In Africa isotopes were separated by filtering uranium hexafluoride through a convergent-divergent nozzle, rather than in a centrifuge or by diffusion. Israelis may have got one or two [nuclear] charges and even tested them.
Later, South Africa had to abandon all those activities. I have been there and I can say the facilities were working very effectively as long as the white minority was in charge. They are not working any longer, small bits may have gone to Israel - may have gone, mind you, but in any case they have stored them for too long to retain real effect.
Q.: Were you referring to the nuclear charges?
A.: Yes. Israelis may have withdrawn them from South Africa but even so, I guess, Israel cannot be a nuclear power. They were not able to do anything at home because they had no capacity and no place to put it, what with the entire Israeli territory immediately subject to hostile incoming fire.
Q.: Few think like you when the Israeli nuclear capability is on the table. Some respected researchers claim Tel-Aviv has nearly 200 nuclear charges.
A.: You don't say so! They might have two or three, which are in any case as old as sin and yield no more than a kiloton. This explains why Israel is silent on the issue, they just have little to say. Moreover, there is really little need for nuclear weapons when you have such an umbrella as the United States.
Q.: Back to Iran again, if you don't mind. Why do you think Tehran has rejected the European pleas to leave the International Atomic Energy Agency's seals in place and keep from independent reactor research?
A.: That's because I think it will take Europeans very long before they regain Iran's trust. They had activities there, and one day they ran away, leaving everything behind. Siemens, a respected European, German, corporation, abandoned everything as Americans pressed for it. Tehran, aware that this could happen again at any time, has clearly not treated its talks with the European Trio seriously enough.
Russia is different. They can see how we treat them; they can see that we support nuclear power industries and peaceful nuclear applications; we have proposed a joint venture that will bring profit to them as well as to us. What to us is going to be a good nuclear market, to them is going to be an opportunity to see what a [nuclear enrichment] facility is and how it works. To build all the centrifuges and everything for just one nuclear reactor would be ridiculous. Right now, to build all this would be a waste of money because the return on such investment will come in a hundred years, if ever.
We told the Iranians that enrichment would be on the table as soon as they had plans for at least a dozen NPPs. They asked me whether we could build in Iran something like a facility we had built in China. But China is not Iran - they have diffusion and other facilities, they really need such things.
Q.: Why would Tehran agree to build such a facility together with Russia?
A.: I don't think a joint venture is interesting to them commercially right now; it is probably just a way to alleviate nuclear tensions that have been rising around Iran exponentially and to deny the Americans an opportunity to justify a military solution. You know, the Americans have deployed over 100,000 personnel in the neighboring Iraq; they have armor and air support and they have done everything to cross the border if required... I think the Iranians understand they need to keep Washington from doing this, at least for this spring. The Americans will hardly go to war in the scorching Iranian summer.
Q.: The Americans might well opt for a missile strike instead...
A.: Their missiles will come home to roost if they do it. Their task force in Iraq is already struggling, and imagine how dangerous their position will be if the Iranian army also launches an offensive. Iran may receive massive support from the broader Muslim world as well.
A possible option would be to ask Israel to strike [Iran], but they will not achieve anything because they do not know the exact locations and levels of protection. The recent American interest in penetrator munitions that would go off at hundred-meter depths is far from accidental. These munitions have yet to be built, though.
In short, a missile strike would do the U.S. more harm than good. This helps explain their tolerance to our talks with Iran. I think the Iranians will agree to our proposals though the talks will take months, through March and April, at least, to delay Americans beyond the period of [climatic] conditions appropriate for military action.
Any delay is good for Iran. What would also be good for them is an opportunity to see how such facilities work. They will get an insight into our production lines, though, importantly, not into our centrifuge know-how.
Q.: What could be Russia's role in helping solve Iran's "nuclear problem?'
A.: Primarily, Russia could do it through a joint venture with Iran, providing services to everyone interested in nuclear power development but not interested in handling isotope enrichment.
Another question here is, I think, much more important. Even if there is restraint on military action, Iran may be subject to the so-called economic sanctions. If this country joins in, we will have to withdraw all our workforce from Iran and abandon all we did there, like we did in North Korea in the early 1990s. By then, we had built a research reactor there, thoroughly explored the territory to select a place for a nuclear power plant, and developed a broad personnel training effort.
Just two years after we had abandoned all this, the Americans created the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization with the United States, Japan, South and North Korea - not Russia, mind you, and said, OK, we are here to build a water-cooled reactor. Now Russia is in the dark as to what is going on there. In fact, we have been thrown out of that market, though no one was ever going to transfer nuclear weapons or technology to North Korea, and no one was going to defy the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
What worries me is that preconditions for the same mistake are building here, in Iran. However, only fools repeat such mistakes; clever people never do that.
Q.: How is Russia going to get Iranian guarantees that it will not seek a nuclear weapon?
A.: Russia does not want Iran to have nuclear weapons and thinks that Tehran's nuclear desire should be restrained. But the ball is on the America's side now; They need to decide whether they like Iran or not, to realize that they are dealing with an ancient historic world power that will not accept pressure and threats. It might take time, but what is needed is negotiations, however lengthy.
Only the United States is in a position to alleviate this tension. Weapons are not going to provide a solution; with weapons, things will be even worse than the current appalling situation in Iraq or Afghanistan. What kind of democracy are you going to get if democracy is exported through use of force?
Q.: What if the Iranians reject Russia's offer?
A.: They won't. However, I fear the Americans will press for sanctions even if they don't.
Q.: But they surely cannot make the entire world impose sanctions if Iran accepts our proposal?
A.: I am afraid they could. Remember North Korea. Almost everyone pandered to Washington then, and we did, special thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev.
Q.: Putin will not necessarily do what Mikhail [Gorbachev] broke his back on.
A.: He hopefully won't. However, Putin is also in a tight corner, and so is entire Russia. So far we have been picking up great windfalls from high oil and gas prices but let's think what happens if windfalls cease to go down. What we have we clearly will not have forever. I believe in reason. Reason dictates that to start a war now would be a disgrace.
4. Europe, Russia, China give Tehran another 30 days
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The Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has wisely decided to shift the problem of the Iranian nuclear dossier to the UN Security Council.
The governors did not adopt a final resolution, which means that the dossier would not be sent to the UN immediately. Instead, the Security Council will receive a report by the IAEA director general, just as the governors had decided to do at their emergency session on February 4. The time given to Tehran to stop its uranium enrichment project has run out, and the director general's report has been sent to New York.
It seemed shortly before the Board session on the Iranian nuclear program that the IAEA did not know what to do with the dossier. The United States was all for sending it to the UN Security Council but did not know what to do with it there. John Bolton, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, who had addressed the Washington conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a special interest group that lobbies the United States government on behalf of Israeli-American interests, said the Bush administration would not insist on an emergency hearing of the issue of economic sanctions against Iran in the Security Council.
However, it was clear that Russia, which wants to remain the exclusive negotiator at the talks with Tehran, would not forego its nuclear, energy and military technical interests in relations with Iran. And for China Iran is the main provider of hydrocarbons.
The goal of Moscow and Beijing is to convince the IAEA to keep the Iranian dossier for at least a month, so that they would have the time to convince the majority of governors that Iran has not rejected Russia's initiative of enriching uranium for the Iranian nuclear power plants in Russia. If Iran decides to reopen discussions and resumes its uranium enrichment and research moratorium, the possibility of sending the dossier to the UN would be taken off the agenda, at least for some time.
However, Iran decided to demonstrate its resolve to go the whole way, using well-worn rhetoric to defend its right to create a full nuclear cycle. Iran might revise its attitude to the IAEA if the world's powers use the organization as an instrument of political pressure, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said at a government sitting Monday. This means that if the dossier is sent to the UN, Tehran will deny access its nuclear facilities to IAEA inspectors and announce the beginning of commercial uranium enrichment.
What has happened in Vienna? France, Germany and Britain demonstrated readiness for compromise with Iran and also refused to support the American position unconditionally.
The Washington Post reported before the session that American diplomats who advocated the transfer of the dossier to the UN had drafted a relevant statement by the Security Council. The document allegedly gave Iran 30 days to resume the moratorium and start cooperating with IAEA inspectors. Iran's refusal to comply with these demands would provoke harsh diplomatic measures, including economic and political sanctions.
However, Germany and Britain have been recently talking about the need to keep the Iranian dossier in the IAEA. It appears that their stand, as well as the position of Russia and China, resulted in the IAEA decision to send only ElBaradei's report to the UN.
At the same time, Tehran has been given 30 days to resume the moratorium and start cooperating with the IAEA, or else the dossier would be sent to the UN Security Council, which may mean the adoption of the American scenario.
According to Nicholas Burns, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, said Washington regarded the dispatch of ElBaradei's report to the UN Security Council as the beginning of a new diplomatic stage - actions within the framework of the UN Security Council. He said the council would discuss the statement on behalf of its chairman or a resolution based on Article 7 of the UN Charter. If after that Iran does not act on the recommendations of the international community, we will have to discuss possible pinpoint sanctions, which a number of countries are pondering, Burns said.
It appears that Tehran has taken up the challenge. "At present, the confidence of the Iranian people for international institutes has weakened. The time has come to test their strength," Ahmadinejad said Wednesday. If their legitimate rights are neglected, "the people of Iran will stop listening to the haughty words of the international community."
The UN Security Council should also take into account Iran's readiness to escalate tensions around its nuclear program (provided Tehran is not bluffing), as well as the refusal of the European Trio to support Washington's stand on the issue. Therefore, the UN Security Council will most probably demand that Iran resume cooperation with the IAEA in order to regain the trust of the international community.
In short, the solution of the Iranian nuclear problems has been postponed again.
5. Tehran Promises To Cause America 'Harm and Pain.' 'Iran Issue' Again Referred to UN Security Council
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The IAEA has referred Director General Mohamed ElBaradei's "Iran report" to the UN Security Council. The document's conclusions are bleak: The IAEA is still unable to provide guarantees that Iran's nuclear program pursues entirely peaceful aims. But there is also good news for Tehran -- the UN Security Council will not be discussing the question of imposing sanctions for the moment.
Yesterday's decision to refer the "Iran report" to the United Nations means: The Security Council will merely be informed of IAEA experts' assessment of Tehran's latest steps in the "nuclear sphere." But the actual "nuclear dossier" will not go to this body for the moment. Which also means that the question of sanctions has been postponed indefinitely.
It is hard to foresee how the Security Council debate (to begin at the start of next week) will turn out for Tehran. On the one hand, the United States says that Iran already possesses enough nuclear fuel to create 10 atomic bombs. So, on this basis, it intends to act tough by talking, in particular, about "smart sanctions." On the other hand, US officials admit that sanctions are by no means the only option. "At the present stage we are not discussing them," State Department official spokesman Sean McCormack. "There is currently a potential choice between various diplomatic steps. Sanctions are merely one of them."
Meanwhile, Tehran is clearly disinclined to compromise. At the IAEA session the Iranian delegation circulated a report threatening the US authorities with retaliatory measures. "Washington probably can cause us harm and pain, but it too is susceptible to harm and pain. So if the United States chooses this path, so be it," the Iranian representatives say.
That Moscow will "not betray" Tehran at the Security Council became clear after yesterday's statement made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during his visit to the United States. He described sanctions against Iran as ineffective and he believes work on the "Iran issue" should continue within the IAEA framework.
During Lavrov's visit the US Administration tried, of course, to persuade him to ease off in his stance on Iran. In theory Washington could link the "Iran issue" to another fundamental theme -- Russia's accession to the WTO (as it stands, the United States is the only country that has not concluded with Russia the requisite agreements for Moscow to join the WTO).
But, a member of the Russian delegation told, "there was no bargain." "There is no need to link the two issues. Anyway, we are not in the habit of bargaining with anyone. The Iran issue was discussed and the WTO was also discussed, but the minister promised no one reciprocal steps in exchange for concessions." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said: "The United States is confident that Russia will join the WTO , but there are procedural rules that need to be followed."
Ahead of the Russian minister's visit, there were rumors in Washington that Russia had devised a "compromise" plan on Iran. According to it, Moscow allegedly agreed to a small part of the uranium-enrichment work being done on Iranian territory. Diplomatic sources said that this plan was supposedly supported by China and it is well regarded in the IAEA. It appeared that Moscow was playing a double game behind the Americans' back.
Lavrov denied these reports. "There is no compromise plan," he said at a joint news conference with Rice. The minister insisted that all Moscow's actions are geared to persuading Iran to resume the moratorium on work in the nuclear sphere. And the secretary of state said that the United States will not tolerate uranium enrichment in Iran itself, but continues to back Moscow's initiative on producing the nuclear fuel in Russia and then supplying Iran.
6. THE MIDDLE EAST IS LIVING IN 1939 - Russian political scientists say that Iran is setting a trap for itself
What the Papers Say
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The Americans have hit the accelerator without checking the road ahead; Russia's leading specialists on the Middle East gathered for a roundtable conference yesterday to discuss what Iran is building - a nuclear power plant or a nuclear bomb. Among those present were Yevgeny Satanovsky, Alexei Arbatov, and Radjab Safarov.
First of all, the experts explained their perception of the problem to journalists. The possibility of a complete nuclear cycle in Iran is causing concern among the international community, since North Korea offers an example of what that can mean. North Korea was a signatory to the Nuclear Weapons Non-Proliferation Treaty, which specifies cooperation and interaction between all signatories. Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, and Brazil have operated in this mode for years already. Referring some threats to its security, North Korea ceded from the NPT possessing the technologies necessary for manufacture of a nuclear bomb and the formal right to make it. Iran has "hesitated" to demonstrate its nuclear capacities to the outside world for the past 18 years.
Yevgeny Satanovsky from the Middle East Institute said: "The top problem or question may be expressed as follows: can we manage to complete this year and begin 2007 without a full-scale regional war in the Middle East?" Asked about the future of the Iranian nuclear dossier, Satanovsky replied, "It will be sent to the UN Security Council sooner or later. Don't have any illusions on that score. Sanctions are a distinct possibility as well. Several strongly-worded statements from Iranian leaders (something like what we already heard from them) is all it would take."
Alexei Arbatov, director of the International Security Center at the Russian Academy of Sciences, disagreed with Satanovsky. Arbatov maintains that sending the IAEA report to the UN Security Council doesn't necessarily mean sanctions. "This is rather a formal step on the part of the IAEA... a kind of warning to Iran," Arbatov said. However, not even Arbatov rules out the possibility of international sanctions if push comes to shove.
"Sanctions are becoming a more and more distinct possibility," said Radjab Safarov, head of the Russian-Iranian Programs Coordination Center. "There is also a chance that the United States and its allies will launch a military action against Iran, and it isn't hard to see that Iran is prepared for it. There will be no land invasion or anything of the kind. It could be a matter of bombing certain sites like weapons factories, nuclear facilities, industrial infrastructure."
Arbatov doesn't rule out this possibility, but calls it an extremely dangerous enterprise. "The Americans have hit the accelerator without bothering to check the road ahead," he said. "An airstrike at Iranian nuclear sites would be a much more reckless escapade, and worse than the war in Iraq. Iran's response to the destruction of a couple of dozen facilities on its territory would be very forceful. The Americans could really threaten Iran, if they weren't already up to their ears in the mess of Iraq."
"But a new war is the best possible way out of the old crisis," Satanovsky objected. "The deeper the Bush Administration gets bogged down in Iran, the more its key officials will feel their own political future compromised. Their political future will worry them much more than the position of the IAEA of UN Security Council." Satanovsky says that the regional situation in the Middle East reminds him of Europe in 1939: the war is coming closer with every passing day, regardless of any negotiations.
At this point, the West may count on the support from Arab countries that are wary of Iran with its aspirations for regional leadership. No strengthening of Iran may or does suit Saudi Arabia.
"Iran is establishing its own oil stock exchange where all payments will be made in euros," Safarov said. "This project may put an end to the American global economic dominance."
Neither did the experts forget the factor of Israel. Tel-Aviv is concerned about Tehran's influence with Hamas and Hezbollah, and the threats that 400 sites in Israel will be bombed. The other regional nuclear power, India, denied Iran its support and voted for the IAEA anti-Iranian resolution. Neither can the ayatollahs count on Pakistan, the only Islamic nuclear power and Tehran's long-time opponent.
"Iran is setting a trap for itself - in the matters of sanctions and future partnership," Satanovsky said. "As for the pressure Iran is putting Russia under, it is rather pointless and hardly constructive. Iran claims that unless Russia compromised, it will be put on the blacklist of enemies to be taken measures against. Well, Moscow may change its mind with regard to Tehran and vote against it in the UN Security Council."
7. Wearied by Uranium. Iranian 'Nuclear Dossier' Lost on Way to United Nations
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The UNSC will be informed about the IAEA report devoted to the Iranian nuclear program. At the same time Tehran's "nuclear dossier" will for now remain formally within the IAEA's jurisdiction.
At the final news conference of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington the latter let fall an obscure sentence about the Iranian nuclear dossier: "We will see what to do next." At the same time as US journalists were solemnly reporting with one voice from the UN building that the Iranian dossier had already been delivered to the organization's headquarters, neither the secretary of state nor her colleagues were in any hurry to make harsh statements.
Lavrov seems to have succeeded once again in convincing Rice that a compromise is still possible. To 's question -- does the US secretary of state continue to regard Moscow's proposal to set up a joint venture with Iran on Russian territory to enrich uranium as a possible option for resolving the "Iranian problem"?
Rice replied: "We support this Russian proposal. It would make it possible to reduce the risk of the proliferation of nuclear weapons to a minimum. Because both the enrichment process and reprocessing will take place on the territory of Russia with subsequent provision of ready fuel to Iran.
And only on condition that it returns the spent fuel. This is, by the way, comparable to what US President George Bush said at the National Defense University about the right of any country to develop civil nuclear power. It's not an issue of Iran's right to civil nuclear power.
It is an issue of finding a way to develop civil nuclear power that would rule out the risk of the proliferation of nuclear technologies. We think that both in the way that Russia has structured the Bushehr reactor deal and in the joint venture proposal it will be possible to achieve such aims."
It is not yet clear where the Iranian nuclear dossier is now. The head of the Russian Foreign Ministry continues to believe that it is not yet at the United Nations. On 8 March he conducted an "inspection" of the UN headquarters and met with Kofi Annan, its secretary general.
Afterward he emerged to journalists and reported that the dossier is not in the UN building. "The decision has not yet been made to refer the Iranian nuclear dossier to the UNSC. It is a question of informing the Security Council about the results of the debate on Iran which will take place at the IAEA," the minister explained.
8. RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CONCERNED AS IRAN FILE GOES TO UN SECURITY COUNCIL
BBC Monitoring International Reports
(for personal use only)
Speaking in an interview with Russia TV filmed in New York, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has said Iran is "doing nothing" to aid a calm and professional resolution of the dispute over their nuclear programme, and called for the IAEA to remain the lead body in seeking a solution. He went on to say that a common pattern had emerged in attempts to destabilize the situation in both South Ossetia and the Dniester Region, and further negotiations were essential. The following is an excerpt from the report by Russia TV on 9 March: subheadings have been inserted editorially:
[Presenter Konstantin Semin] Good evening. You're watching "Details". No doubt the most urgent topic of the day, the week, indeed the immediate future as a whole, is what will become of Iran's nuclear programme and of Iran itself. The discussion at the IAEA in Vienna is now over. It will resume in New York at the UN Security Council.
Here in New York today [9 March] we are talking to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Hello, Sergey Viktorovich. What actually happened in Vienna today? Widely differing reports are coming in and different reports from the news agencies. The Western media are saying it is Western diplomacy that has triumphed and the nuclear file just as it was set out by Iran has been referred to the Security Council. Is that really so?
[Lavrov] You make me very sad that in your view talk about what's to happen to Iran's nuclear file turns into an attempt to pronounce a verdict on who's won, who's triumphed and who, therefore, hasn't. This is too serious a topic, this is the proliferation of nuclear weapons. We want all the efforts of the people involved to be aimed at preventing violations of the non-proliferation regime.
I don't think foreign policy is really about who's trying to beat whom or who's trying to present things in such a way that their own line triumphs in this particular situation. This is the philosophy of a game where no-one wins. It's a warped approach and won't solve a single real problem.
We don't keep bringing up who was right or wrong on Iraq although the answer's clear. What we want is to concentrate on working out collective positions on all the urgent issues on the international agenda. At the moment, one of the most urgent problems is Iran's nuclear programme. To deal with it, what is needed above all, is to close the gaps in our knowledge that have formed in the past and that's exactly what the IAEA has been doing and continues to do.
Semantics of telling the Security Council
[Semin] What though is the basic difference between referring a file to the Security Council and informing the Security Council?
[Lavrov] You know, it's all a game and again a game linked to attempts to show the public that someone has won and someone hasn't. [Passage omitted: Lavrov's explanation of the difference is lost when transmission freezes] This juggling with words - whether informing or referring - is necessary for just one purpose - to try and show that the IAEA governing council has given up and asked the Security Council - you know, we acknowledge we can't continue influencing Iran. You guys are more heavyweight. You've got authority under the charter to do a lot of things so, please, take the reins on this issue.
The decisions taken by the governing council only envisage informing the Security Council. So, if anyone at the Security Council tries to raise the issue, citing IAEA authority, saying the IAEA made the request, it would be untrue.
[Semin] Whatever the circumstances, there will be a discussion in the Security Council. How, in your opinion, will events develop? What's next? What events should we be expecting and, in your view, is this an increase in the degree of international tension, if I can put it like that, or is everything just as it was?
[Lavrov] No, of course, it's an increase in the degree of tension. There's no doubt about that and our Iranian counterparts are doing nothing to enable the problem to be examined calmly and professionally. We've spoken and continue to speak in favour of the main arbiter in the issue being the International Atomic Energy Agency because that is the agency that brings together professionals who are paid by the IAEA member countries to monitor risks to the nuclear weapons non-proliferation regime. They have a thorough knowledge of all the technical details of Iran's nuclear programme and without those technical details it's extremely difficult to take the right decisions. And I don't think it's mere accident that serious politicians are thinking about this.
I can tell you that when I was in Washington on 7 March, I was received by President Bush, and he said literally the following: with regard to further actions in respect of Iran, we have to be extremely careful, and before starting anything in the Security Council we have to think through all our actions to the end. This is a position we share in full, and I hope that the American negotiators will be guided by this.
"System" emerging in Dniester, Ossetia
[Presenter] Sergey Viktorovich, before we say goodbye allow me to ask you about what is happening in Dniester Region. For several days already there have been queues of lorries many kilometres long on the border between Dniester Region and Ukraine. The situation is getting visibly worse, and there are so far no positive indications on the horizon that anything will change for the better. How is the Foreign Ministry and Russia viewing what is happening there right now?
[Lavrov] We think that the restrictions which have been introduced, even if formally they are only called the necessity of documenting the transport of freight from and to Dniester Region through the Moldovan customs authorities, in fact are a clear violation of the 1997 memorandum which was signed by Kishinev and Tiraspol and which provides Dniester Region with the right to free economic activity including external economic links. I can only suppose that these political ideas are connected with an attempt to inflame the situation, to create tension in Dniester Region, and in general to bring about changes in the situation by causing some kind of unrest in the region, and by the same token to disrupt the current regulating mechanism and attempt in this murky water unilaterally to change the situation. This is not the correct approach: we see attempts of this kind, and this is probably not a chance coincidence, in South Ossetia today. What worries us is that both in Dniester Region and in South Ossetia -
[Semin] You mean you see a kind of system here?
[Lavrov] If you like, yes, a system, as regards deliberate attempts to emasculate the negotiation formats that are already in existence, to sabotage their work, at the same time to present this as the incapability of these formats to achieve results, even though at the same time important agreements have been reached at them which have not been implemented, incidentally concerning Kishinev in one case and Tbilisi in another: this is very worrying.
[Semin] But in the situation with Dniester Region and in the situation with South Ossetia there are constant violations of agreements that are already in place. You could state with a high degree of probability that this will continue. How will Moscow react in this situation, if the situation gets worse and this system becomes completely obvious?
[Lavrov] We have a simple choice: this is the necessity of returning to the format of negotiations. Our Western partners taking part in these formats, primarily the OSCE, which cooperates both on South Ossetia and on Dniester Region, and there is also the USA and the EU in the Dniester Region, are concerned that the situation could become destabilized, although sometimes you hear somewhat inconsistent assessments of the situation from Brussels, in particular on Dniester Region, but my contacts in Washington showed that they are seriously concerned at the possibility of destabilization of the situation and its development into the use of force, and in particular this concerns South Ossetia. We will hope that our partners will follow the principles on the basis of which we work; mutual trust, transparency, and predictability. And of course that they will follow in the tracks of agreements already reached, agreements which have allowed the peacekeeping mechanisms to be set up and allowed us to prevent a renewal of bloodshed in conflict regions of the former Soviet Union over the last more than 12 years.
Source: RTR Russia TV, Moscow, in Russian 1645 gmt 9 Mar 06
New Delhi/Washington: India Wednesday asserted Russia's plan to provide uranium for its nuclear reactors did not violate international protocols, even as the US said the fuel should not be supplied till India separated its civilian and military nuclear facilities.
Russia has agreed to supply enriched uranium for two safeguarded reactors at Tarapur under a "safety exception clause" of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to meet an "urgent and limited" requirement, external affairs ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said in a statement in New Delhi.
"There is no violation of NSG guidelines and Russia has approached NSG under the safety exception clause. The US is aware of the urgent need for fuel for (the) Tarapur (reactors in Maharashtra)," Sarna said.
India had announced Tuesday that Russia would supply 60 tonnes of enriched uranium for the two reactors at Tarapur.
At a briefing in Washington, State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said the US opposed the sale until India fulfilled its obligations under the civilian nuclear cooperation deal agreed to during President George Bush's visit to New Delhi earlier this month.
"We think that deals to supply that fuel should move forward on the basis of a joint initiative, on the basis of steps that India will take that it has not yet taken," Ereli said late Tuesday.
Referring to the "history-making" nuclear deal, Ereli said: "We have a very, I think, forward-looking and really history-making joint initiative to address India's nuclear programme, to separate the military from the civilian, and to bring India into compliance with NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) obligations and work based on that with the Nuclear Suppliers Group to give it access to the kind of fuel supplies that it's looking for."
In New Delhi, Sarna noted that "India had made a request to the US to supply fuel for Tarapur but this was not possible under current US laws".
He pointed out that the July 18, 2005 joint statement issued in Washington after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's talks with Bush had stated the US would seek to adjust its laws and seek a change in NSG guidelines to enable full civil nuclear cooperation with India, including fuel for the Tarapur reactors.
"The statement also commits the US, in the meantime, to encourage its partners to consider India's request for such fuel supplies expeditiously. India has had to seek urgent and limited supplies of uranium fuel to enable Tarapur to continue its operations in safety," Sarna maintained.
Noting that the US Congress is currently debating a change in domestic laws to enable full civilian nuclear cooperation with India, Sarna said: "Once US laws have been amended, India looks forward to the US emerging as a major and reliable partner to India, not only in respect of assured fuel supplies but for other aspects of civilian nuclear energy cooperation."
India has agreed, in return for US nuclear technology, to put 14 of its reactors under international safeguards and place eight more in the military list.
The India-US deal has, however, not been ratified by the US Congress or the 45-member NSG.
Terming the deal as a "strategic achievement", US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has asked Congress not to miss an opportunity to amend the laws needed to implement this "historic agreement" that will "recast the US' relationship with India."
"We are consulting extensively with Congress as we seek to amend the laws needed to implement the agreement. This is an opportunity that should not be missed," Rice wrote Monday in an article headlined "Our opportunity with India" in The Washington Post.
Providing an overview of the deal, she wrote: "Looking back decades from now, we will recognise this moment as the time when America invested the strategic capital needed to recast its relationship with India."
Moscow's decision to supply the enriched uranium comes at a critical time when the Tarapur reactors might have to shut down due to a fuel crunch.
The fuel will enable the Tarapur reactors to continue to function in a safe condition and help generate much-needed electricity for the western power grid in India.
Russia had last supplied fuel for the Tarapur reactors four years ago.
India says Russia has agreed to sell it uranium to power two nuclear reactors.
Foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said the fuel from Moscow was needed to ensure two units at the Tarapur power station continued to operate safely.
Russia and France have intermittently provided Delhi with uranium since the US stopped supplies following India's first nuclear tests in 1974.
Under a recent deal, India is to have access to US civilian nuclear help, but cannot do so under current US law.
Mr Sarna said Russia, a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group which controls global nuclear trade, was exporting "a limited amount of uranium fuel" under a safety clause.
The provision allows nuclear fuel shipments to be made to non-signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty, such as India, in the case of "a radiological hazard to public health and safety which cannot reasonably be met by other means".
Mr Sarna said Russia had notified the Nuclear Suppliers' Group of its intentions to meet India's request for fuel for the Tarapur plant in western Maharashtra state.
"A shortage of fuel for Tarapur would have affected its continued operation under reliable and safe conditions," Mr Sarna said.
He said the safety consideration overrode Russia's commitments laid down by the NPT.
The treaty forbids the sale of nuclear material to non-signatory countries, except in extraordinary circumstances.
The last supplies made by Moscow in 2001 sparked US protests.
The controversial US-India nuclear deal, which reverses three decades of US policy, was finalised during President Bush's recent visit to India.
It will give energy-hungry India access to US civil nuclear technology.
In return, Delhi has agreed to open 14 of its nuclear facilities to inspection. Eight others have been designated as military sites and will remain closed.
Mr Bush has admitted it might be hard to get the landmark deal through the US Congress, which must ratify it.
Critics of the deal say it sends the wrong message to countries like Iran, whose nuclear ambitions Washington opposes. Some opponents in India say it might compromise national security and Indian foreign policy.
NUCLEAR POWER IN INDIA
India has 14 reactors in commercial operation and nine under construction Nuclear power supplies about 3% of India's electricity.
By 2050, nuclear power is expected to provide 25% of the country's electricity India has limited coal and uranium reserves.
Its huge thorium reserves - about 25% of the world's total - are expected to fuel its nuclear power programme long-term.
India Tuesday said that Russia had agreed to its request to supply uranium for two of its nuclear reactors, a foreign ministry official said.
Russia is a member of the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) that controls trade in atomic fuel, which has long been denied to India after it conducted nuclear tests and refused to join the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
The official said Russia had informed the NSG of its decision to supply fuel for the reactors at Tarapur in western Maharashtra state.
"To Indias request, Russia has agreed to supply a limited amount of uranium fuel for the safeguarded units 1 and 2 of the Tarapur Atomic Power Station," Indian foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna told reporters in New Delhi.
"This supply of fuel will enable the plant to continue to operate in safety and provide much needed electricity to the western power grid of the country," Sarna said.
He said that a shortage of fuel at the Tarapur facilities would have affected their operations under reliable and safe conditions.
New Delhi this month signed a historic nuclear deal with the United States under which sanctions on the transfer of nuclear technology to India will be lifted.
In return, India has agreed to separate its military and civilian nuclear facilities, and place the civilian ones under international safeguards.
The deal still has to be ratified by the US Congress and the NSG.
The official also said that India and Russia were likely to sign bilateral agreements on space, banking, energy and cooperation during a two-day visit to India by Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov beginning Thursday.
Russia has announced its aim to sell nuclear fuel to India: US official Washington March. 14 (AP): Russia has informed the United States that Moscow intends to supply nuclear fuel for India's Tarapur reactor, a State Department official said. Critics worry the action will erode further international rules governing nuclear proliferation.
Opponents say Russia's decision was spurred by a U.S. determination last year to share civilian nuclear technology with India and signals a coming flood of countries looking to trade nuclear goods outside international treaties.
``This is the first salvo,'' Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association, said on Monday. ``China could be next in trying to propose a similar loophole for Pakistan.''
U.S. President George W. Bush, decided last year to change decades of anti-proliferation policy and negotiate a deal to supply nuclear technology and fuel to India. The deal was completed just this month during a visit to India by Bush.
The State Department official, who spoke Monday on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly, disagreed that Russia's decision could be linked with the U.S.-India agreement.
India, the official said, is short of fuel needed to power a civilian reactor that provides crucial energy. ``A serious need exists independent of the U.S.-India arrangement,'' said the official, who has direct knowledge of Russia's dealings with the State Department.
During a visit to Moscow in December, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the resolving the situation at Tarapur was not linked to the India-U.S. nuclear deal.
Analysts say that India would be forced to shut down operations at the Tarapur plant by June or July if it does not get supplies from Russia.
Russia told U.S. officials that Moscow's planned export of 60 metric tons of fuel for Tarapur would be ``safety related,'' the official said. In Russia's view, that would make the sale permissible under guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, an assembly of nations that export nuclear material.
In 2001, Russia used a similar argument to ship 58 tonnes of fuel to Tarapur, drawing rebukes in the process from the U.S. State Department and from other NSG members.
NSG guidelines permit exports to countries without U.N. approved safeguards on all reactors _ such as India _ only if the exports are needed to prevent or correct ``a radiological hazard to public health and safety which cannot reasonably be met by other means.''
The State Department official acknowledged on Monday that Russia's reasoning for selling fuel to India is ``at best arguable.''
Messages left on Monday with officials at the Russian Embassy in Washington were not returned; a spokesman at the Indian Embassy would not comment.
Jon Wolfsthal, a nonproliferation analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said U.S. officials, in making the civilian nuclear deal with India, clearly hoped that America would get most of India's nuclear business.
``To assume that the United States would be the only country competing for a potentially lucrative cut of the Indian budget is naive,'' he said. ``If the United States is going to put business before nonproliferation priorities, then other countries are going to do the same.''
The landmark agreement by Bush and Singh would supply India with nuclear fuel and technology in return for stronger Indian safeguards.
To bring the agreement into force, Congress must either change, or approve an exception to, the U.S. law that bans civilian nuclear cooperation with countries that have not submitted to full nuclear inspections.
India has refused to sign the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
On Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, defended the U.S.-India agreement in a Washington Post opinion piece as ``an opportunity that should not be missed,'' saying it would not enhance India's ability to make more nuclear weapons.
Rice also praised the agreement's potential economic benefits.
``India plans to import eight nuclear reactors by 2012,'' she wrote. ``If U.S. companies win just two of those reactor contracts, it will mean thousands of new jobs for American workers.''
1. Putin convenes conference on nuclear power engineering - adds
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Russian President Vladimir Putin convened a conference in the Kremlin on Tuesday over the development of nuclear power engineering.
The head of state, who repeatedly chaired conferences on energy problem in general, and proclaimed energy security the main theme of Russia's incumbent G-8 presidency, addressed the atomic branch in such a format for the first time.
Twenty years after the Chernobyl disaster, nuclear power plants have become much more reliable, while prices of oil and gas have increased dramatically.
This prompted many countries to rethink their attitude toward nuclear power engineering.
For example, the USA is planning to boost the share of NPPs from 20 to 25 percent, while France, whose NPPs account for 75 percent of electricity, seeks to raise this indicator to 80 to 85 percent.
New NPPs will be built in eastern Europe and China. Even Iran, which is rich in oil, is building its own nuclear power plant in Bushehr - with Russia's assistance.
Russia, where the first nuclear power plant went on line in 1954, does not intend to lag behind the world's trends. At present, its 31 reactors generate approximately 16 percent of all electricity. The newest reactor at the Kalininskaya NPP was turned on in December 2004.
Earlier this year, Putin set the task for the nuclear power engineering to account for the production of one quarter of electricity in the country by 2030.
In his view, nuclear power engineering is ``a priority branch for the country, that makes Russia a great power; the most ambitious projects and progressive technologies are linked with this branch.''
``Nuclear power engineering is no longer a Cinderella, the urgency of its development is not questioned any more, it has become one of the most important national priorities,'' officials at the Rosatom Federal Agency for Atomic Energy said.
Last year, Putin chaired a meeting of the Security Council over energy security at which he stated that Russia must become a leader in world power engineering. ``The aspiration for leadership in world power engineering is am ambitious task and in its solution it is insufficient to only boost production and exports of energy resources,'' the president said.
In his opinion, ``Russia should become the initiator and trendsetter in energy innovations and new technologies as well as in the search for modern forms of conservations of resources and minerals.''
Four months ago, the head of state replaced director of the Russian nuclear industry Alexander Rumyantsev with Sergei Kiriyenko.
Commenting on this appointment, the president noted ``the branch is on the threshold of decisions of the organizational character. It is a branch where Russia has an obvious advantage.''
``It is not a matter of Kiriyenko's becoming an atomic scientist, it's a matter of organizing one of the most important branches of Russia,'' Putin noted expressing the hope that ``real results will be achieved'' there.
At present, Rosatom has prepared a development strategy, according to which Russia has to build at least 40 new reactors by 2030; i.e. it should commission at least two reactors a year.
Water-cooled 1,000 MW VVER reactors are the backbone of Russia's nuclear power engineering. Rosatom has already drawn requirements specification for developing a VVER-1000 + reactor, i.e. with a rated power exceeding 1,000 megawatt.
A working group for new technologies has begun operating; the federal programs ``Nuclear Energy Complex'' and on implementing the ITER project /thermonuclear reactor/ have been submitted to the government.
The construction of one nuclear reactor is priced on the world market at 1.5 to 2.5 billion dollars.
Budget funds alone are insufficient, and one of the ways to raise money is to build nuclear facilities elsewhere. ``We'd like to build abroad 60 gigawatt of capacity, it's 60 power plants,'' Rosatom chief Sergei Kiriyenko said.
Russia will foremost look toward ``markets in southeast Asia, because this rapidly developing region needs more and more electricity each year,'' Kiriyenko said.
At present, Russia is building three NPPs abroad: in Iran /one reactor/, and in China and India /two reactors for each/.
On February 1, it formally applied to bid in a tender for the construction of the Belene NPP in Bulgaria. The winner is to be announced before the end of the 2nd quarter of this year.
Soviet specialists built 30 reactors abroad.
In early March, the state fully assumed control of Atomstroiexport which builds NPPs abroad.
Nuclear power engineering is a rather sensitive industry in terms of safety. No only NPPs, but also their fuel should be under control.
On January 25, Putin came up with the initiative to set up international nuclear centers to produce and supply nuclear fuel, and take back the spent fuel for recycling. It would reduce to the minimum the threat of proliferation of nuclear technologies.
2. Ministries Agree on Bill To Limit Foreign Investment in Russian Economy
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The Industry and Energy Ministry has agreed with the Economic Development and Trade Ministry on a bill that would limit foreign investment in strategic sectors of the Russian economy, Industry and Energy Minister Victor Khristenko told Interfax.
"We have agreed with the economics ministry on this issue," he said. "This will take place within the timeframe set by a government decree," Khristenko said in talking about when the bill would be debated.
Vladimir Taraskin, director of the Industry and Energy Ministry's legal relations department, said that the law may come into force in July 2007. He said that the draft law deals with 39 strategic types of activity, which are divided into five sectors: the space industry, the nuclear power sector, arms and military technology production, special technology and aviation.
"There are other criteria covering monopoly activity and the development of resource fields of federal significance," Taraskin said. "There is a proposal to include the electricity sector in the draft law also - concerning wholesale generating companies, but this is only being discussed," he said. The government initially planned to debate the bill at a meeting on March 2, then on March 9, however the debate was postponed again.
3. Moscow Conference Discusses Global Energy Security
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The participants in an international energy conference in the Russian capital are discussing the future structure of global energy security. Taking part in the forum which is taking place ahead of the meeting between the G-8 energy ministers on March 16, are some 400 representatives of government bodies, business circles, research and production organizations in the energy sector from G-8 countries, and international organizations.
Opening the conference, Russian Ministry of Industry and Energy Viktor Khristenko said "the setting up of a global power generation system which would secure uninterrupted supply of energy resources for people at large at economically justified prices, support a long-term stability on the world and regional energy markets and ensure environmental safety is one of the priority tasks of the international community."
According to specialists, it is necessary "to raise, by 2030, 17 trillion dollars of investments for attaining an acceptable level of global energy security." Efforts are underway "to improve the predictability of the situation on oil markets by means of information about oil reserves, and production and trade volumes," Khristenko noted.
Works are being carried out toward "the reproduction of oil and gas resources by expanding prospecting, discovering new fields and moving the potential oil/gas resources to the category of confirmed recoverable reserves," he said. In his view, it is expedient to create a mechanism of overcoming "energy poverty" by setting up a fund for transfering technologies in the field of energy effectiveness and energy conservation.
According to him, such a fund "could contribute to the launching of energy effective technologies along the whole chain of the economic cycle in the countries which are in short supply of energy." Head of Russia's Rosatom Federal Agency for Atomic Energy Sergei Kiriyenko noted that energy consumption in the country had been increasing 50 percent faster than predicted in the past ten years. Similar trends are noted elsewhere in the world.
Kiriyenko underlined that up to 600 megawatt of nuclear power plants will be built the world over in the coming years. President and Executive Director of ConocoPhilips Jim Malva noted that his company had invested more than six billion dollars in joint projects with Russian partners, including into the Shtokman field. President of the LUKOIL company Vagit Alekperov underlined that Russia has a unique energy position but if the rates of the modernization of its energy and processing capacities remain the same, it may turn from a major fuel exporter into an importer of certain kinds of fuel by 2009-2010.
Deputy chairman of the board of the RAO UES electric utility Sergei Dubinin noted the necessity of overhauling Russian energy capacities. This project would need approximately 20 billion dollars of investments. The conditions for attracting private investments exist already now. Their volume may reach five to six billion dollars, but the state must make investments, too, Dubinin said.
He believes that it is expedient to set up an international energy fund. The role of international financial organizations in ensuring energy security is insufficient at the present time. The World Bank and the European Bank "could show a more flexible approach to guaranteeing investments in the fuel and energy sector," he said.
"Without such support, the risks of investments in the fuel and energy sector are excessive, with this branch losing the funds vital for its development," he underlined. Total's senior vice-president Menno Gruvel stated that to ensure energy security considerable investments are needed in the prospecting for and development of hydrocarbon fields, and the development and implementation of energy effectiveness programs.
He reminded that France began to implement such a program in 1973. It did not spare money for its funding and already in 15 years was able to save 30 million tonnes of oil a year. Malcolm Brinded, Executive Director Exploration & Production Royal Dutch/Shell, said natural gas will cover more than a quarter of the world' energy consumption by 2030.
New technologies make natural gas more competitive, he noted. "Gazprom has been and will continue to be a guarantor of reliable gas supplies to Europe," deputy chairman of the company's board Alexander Medvedev stated. Gazprom has the largest explored natural gas reserves in the world, the ratio of their volume to production as of now exceeds 50 to 1, which is one of the highest indicators in the world, he said.
4. Russia Interested In Joint Development Of Newest Reactors - Rosatom
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Russia is interested in the joint development of fourth-generation reactors with other countries, head of the Rosatom Federal Agency for Atomic Energy Sergei Kiriyenko said on Monday answering an Itar-Tass question.
"Russia is interested in joining this international project, implemented by the United States, as we are ready to contribute our developments to the building of nuclear energy sources of the future, and wish to be given the same opportunities of familiarization with the latest developments by other countries in this field," Kiriyenko said.
"Russia has serious developments in the building of environmentally friendly energy reactors, without the risks of their use for military purposes, and we are ready to share these developments with other states, especially the technologies of fast neutron reactors," he said.
5. Russian Firm Considers Building New Power Generating Sets in Far East
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Rosenergoatom concern, on the proposal of RAO UES of Russia (Unified Energy Systems of Russia), considers a plan of building new power generating sets in the Far East, Stanislav Antipov, the director-general of Rosenergoatom concern, told the International Conference on Energy Security in Moscow. He said RAO UES of Russia works actively on plans of electricity supply to China from Russia's Far East.
Antipov said the Chinese side stated it was "ready to buy electricity from Russia on a long-term basis." "Chiefs of RAO UES of Russia now determine the company's capabilities for supplying electricity to China from traditional sources in the region and suggested to Rosenergoatom to work out the plan of building new nuclear power stations Primorskaya and Dalnevostochnaya with the VVR-1000 reactors," he said.
"We believe," Antipov said, "we can do this if the specific decision is made as to the cost of these plants and the timeframe in which the construction should start." Antipov said, "There are real prospects for building new nuclear power plants in the country and putting into operation two nuclear power plants a year after 2009." "We know how to build and operate nuclear power plants," he said. "For successful construction of the new power generating sets at high pace we may attract suppliers of some kinds of equipment from other countries advanced in this area," Antipov said.
6. Bulgaria Intends To Continue Nuclear Cooperation With Russia
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Bulgaria Intends To Continue Nuclear Cooperation With Russia
Agreement on the extension of the period of nuclear fuel supply from Russia to Bulgaria is "a good signal" for the Russian participant in a tender for the construction of a new nuclear power plant in the country, in the view of a Russian nuclear expert who commented on the extension of the contract on fuel supply for VVER-1000 reactors of the only Bulgarian NPP Kozlodui.
"The agreement signed in Moscow testifies to Bulgaria's intention to continue to develop its nuclear power industry in close cooperation with Russia," the expert emphasised. The period of Russian nuclear fuel supply to the Bulgarian Kozlodui nuclear power plant has been extended to 2020, officials in the TVEL Corporation producing nuclear fuel for Russian and foreign reactors told Itar-Tass. "During the visit of Kozlodui NPP Director General Ivan Ivanov to Russia the sides signed an additional agreement on the supply of nuclear fuel for the VVER-1000 reactors of the Kozlodui NPP," the officials said.
According to them, "The period of the fresh nuclear fuel supply for VVER-1000 has been extended to 2020." Ivanov said that Bulgaria has announced a tender for the country's second NPP - Belene the construction of which had been suspended in 1992. In February 2006 two consortiums - Atomstroiexport of Russia and French Framatome ANP, as well as Scoda jointly with Westinghouse made their offers. The tender documentation is currently being considered.
"The winner will be determined in four-six months and then it will become clear when the construction will be launched," Ivanov said. According to him, it is planned to complete the NPP construction by 2010-2011 putting into operation two power-generating units with an aggregate capacity of 1600-2000 megawatts.
The Kozlodui NPP is currently the only operating nuclear power plant in Bulgaria. Four power-generating units are currently in use at the plant - two with the VVER-440 type reactor and two - with VVER-1000 type. Since the moment of their putting into operation all power units of the Kozlodiu NPP have been working on nuclear fuel produced in Russia. TVEL Corporation fully satisfies the Bulgarian nuclear fuel demand.
"The supplies are made within the framework of contracts signed in 2002 as a result of the Russian corporation's winning an international tender," the TVEL officials noted. Under the contract obligations, nuclear fuel supplies for the VVER-440 units will be continued till the end of their exploitation period.
Fuel supplies for VVER-1000 power units had been envisaged under the existing contract till the end of 2007. The share of the atomic power industry in Bulgaria's total energy balance is about 42 percent. Bulgaria is seventh in the world in this indicator. Nuclear fuel for the Bulgarian NPP is produced by the Novosibirsk-based Chemical Concentrate Plant.
Sources in the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom) said that during Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent visit to Hungary a trilateral contract was concluded between Atomstroiexport, the Russian private company Complex Energy Systems and Hungarian state energy company on Russia's participation in the modernisation of the Paks NPP.
"Turkey has stated the intention to develop its own nuclear power industry and Russia is viewed in this connection as a potential participant in the construction of an NPP in this country," Rosatom officials noted. At present Atomstroiexport is continuing the construction of NPPs in China, India and Iran.
7. Russia Invited To Join 4Th Generation Nuke Reactors Consortium
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Russia has been offered to submit an application for joining an international consortium for the creation of nuclear reactors of the fourth generation. US Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs Karen Alderman Harbert said before her trip to Moscow that the corresponding decision was made at a recent meeting of the participants in the so-called International Forum of the Fourth Generation in Japan.
The Generation IV International Forum (GIF) consortium was created in May 2001. Now its members are 10 countries - Argentina, Brazil, Great Britain, Canada, South Korea, the United States, France, Switzerland, South Africa and Japan, as well as Euroatom.
According to specialists, Russia, which has its own programme of work on the new generation reactors, had not once expressed interest in joining the organisation. Ms. Harbert said that basically, any country that is ready to meet the general requirements could join the forum.
First of all it is necessary to be ready to observe the common agreements, rules and procedures. Besides, technical possibilities and resources of the country biding for jointing the consortium should supplement its activities, she said. According to the US assistant secretary of energy, in view of these criteria and the results of the forum's meeting in Japan there should be no problems for Russia as regards admission to the organisation.
Ms. Harbert said that the consortium's goals are quite corresponding to the initiatives in the nuclear power sphere that were recently put forwards by the Russian and US presidents. Ms. Harbert is going to visit Moscow together with Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman to attend a meeting of the energy ministers of the Group of Eight. The meeting is expected to be held next week.
1. US, Russia press for global nuclear energy network
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The United States has pressed for a new UN-supervised regime to allow the spread of atomic power while impeding nuclear weapons proliferation, joining Russian calls for an international atomic network.
"We have a choice: we can play a risky game of catch-up in the coming decades or we can engage the world with a new, safer and more secure approach to nuclear energy," US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said on Wednesday ahead of a G8 energy meeting in Moscow.
The United States launched the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) last month as part of President George W. Bush's Advanced Energy Initiative while the international community struggles to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions.
"We envision the GNEP as an international collaboration that seeks to increase the availability of clean emissions-free power for the world, reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation and decrease the volume and radio toxicity of nuclear waste," Bodman said.
"We will work with our international partners to develop a fuel services programme to supply developing nations with reliable access to nuclear fuel in exchange for a commitment to forego the development of enrichment and recycling technology," he added.
Initial consultations on the programme with British, Chinese, French, Japanese and Russian partners had been encouraging, Bodman said, adding that 250 million dollars (208 million euros) had already been allocated by the United States for the initiative.
In January, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed a global nuclear fuel network under United Nations control that would consist of sites for processing uranium to give all countries equal access to nuclear energy and offered to create such a centre in Russia.
The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has a mandate of encouraging nuclear energy but also stopping arms proliferation.
But those twin aims can clash in the case of a country such as Iran, which insists it has a right to enrich uranium for a nuclear energy programme, even though the United States and European powers suspect its real aim is to develop an atomic bomb.
Russia, currently chairing the G8 group of the world's leading industrialised nations, was playing host Wednesday and Thursday to a meeting of energy ministers amid global concern over soaring fuel costs, security of supplies and environmental pollution from hydrocarbon fuels.
Ministers from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States are expected to attend the G8 meeting in Moscow, along with officials from Brazil, China, India and South Africa.
In Europe, only Finland and France have started building new nuclear power stations but several countries, including Britain and Germany, have re-opened a debate on the viability and safety of nuclear energy.
China has initiated a vast programme to build 40 nuclear reactors by 2020 and India has recently signed nuclear cooperation agreements with France and the United States. Putin has said he wants to expand nuclear power in Russia.
2. Japan ready to discuss Russia's offer to set up int'l nuclear centers
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Japan is ready to discuss Russia's proposal to set up a network of international centers offering nuclear services including uranium enrichment, Kiyohiko Toyama, Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, told Tass in an interview Wednesday. He will represent Japan at a G-8 ministerial meeting on energy issues to be held in Moscow Thursday.
``We are going to consider this idea but first of all Russia in the framework of its G-8 presidency should disclose the details of its initiative,'' Toyama said.
He stressed Japan's resolute rejection of nuclear proliferation but said his country has a clear understanding of ``the importance of international cooperation in the field of nuclear fuel reprocessing.''
He made it clear that Japan's position on the issue will depend on explanations of the initiative provided by the Russian side.
3. ENERGY SECRETARY BODMAN TO PROMOTE GLOBAL ENERGY SECURITY
States News Service
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The following information was released by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad:
Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman will travel during the week of March 13 to Russia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, and Hungary to promote global energy security and greater international cooperation on energy issues in discussions with senior government officials and American business leaders. During his four-nation visit, Secretary Bodman will promote the use of technology to enhance energy resource development in the most efficient and environmentally responsible manner, expanded energy infrastructure, the benefits of transparent markets, and stable international investment climates.
"This trip is a historic opportunity to achieve a more secure energy future, a cleaner environment and greater prosperity in Central Asia and Eastern Europe and in our world," Secretary Bodman said. "Russia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, and Hungary are important international partners of the United States. I look forward to discussing the importance of affordable, reliable, and environmentally sound energy supplies while continuing to grow our economy and meet increasing global demand."
On March 16, 2006, Secretary Bodman will represent the United States at the G-8 Energy Ministerial meetings in Moscow, Russia. While there, the Secretary will promote a market-oriented investment approach, discuss strategies to mitigate energy supply disruptions, and reaffirm the importance of protection and strengthening of energy infrastructure. Secretary Bodman will encourage the development and deployment of clean energy technologies including renewable sources and emissions free nuclear power and facilitate energy efficiency and conservation by advancing the 2005 G8 Gleneagles agenda.
In Moscow, Secretary Bodman will meet with American business leaders and Russian government officials including Minister of Industry and Energy Viktor Khristenko and First Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev. The Secretary will also meet with new RosAtom Director Sergey Kiryenko to strengthen United States and Russian cooperation on nuclear security. Secretary Bodman will deliver remarks at the Carnegie Moscow Center on the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) which was launched earlier this year.
Secretary Bodman will visit Pakistan following President Bush's visit to Islamabad earlier this month where the President signed a Joint Statement to launch the United States-Pakistan Strategic Partnership. Secretary Bodman will hold high-level meetings with various Pakistani government officials to explore ways to meet Pakistan's growing energy needs and strengthen its energy security by utilizing clean energy technologies such as clean coal and renewable sources. The Secretary will meet with Foreign Minister Kurshid Mahmud Kasuri, Petroleum and Natural Resources Secretary Ahmed Waqar, Atomic Energy Chairman Engr. Parvez Butt, Water and Power Secretary Ashfaq Mehmood, and Alternative Energy Development Board Chairman Air Marshal (Ret'd) Shahid Hamid.
Secretary Bodman will also travel to Astana, Kazakhstan, to meet with President Nazarbayev, senior government officials, and American business leaders to discuss opportunities for long-term, stable development of its energy sector, and political stability in the region. He will also encourage Kazakhstan leadership as a strong proponent of nonproliferation and address the importance of regional energy supplies, developing and expanding energy infrastructure, and encouraging foreign investment.
In Budapest, Hungary, Secretary Bodman will participate in a regional energy security meeting with ministers from Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia as well as Austria and Croatia. Secretary Bodman will encourage energy security through greater energy efficiency, regional integration, renewable energy and new technologies, electricity and gas market reform. Secretary Bodman will also promote regional and global cooperation on expanded energy infrastructure.
1. Russia To Start Third Newest Submarine Project Next Week
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The project to build the third fourth-generation submarine Vladimir Monomakh will be launched at the end of next week. "At the end of next week, the keel of the third fourth-generation submarine Vladimir Monomakh will be laid in Severodvinsk, Murmansk region. It will be a strategic submarine equipped with the Bulava missile complex," Deputy Prime Minister, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov reported to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday.
Earlier, Navy chief Admiral Vladimir Masorin announced that the construction of the new nuclear-powered submarine Vladimir Monomakh of Project 955 "Borei" will be launched in March. At present, two submarines of this project are under construction at the Sevmash shipyard: the Yuri Dolgoruky and the Alexander Nevsky.
2. Russian Industry Official Heralds Shake-up For Military Shipbuilders
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The reorganization of Russia's shipbuilding industry will culminate in the creation of several concerns, the head of the Federal Industry Agency, Boris Aleshin, has said. He was speaking at a national conference on the future of the industry, held at the Russian Academy of Sciences on the initiative of the All-Russia Movement in Support of the Navy.
"There could be two or three concerns set up in Russia to ensure progress in shipbuilding," Aleshin said. "The integrated structure will include companies that make surface and submarine vessels and refit them." Twenty-one enterprises in the shipbuilding sector have already joined an integrated structure called Morskoye Podvodnoye Oruzhiye (Marine Submarine Weapons), he said.
"The state's assets are dispersed and are managed by the government in a command manner," he commented. "The activities of shipbuilding enterprises are supervised in a variety of ways. Our job is to gather these state assets together."
(Passage omitted to end: government preparing plan for fishing vessels, 6 lines)
(The Sevmashpredpriyatiye dockyard in Severodvinsk will form the basis for a holding company of submarine builders, Aleshin also said, reported by Interfax - AVN Military News Agency, also at 1205 GMT. A similar holding company would be set up for surface ship makers, but he declined to confirm that this would be based on the Severnaya Verf dockyard.)
3. Russian Duma Source Says Navy To Eventually Retain Only 60 Submarines
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The Russian Navy will retain only about 60 submarines and 1st and 2nd class surface ships in ten years' time, while the US Navy will increase the number of similar vessels to about 300 in the same period of time, a source in the Russian State Duma Defense Committee told Interfax-Military News Agency on Thursday.
"There will be no more than 60 submarines and 1st and 2nd class surface ships in the Russian Navy by 2015. This makes about 15 vessels per fleet on average, but almost all of them are outdated. Experts from the State Duma Defense Committee are aware that the fleet of the US Navy will increase to 300 vessels of analogous classes," the source said.
The Russian Navy's combat capabilities in the Baltic Sea are inferior to those of the Swedish and Finnish navies two times, and of the German Navy four tomes. The Russian Black Sea Fleet is weaker than the Turkish Navy three times, the experts believe.
According to them, if the Russian Navy's combat capabilities are taken in general, they are inferior to those of the US Navy 20 times, of the Royal British Navy seven times, and of the French Navy six times.
1. Assessing the Threat - To predict bioweapons’ effects, we need more data.
Allison M. Macfarlane
MIT Technology Review
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Could terrorists, intent on causing as much harm and societal disruption as possible, use new biotechnology processes to engineer a virulent pathogen that, when unleashed, would result in massive numbers of dead? Mark Williams, in his article "The Knowledge," suggests we should be contemplating this doomsday scenario in the 21st century. Williams's article might make you sleep less soundly, but are the threats real? The truth is that we do not really know.
Part of the problem is that even if terrorists could create new pathogens virulent to humans, it's not at all clear that they could "weaponize" them -- that is, put the pathogens into a form that is highly infectious to humans and then disperse them in ways that expose large numbers of people.
Past experience suggests that this is not an easy task. During World War II, the Japanese dropped plague-infected materials on Chinese cities, to limited effect. In 1979, the Soviets caused 66 deaths from anthrax by accidentally releasing it from a bioweapons facility in Sverdlovsk. In 1984, the Rajneeshees cult contaminated salad bars in the Dalles, OR, with salmonella, but their actions killed no one. In 1993, the Aum Shinrikyo cult failed to kill anyone after carrying out multiple attacks with anthrax in Japan. Finally, the 2001 anthrax letter attacks in the U.S. killed five people. These were all frightening events. They were not, however, grave threats to national security.
Yet estimates of bioweapons dangers tend to be dire, like those in Williams's article. The truth is that the data are too thin to make accurate projections of the effects of bioweapons attacks. I surveyed seven separate estimates of fatalities from a projected anthrax attack. The lowest estimate, by Milton Leitenberg, ranged from zero to 1,440 dead per kilogram of anthrax used, while the highest, by Lawrence Wein and others, put fatalities between 123,400 and 660,000 per kilogram of anthrax. Most of these estimates were made on the basis of little actual data.
To predict accurately the effects of bioweapons, data are needed on the amount of agent required to infect a person, the percentage of people who survive an infection (which depends on the health of the population), the transmission rate if the agent is contagious, the ability to aerosolize and disperse an agent effectively (which depends, in turn, on climatic conditions), the environmental stability of an agent, the population density, and the abilities of the public-health system, including when an attack is detected and whether prophylactics, vaccines, or antidotes exist and, if so, in what quantities.
For any one pathogen -- even one familiar to us, like smallpox and anthrax -- not all of these variables are known, and therefore quantitative predictions are not possible with a high degree of certainty. In the words of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in a 2002 report, "these factors produce an irreducible uncertainty of several orders of magnitude in the number of people who will be infected in an open-air release."
For example, data on the infectiousness of an agent varies widely, depending on the agent. Because of limited experience with anthrax, susceptibility data have often been extrapolated from animal trials that have little bearing on human response to agents. In the case of smallpox, with which scientists had much experience in the 20th century, some factors remain uncertain, such as the transmission rate.
In the models of bioweapons attacks, the ability to weaponize an agent and disperse it effectively is estimated in part from open-air trials done by the U.S. Army between the 1940s and 1960s. These trials used live simulants of agents on major U.S. cities, but the behavior of a real bioweapon agent in such a situation remains uncertain. Williams's article doesn't describe in any detail the ability of terrorists to weaponize any of the theorized agents. Yet making effective bioweapons would take a tremendous amount of work.
While a state-sponsored program might have the means to do that work, terrorist groups probably don't. With so much uncertainty surrounding the outcome of a bioweapons attack, it does not make sense to plan extensive biodefense programs when more-certain threats, particularly those involving nuclear weapons, require attention.
The Knowledge -- Part 1 Soviet scientists were developing plague-like bioweapons in the 1980s. Why aren't we listening more to a key defector?
This article -- the cover story in Technology Review's March/April 2006 print issue -- has been divided into three parts for presentation online. This is part 1; part 2 will appear on March 14, and part 3 on March 15.
Our editor in chief, Jason Pontin, dedicated his column in the most recent TR issue ("The Loss of Biological Innocence") to the pros and cons of publishing a story on such a dark and controversial issue.
Last year, a likable and accomplished scientist named Serguei Popov, who for nearly two decades developed genetically engineered biological weapons for the Soviet Union, crossed the Potomac River to speak at a conference on bioterrorism in Washington, DC.
Popov, now a professor at the National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases at George Mason University, is tallish, with peaked eyebrows and Slavic cheekbones, and, at 55, has hair somewhere between sandy and faded ginger. He has an open, lucid gaze, and he is courteously soft-spoken. His career has been unusual by any standards. As a student in his native city of Novosibirsk, Siberia's capital, preparing his thesis on DNA synthesis, he read the latest English-language publications on the new molecular biology. After submitting his doctorate in 1976, he joined Biopreparat, the Soviet pharmaceutical agency that secretly developed biological weapons. There, he rose to become a department head in a comprehensive program to genetically engineer biological weapons. When the program was founded in the 1970s, its goal was to enhance classical agents of biological warfare for heightened pathogenicity and resistance to antibiotics; by the 1980s, it was creating new species of designer pathogens that would induce entirely novel symptoms in their victims.
In 1979, Popov spent six months in Cambridge, England, studying the technologies of automated DNA sequencing and synthesis that were emerging in the West. That English visit, Popov recently told me, needed some arranging: "I possessed state secrets, so I could not travel abroad without a special decision of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. A special legend, essentially, that I was an ordinary scientist, was developed for me." The cover "legend" Popov's superiors provided proved useful in 1992, after the U.S.S.R. fell. When the Russian state stopped paying salaries, among those affected were the 30,000 scientists of Biopreparat. Broke, with a family to feed, Popov contacted his British friends, who arranged funding from the Royal Society, so he could do research in the United Kingdom. The KGB (whose control was in any case limited by then) let him leave Russia. Popov never returned. In England, he studied HIV for six months. In 1993, he moved to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, whence he sent money so that his wife and children could join him. He remained in Texas until 2000, attracting little interest.
"When I came to Texas, I decided to forget everything," Popov told me. "For seven years I did that. Now it's different. It's not because I like talking about it. But I see every day in publications that nobody knows what was done in the Soviet Union and how important that work was."
Yet if Popov's appearance last year at the Washington conference is any indication, it will be difficult to convince policymakers and scientists of the relevance of the Soviet bioweaponeers' achievements. It wasn't only that Popov's audience in the high-ceilinged chamber of a Senate office building found the Soviets' ingenious applications of biological science morally repugnant and technically abstruse. Rather, what Popov said lay so far outside current arguments about biodefense that he sounded as if he had come from another planet.
The conference's other speakers focused on the boom in U.S. biodefense spending since the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the anthrax scare that same year. The bacteriologist Richard Ebright, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Rutgers University, fretted that the enormous increase in grants to study three of the category A bacterial agents (that is, anthrax, plague, and tularemia) drained money from basic research to fight existing epidemics. Ebright (who'd persuaded 758 other scientists to sign a letter of protest to Elias Zerhouni, the director of the National Institutes of Health) also charged that by promiscuously disseminating bioweaponeering knowledge and pathogen specimens to newly minted biodefense labs around the United States, "the NIH was funding a research and development arm of al-Qaeda." Another speaker, Milton Leitenberg, introduced as one of the grand old men of weapons control, was more splenetic. The current obsession with bioterrorism, the rumpled, grandfatherly Leitenberg insisted, was nonsense; the record showed that almost all bioweaponeering had been done by state governments and militaries.
Such arguments are not without merit. So why do Serguei Popov's accounts of what the Russians assayed in the esoteric realm of genetically engineered bioweapons, using pre-genomic biotech, matter now?
They matter because the Russians' achievements tell us what is possible. At least some of what the Soviet bioweaponeers did with difficulty and expense can now be done easily and cheaply. And all of what they accomplished can be duplicated with time and money. We live in a world where gene-sequencing equipment bought secondhand on eBay and unregulated biological material delivered in a FedEx package provide the means to create biological weapons.
Build or Buy? There is growing scientific consensus that biotechnology -- especially, the technology to synthesize ever larger DNA sequences -- has advanced to the point that terrorists and rogue states could engineer dangerous novel pathogens.
In February, a report by the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council of the National Academies entitled "Globalization, Biosecurity, and the Future of the Life Sciences" argued, "In the future, genetic engineering and other technologies may lead to the development of pathogenic organisms with unique, unpredictable characteristics." Pondering the possibility of these recombinant pathogens, the authors note, "It is not at all unreasonable to anticipate that [these] biological threats will be increasingly sought after...and used for warfare, terrorism, and criminal purposes, and by increasingly less sophisticated and resourced individuals, groups, or nations." The report concludes, "Sooner or later, it is reasonable to expect the appearance of "bio-hackers.'"
Malefactors would have more trouble stealing or buying the classical agents of biological warfare than synthesizing new ones. In 2002, after all, a group of researchers built a functioning polio virus, using a genetic sequence off the Internet and mail-order oligonucleotides (machine-synthesized DNA molecules no longer than about 140 bases each) from commercial synthesis companies. At the time, the group leader, Eckard Wimmer of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, warned that the technology to synthesize the much larger genome of variola major -- that is, the deadly smallpox virus -- would come within 15 years. In fact, it arrived sooner: December 2004, with the announcement of a high-throughput DNA synthesizer that could reproduce smallpox's 186,000-odd bases in 13 runs.
The possibility of terrorists' gaining access to such high-end technology is worrisome. But few have publicly stated that engineering certain types of recombinant microörganisms using older equipment -- nowadays cheaply available from eBay and online marketplaces for scientific equipment like LabX -- is already feasible. The biomedical community's reaction to all this has been a general flinching. (The signatories to the National Academies report are an exception.) Caution, denial, and a lack of knowledge about bioweaponeering seem to be in equal parts responsible. Jens Kuhn, a virologist at Harvard Medical School, told me, "The Russians did a lot in their bioweapons program. But most of that isn't published, so we don't know what they know."
On a winter's afternoon last year, in the hope of discovering just what the Russians had done, I set out along Highway 15 in Virginia to visit Serguei Popov at the Manassas campus of George Mason University. Popov came to the National Center for Biodefense after buying a book called Biohazard in 2000. This was the autobiography of Ken Alibek, Biopreparat's former deputy chief, its leading scientist, and Popov's ultimate superior. One of its passages described how, in 1989, Alibek and other Soviet bosses had attended a presentation by an unnamed "young scientist" from Biopreparat's bacterial-research complex at Obolensk, south of Moscow. Following this presentation, Alibek wrote, "the room was absolutely silent. We all recognized the implications of what the scientist had achieved. A new class of weapons had been found. For the first time, we would be capable of producing weapons based on chemical substances produced naturally by the human body. They could damage the nervous system, alter moods, trigger psychological changes, and even kill."
When Popov read that, I asked him, had he recognized the "young scientist?" "Yes," he replied. "That was me."
After reading Biohazard, Popov contacted Alibek and told him that he, too, had reached America. Popov moved to Virginia to work for Alibek's company, Advanced Biosystems, and was debriefed by U.S. intelligence. In 2004 he took up his current position at the National Center for Biodefense, where Alibek is a distinguished professor.
Regarding the progress of biotechnology, Popov told me, "It seems to most people like something that happens in a few places, a few biological labs. Yet now it is becoming widespread knowledge." Furthermore, he stressed, it is knowledge that is Janus-faced in its potential applications. "When I prepare my lectures on genetic engineering, whatever I open, I see the possibilities to make harm or to use the same things for good -- to make a biological weapon or to create a treatment against disease."
The "new class of weapons" that Alibek describes Popov's creating in Biohazard is a case in point. Into a relatively innocuous bacterium responsible for a low-mortality pneumonia, Legionella pneumophila, Popov and his researchers spliced mammalian DNA that expressed fragments of myelin protein, the electrically insulating fatty layer that sheathes our neurons. In test animals, the pneumonia infection came and went, but the myelin fragments borne by the recombinant Legionella goaded the animals' immune systems to read their own natural myelin as pathogenic and to attack it. Brain damage, paralysis, and nearly 100 percent mortality resulted: Popov had created a biological weapon that in effect triggered rapid multiple sclerosis. (Popov's claims can be corroborated: in recent years, scientists researching treatments for MS have employed similar methods on test animals with similar results.)
When I asked about the prospects for creating bioweapons through synthetic biology, Popov mentioned the polio virus synthesized in 2002. "Very prominent people like [Anthony] Fauci at the NIH said, "Now we know it can be done.'" Popov paused. "You know, that's...naďve. In 1981, I described how to carry out a project to synthesize small but biologically active viruses. Nobody at Biopreparat had even a little doubt it could be done. We had no DNA synthesizers then. I had 50 people doing DNA synthesis manually, step by step. One step was about three hours, where today, with the synthesizer, it could be a few minutes -- it could be less than a minute. Nevertheless, already the idea was that we would produce one virus a month."
Effectively, Popov said, Biopreparat had few restrictions on manpower. "If you wanted a hundred people involved, it was a hundred. If a thousand, a thousand." It is a startling picture: an industrial program that consumed tons of chemicals and marshalled large numbers of biologists to construct, over months, a few hundred bases of a gene that coded for a single protein.
Though some dismiss Biopreparat's pioneering efforts because the Russians relied on technology that is now antiquated, this is what makes them a good guide to what could be done today with cheap, widely available biotechnology. Splicing into pathogens synthesized mammalian genes coding for the short chains of amino acids called peptides (that is, genes just a few hundred bases long) was handily within reach of Biopreparat's DNA synthesis capabilities. Efforts on this scale are easily reproducible with today's tools.
What the Russians Did The Soviet bioweapons program was vast and labyrinthine; not even Ken Alibek, its top scientific manager, knew everything. In assessing the extent of its accomplishment -- and thus the danger posed by small groups armed with modern technology -- we are to some degree dependent on Serguei Popov's version of things. Since his claims are so controversial, a question must be answered: Many (perhaps most) people would prefer to believe that Popov is lying. Is he?
Popov's affiliation with Alibek is a strike against him at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (Usamriid) at Fort Detrick, MD, where Biopreparat's former top scientist has his critics. Alibek, one knowledgeable person told me, effectively "entered the storytelling business when he came to America." Alibek's critics charge that because he received consulting fees while briefing U.S. scientists and officials, he exaggerated Soviet bioweaponeering achievements. In particular, some critics reject Alibek's claims that the U.S.S.R. had combined Ebola and other viruses -- in order to create what Alibek calls "chimeras." The necessary technology, they insist, didn't yet exist. When I interviewed Alibek in 2003, however, he was adamant that Biopreparat had weaponized Ebola.
Alibek and Popov obviously have an interest in talking up Russia's bioweapons. But neither I, nor others with whom I've compared notes, have ever caught Popov in a false statement. One must listen to him carefully, however. Regarding Ebola chimeras, he told me when I first interviewed him in 2003, "You can speculate about a plague-Ebola combination. I know that those who ran the Soviet bioweapons program studied that possibility. I can talk with certainty about a synthesis of plague and Venezuelan equine encephalitis, because I knew the guy who did that." Popov then described a Soviet strategy for hiding deadly viral genes inside some milder bacterium's genome, so that medical treatment of a victim's initial symptoms from one microbe would trigger a second microbe's growth. "The first symptom could be plague, and a victim's fever would get treated with something as simple as tetracycline. That tetracycline would itself be the factor inducing expression of a second set of genes, which could be a whole virus or a combination of viral genes."
In short, Popov indicated that a plague-Ebola combination was theoretically possible and that Soviet scientists had studied that possibility. Next, he made another turn of the screw: Biopreparat had researched recombinants that would effectively turn their victims into walking Ebola bombs. I had asked Popov for a picture of some worst-case scenarios, so I cannot complain that he was misleading me -- but the Russians almost certainly never created the plague-Ebola combination.
One further testimonial to Popov: the man himself is all of a piece. Recalling his youth in Siberia, he told me, "I believed in the future, the whole idea of socialism, equity, and social justice. I was deeply afraid of the United States, the aggressive American military, capitalism -- all that was deeply scary." He added, "It's difficult to communicate how people in the Soviet Union thought then about themselves and how much excitement we young people had about science." Biological-weapons development was a profession into which Popov was recruited in his 20s and which informed his life and thinking for years. To ask him questions about biological weapons is to elicit a cascade of analysis of the specific cell-signaling pathways and receptors that could be targeted to induce particular effects, and how that targeting might be achieved via the genetic manipulation of pathogens. Popov is not explicable unless he is what he claims to be.
Popov's research in Russia is powerfully suggestive of the strangeness of recombinant biological weapons. Because genetics and molecular biology were banned as "bourgeois science" in the U.S.S.R. until the early 1960s, Popov was among the first generation of Soviet university graduates to grow up with the new biology. When he first joined Vector, or the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology, Biopreparat's premier viral research facility near Novosibirsk, he didn't immediately understand that he had entered the bioweaponeering business. "Nobody talked about biological weapons," he told me. "Simply, it was supposed to be peaceful research, which would transition from pure science to a new microbiological industry." Matters proceeded, however. "Your boss says, "We'd like you to join a very interesting project.' If you say no, that's the end of your career. Since I was ambitious then, I went further and further. Initially, I had a dozen people working under me. But the next year I got the whole department of fifty people."
In 1979, Popov received orders to start research in which small, synthesized genes coding for production of beta-endorphins -- the opioid neurotransmitters produced in response to pain, exercise, and other stress -- were to be spliced into viruses. Ostensibly, this work aimed to enhance the pathogens' virulence. Popov shrugged, recalling this. "How could we increase virulence with endorphins? Still, if some general tells you, you do it." Popov noted that the particular general who ordered the project, Igor Ashmarin, was also a molecular biologist and, later, an academician on Moscow State University's biology faculty. "Ashmarin's project sounded unrealistic but not impossible. The peptides he suggested were short, and we knew how to synthesize the DNA."
Peptides, such as beta-endorphins, are the constituent parts of proteins and are no longer than 50 amino acids. Nature exploits their compactness in contexts where cell signaling takes place often and rapidly -- for instance, in the central nervous system, where peptides serve as neurotransmitters. With 10 to 20 times fewer amino acids than an average protein, peptides are produced by correspondingly smaller DNA sequences, which made them good candidates for synthesis using Biopreparat's limited means. Popov set a research team to splicing synthetic endorphin-expressing genes into various viruses, then infecting test animals.
Yet the animals were unaffected. "We had huge pressure to produce these more lethal weapons," Popov said. "I was in charge of new projects. Often, it was my responsibility to develop the project, and if I couldn't, that would be my problem. I couldn't say, "No, I won't do it.' Because, then, what about your children? What about your family?" To appease their military bosses, Popov and his researchers shifted to peptides other than beta-endorphins and discovered that, indeed, microbes bearing genes that expressed myelin protein could provoke animals' immune systems to attack their own nervous systems. While the Vector team used this technique to increase the virulence of vaccinia, with the ultimate goal of applying it to smallpox, Popov was sent to Obolensk to develop the same approach with bacteria. Still, he told me, "We now know that if we'd continued the original approach with beta-endorphins, we would have seen their effect."
This vision of subtle bioweapons that modified behavior by targeting the nervous system -- inducing effects like temporary schizophrenia, memory loss, heightened aggression, immobilizing depression, or fear -- was irresistibly attractive to Biopreparat's senior military scientists. After Popov's defection, the research continued. In 1993 and 1994, two papers, copublished in Russian science journals by Ashmarin and some of Popov's former colleagues, described experiments in which vaccines of recombinant tularemia successfully produced beta-endorphins in test animals and thereby increased their thresholds of pain sensitivity. These apparently small claims amount to a proof of concept: bioweapons can be created that target the central nervous system, changing perception and behavior.
I asked Popov whether bioweaponeers could design pathogens that induced the type of effects usually associated with psychopharmaceuticals.
"Essentially, a pathogen is only a vehicle," Popov replied. "Those vehicles are available -- a huge number of pathogens you could use for different jobs. If the drug is a peptide like endorphin, that's simple. If you're talking about triggering the release of serotonin and dopamine -- absolutely possible. To cause amnesia, schizophrenia -- yes, it's theoretically possible with pathogens. If you talk about pacification of a subject population -- yes, it's possible. The beta-endorphin was proposed as potentially a pacification agent. For more complex chemicals, you'd need the whole biological pathways that produce them. Constructing those would be enormously difficult. But any drug stimulates specific receptors, and that is doable in different ways. So instead of producing the drug, you induce the consequences. Pathogens could do that, in principle."
Psychotropic recombinant pathogens may sound science fictional, but sober biologists support Popov's analysis. Harvard University professor of molecular biology Matthew Meselson is, with Frank Stahl, responsible for the historic Meselson-Stahl experiment of 1957, which proved that DNA replicated semiconservatively, as Watson and Crick had proposed. Meselson has devoted much effort to preventing biological and chemical weapons. In 2001, warning that biotechnology's advance was transforming the possibilities of bioweaponeering, he wrote in the New York Review of Books, "As our ability to modify life processes continues its rapid advance, we will not only be able to devise additional ways to destroy life but will also become able to manipulate it -- including the fundamental biological processes of cognition, development, reproduction, and inheritance."
I asked Meselson if he still stood by this. "Yes," he said. After telling him of Popov's accounts of Russian efforts to engineer neuromodulating pathogens, I said I was dubious that biological weapons could achieve such specific effects. "Why?" Meselson bluntly asked. He didn't believe such agents had been created yet -- but they were possible.
No one knows when such hypothetical weapons will be real. But since Popov left Russia, the range and power of biotechnological tools for manipulating genetic control circuits have grown. A burgeoning revolution in "targeting specificity" (targeting is the process of engineering molecules to recognize and bind to particular types of cells) is creating new opportunities in pharmaceuticals; simultaneously, it is advancing the prospects for chemical and biological weapons. Current research is investigating agents that target the distinct biochemical pathways in the central nervous system and that could render people sedate, calm, or otherwise incapacitated. All that targeting specificity could, in principle, also be applied to biological weapons.
The disturbing scope of the resulting possibilities was alluded to by George Poste, former chief scientist at SmithKline Beecham and the sometime chairman of a task force on bioterrorism at the U.S. Defense Department, in a speech he gave to the National Academies and the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, in January 2003. According to the transcript of the speech, Poste recalled that at a recent biotech conference he had attended a presentation on agents that augment memory: "A series of aged rats were paraded with augmented memory functions.... And some very elegant structural chemistry was placed onto the board.... Then with the most casual wave of the hand the presenter said, "Of course, modification of the methyl group at C7 completely eliminates memory. Next slide, please.'"
The Knowledge -- Part 2 Terrorists could buy reagents on the Web, build a DNA synthesizer, and create a deadly virus. But it would be no easy feat.
Basement Biotech The age of bioweaponeering is just dawning: almost all of the field's potential development lies ahead.
The recent report by the National Academies described many unpleasant scenarios: in addition to psychotropic pathogens, the academicians imagine the misuse of "RNA interference" to perturb gene expression, of nanotechnology to deliver toxins, and of viruses to deliver antibodies that could target ethnic groups.
This last is by no means ridiculous. Microbiologist Mark Wheelis at the University of California, Davis, who works with the Washington-based Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, notes in an article for Arms Control Today, "Engineering an ethnic-specific weapon targeting humans is...difficult, as human genetic variability is very high both within and between ethnic groups...but there is no reason to believe that it will not eventually be possible."
But commentators have focused on speculative perils for decades. While the threats they describe are plausible, dire forecasts have become a ritual -- a way to avoid more immediate problems. Already, in 2006, much could be done.
Popov's myelin autoimmunity weapon could be replicated by bioterrorists. It would be no easy feat: while the technological requirements are relatively slight, the scientific knowledge required is considerable. At the very least, terrorists would have to employ a real scientist as well as lab technicians trained to manage DNA synthesizers and tend pathogens. They would also have to find some way to disperse their pathogens. The Soviet Union "weaponized" biological agents by transforming them into fine aerosols that could be sprayed over large areas. This presents engineering problems of an industrial kind, possibly beyond the ability of any substate actor. But bioterrorists might be willing to infect themselves and walk through crowded airports and train stations: their coughs and sniffles would be the bombs of their terror campaign.
Difficult as it may still be, garage-lab bioengineering is getting easier every year. In the vanguard of those who are calling attention to biotechnology's potential for abuse is George Church, Harvard Medical School Professor of Genetics. It was Church who announced in December 2004 that his research team had developed a new high-throughput synthesizer capable of constructing in one pass a DNA molecule 14,500 bases long.
Church says his DNA synthesizer could make vaccine and pharmaceutical production vastly more efficient. But it could also enable the manufacture of the genomes of all the viruses on the U.S. government's "select agents" list of bioweapons. Church fears that starting with only the constituent chemical reagents and the DNA sequence of one of the select agents, someone with sufficient knowledge might construct a lethal virus. The smallpox virus variola, for instance, is approximately 186,000 bases long -- just 13 smaller DNA molecules to be synthesized with Church's technology and bound together into one viral genome. To generate infectious particles, the synthetic variola would then need to be "booted" into operation in a host cell. None of this is trivial; nevertheless, with the requisite knowledge, it could be done.
I suggested to Church that someone with the requisite knowledge might not need his cutting-edge technology to do harm. A secondhand machine could be purchased from a website like eBay or LabX.com for around $5,000. Alternatively, the components -- mostly off-the-shelf electronics and plumbing -- could be assembled with a little more effort for a similar cost. Construction of a DNA synthesizer in this fashion would be undetectable by intelligence agencies.
The older-generation machine would construct only oligonucleotides, which would then have to be stitched together to function as a complete gene, so only small genes could be synthesized. But small genes can be used to kill people.
"People have trouble maintaining the necessary ultrapure approach even with commercial devices -- but you definitely could do some things," Church acknowledged.
What things? Again, Serguei Popov's experience at Biopreparat is instructive. In 1981, Popov was ordered by Lev Sandakhchiev, Vector's chief, to synthesize fragments of smallpox. "I was against this project," Popov told me. "I thought it was an extremely blunt, stupid approach." It amounted to a pointlessly difficult stunt, he explained, to impress the Soviet military; when his researchers acquired real smallpox samples in 1983, the program was suspended.
A closely related program that Popov had started, however, continued after he departed Vector for Biopreparat's Oblensk facility in the mid-1980s. This project used the poxvirus vaccinia, the relatively harmless relative of variola used as a vaccine against smallpox. Not only was vaccinia -- whose genome is very similar to variola's -- a convenient experimental stand-in for smallpox, but its giant size (by viral standards) also made it a congenial candidate to carry extra genes. In short, it was a useful model for bioweapons.
For at least a decade, therefore, a team of Biopreparat scientists systematically inserted into vaccinia a variety of genes that coded for certain toxins and for peptides that act as signaling mechanisms in the immune system. Though Popov had directed that the recombinant-vaccinia program should proceed through the genes coding for immune system-modulating peptides, he left before the researchers finished with the interleukin genes. But it would be surprising if the Vector researchers did not reach the gene for interleukin-4 (IL-4), an immune-system peptide that coaxes white blood cells to increase their production of antibodies and then releases them.
There is some evidence that the Russians discovered the effects of inserting the IL-4 gene into a poxvirus. Those effects are deadly. In 2001, Ian Ramshaw and a team of virologists from the Australian National University in Canberra spliced IL-4 into ectromelia, a mousepox virus, and learned that the resulting recombinant mousepox triggered massive overproduction of the IL-4 peptide. Even the immune systems of mice vaccinated against mousepox could not control the growth of the virus: a 60 percent mortality rate resulted. Other experiments have confirmed the lethality of the recombinant pathogen. The American poxvirus expert Mark Buller, of Saint Louis University in Missouri, engineered various versions of the recombinant, one of which maintained the mousepox virus's full virulence while generating excessive interleukin-4. All the mice infected with this recombinant died. The BBC reported that when asked about the Australian experiment, Sandakhchiev, Vector's director, remarked, "Of course, this is not a surprise."
Because vaccinia is universally available, it is fortunate that a vaccinia-IL-4 hybrid would not be an effective biological weapon: vaccinia has limited transmissibility between humans. Still, there are other poxviruses that are transmissible. Smallpox, the most infamous, is nearly impossible for aspiring bioterrorists to acquire. But another, varicella-zoster, or common chickenpox, is easily acquired and even more infectious than smallpox.
What would happen if bioterrorists spliced IL-4 into chickenpox and released the hybrid into the general population? Perhaps nothing. Very often, the Soviet bioweaponeers successfully spliced new genes into pathogens, only to find that infected test animals showed no symptoms. One reason was that the genetically engineered microbes were often "environmentally unstable" -- that is, they did not retain the added genes. Engineering recombinant pathogens can be ineffective for other reasons, too: the foreign gene might be expressed in the "wrong" organ. But according to several virologists with knowledge of biological weapons, the result of splicing IL-4 into chickenpox might be to suppress the immune response to the disease. According to these virologists, the effect would be similar to what happens to cancer patients when they catch chickenpox. They often die -- even when treated with antiviral therapies. For healthy children or adults, chickenpox is usually a superficial disease that mainly affects the skin; but depending on the immunosuppressive state of an infected cancer patient, chickenpox lesions can be slow to heal, and the viscera -- that is, the lungs, the liver, and the central nervous system -- become progressively diseased.
Bioterrorists could create a varicella-IL-4 recombinant virus more easily than they could acquire or manufacture the pathogens that top the select-agents list. IL-4 is one of the standard genes used in medical research; a plasmid of human IL-4 could be ordered from one of the DNA synthesis jobbing companies and delivered via FedEx for $350. If our hypothetical bioterrorists were worried about detection, they might avoid the DNA synthesis companies altogether. Conveniently, without its junk DNA, IL-4 is only about 462 base pairs long. It's possible to download IL-4's genetic sequence from the Internet, use a basic synthesizer to construct it in five segments, and then assemble those segments "manually," as Popov's scientists did. The other principal tools needed would be a centrifuge -- like the $5,000 DNA synthesizer, cheaply available via Internet sites -- and a transfection kit, a small bottle filled with reagent that costs less than $200 and which would be necessary to introduce the IL-4 gene into chickenpox. Finally, the terrorists would also require an incubator and the media in which to grow the resulting cells. The total costs, including the DNA synthesizer: probably less than $10,000.
The Knowledge -- Part 3 The current revolution in biotechnology is more likely to be exploited by national militaries than by terrorists.
Be Afraid. But of What? In the public debate about how to defend ourselves against biological weapons, the advance of biotechnology has been little discussed. Instead, most biologists and security analysts have debated the merits and shortcomings of Project BioShield, the Bush administration's $5.6 billion plan to protect the U.S. population from biological, chemical, radiological, or nuclear attack. After last year's bioterrorism conference in DC, I called on Richard Ebright, whose Rutgers laboratory researches transcription initiation (the first step in gene expression), to hear why he so opposes the biodefense boom (in its current form) and why he doesn't worry about terrorists' synthesizing biological weapons.
"There are now more than 300 U.S. institutions with access to live bioweapons agents and 16,500 individuals approved to handle them," Ebright told me. While all of those people have undergone some form of background check -- to verify, for instance, that they aren't named on a terrorist watch list and aren't illegal aliens -- it's also true, Ebright noted, that "Mohammed Atta would have passed those tests without difficulty."
Furthermore, Ebright told me, at the time of our interview, 97 percent of the researchers receiving funds from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to study bioweapon agents had never been funded for such work before. Few of them, therefore, had any prior experience handling these pathogens; multiple incidents of accidental release had occurred during the previous two years.
Slipshod handling of bioweapons-level pathogens is scary enough, I conceded. But isn't the proliferation of bioweaponeering expertise, I asked, more worrisome? After all, what reliable means do we have of determining whether somebody set out to be a molecular biologist with the aim of developing bioweapons?
"That's the most significant concern," Ebright agreed. "If al-Qaeda wished to carry out a bioweapons attack in the U.S., their simplest means of acquiring access to the materials and the knowledge would be to send individuals to train within programs involved in biodefense research." Ebright paused. "And today, every university and corporate press office is trumpeting its success in securing research funding as part of this biodefense expansion, describing exactly what's available and where."
As for the threat of next-generation bioweapons agents, Ebright was dismissive: "To make an antibiotic-resistant bacterial strain is frighteningly straightforward, within reach of anyone with access to the material and knowledge of how to grow it." However, he continued, further engineering -- to increase virulence, to provide escape from vaccines, to increase environmental stability -- requires considerable skill and a far greater investment of effort and time. "It's clearly possible to engineer next-generation enhanced pathogens, as the former Soviet Union did. That there's been no bioweapons attack in the United States except for the 2001 anthrax attacks -- which bore the earmarks of a U.S. biodefense community insider -- means ipso facto that no substate adversary of the U.S. has access to the basic means of carrying it out. If al-Qaeda had biological weapons, they would release them."
Milton Leitenberg, the arms control specialist, goes a step further: he says because substate groups have not used biological weapons in the past, they are unlikely to do so in the near future. Such arguments are common in security circles. Yet for many contemplating the onrush of the life sciences and biotechnology, they have limited persuasiveness.
I suggested to Ebright that synthetic biology offered low-hanging fruit for a knowledgeable bioterrorist. He granted that there were scenarios with sinister potential. He allowed that biotechnology could make BioShield, which focuses on conventional select agents such as smallpox, anthrax, and Ebola, less relevant. Still, he maintained, "a conventional bioweapons agent can potentially be massively disruptive in economic costs, fear, panic, and casualties. The need to go to the next level is outside the incentive structure of any substate organization."
Even those who are intimately involved with biodefense often support this view. For an insider's perspective, I contacted Jens Kuhn, the Harvard Medical School virologist. The German-born Kuhn has worked not only at Usamriid, and at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, but also -- uniquely for a Westerner -- at Vector.
Kuhn, like Ebright, is no fan of how the biodefense boom is unfolding. "When I was at Usamriid, it exemplified how a biodefense facility should be," he told me. "That's why I'm worried -- because the system worked, and the experts were concentrated at the right places, Fort Detrick and the CDC. Now this expertise gets diluted, which isn't smart."
Kuhn believes, nevertheless, that some kind of national biodefense program is needed. He just doesn't think we are preparing for the right things. "Everybody makes this connection with bioterrorism, anthrax attacks, and al-Qaeda. That's completely wrong." Kuhn recalled his time at Vector and that facility's grand scale. "When you look at what the Russians did, those kinds of huge state programs with billions of dollars flowing into very sophisticated research carried on over decades -- they're the problem. If nation-states start a Manhattan Project to build the perfect biological weapon, we're in deep shit."
But doesn't modern biotechnology, I asked, allow small groups to do unprecedented things in garage laboratories?
Kuhn conceded, "There are a few things out there" with the potential to kill people. But weighing the probabilities, he saw the threat in these terms: "Definitely more biowarfare than bioterrorism. Definitely more the sophisticated bioweapons coming in the future than the stuff now. There's danger coming towards us and we're focusing on concerns like BioShield. I don't think that's the stuff that will save us."
Is Help on the Way? The 21st century will see a biological revolution analogous to the industrial revolution of the 19th. But both its benefits and its threats will be more profound and more disruptive.
The near-term threat is that genes could be hacked outside of large laboratories. This means that terrorists could create recombinant biological weapons. But the leading edge of bioweapon research has always been the work of government labs. The longer-term threat is what it always has been: national militaries. Biotechnology will furnish them with weapons of unprecedented power and specificity. George Poste, in his 2003 speech to the National Academies, warned his audience that in coming decades the life sciences would loom ever larger in national-security matters and international affairs. Poste noted, "If you actually look at the history of the assimilation of technological advance into the calculus of military affairs, you cannot find a historical precedent in which dramatic new technologies that redress military inferiority are not deployed."
Harvard's Matthew Meselson has said the same and added that a world in which the new biotechnology was deployed militarily "would be a world in which the very nature of conflict had radically changed. Therein could lie unprecedented opportunities for violence, coercion, repression, or subjugation." Meselson adds, "Governments might have the objective of controlling very large numbers of people. If you have a situation of permanent conflict, people begin contemplating things that the ordinary rules of conflict don't allow. They begin to view the enemy as subhuman. Eventually, this leads to viewing people in your own culture as tools."
What measures could mitigate both the near and the more distant threats of bioweaponry? BioShield, as it is now constituted, will not protect us from genetically engineered pathogens. A number of radical solutions (like somehow boosting the human immune system through generic immunomodifiers) have been proposed, but even if pursued, they might take years or decades to develop.
More immediately, no one has a good idea about what should be done. Some scientists hope to arrest the spread of bioweapons knowledge. Rutgers's Richard Ebright wants to reverse what he believes to be counterproductive in the funding of biodefense. More dramatically, Harvard's George Church is calling for all DNA synthesizers to be registered internationally. "This wouldn't be like regulating guns, where you just give people a license and let them do whatever they want," he says. "Along with the license would come responsibilities for reporting."
Furthermore, Church believes that just as all DNA synthesizers should be registered, so should any molecular biologists researching the select agents or the human immune system response to pathogens. "Nobody's forced to do research in those areas. If someone does, then they should be willing to have a very transparent, spotlighted research career," Church says.
But enactment of Church's proposals would represent an unprecedented regulation of science. Worse, not all nations would comply. For instance, Russian biologists, some of whom are known to have worked at Biopreparat, have reportedly trained molecular-biology students at the Pasteur Institute in Tehran.
More fundamentally, arresting the progress of biological-weapons research is probably impractical. Biological knowledge is all one, and therapies cannot be easily distinguished from weapons. For example, a general trend in biomedicine is to use viral vectors in gene therapy.
Robert Carlson, senior scientist in the Genomation Lab and the Microscale Life Sciences Center in the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of Washington, believes there are two options. On the one hand, we can clamp down on biodefense research, stunting our ability to respond to biological threats. Alternatively, we can continue to push the boundaries of what is known about how pathogens can be manipulated -- spreading expertise in building biological systems, for better and for worse, through experiments like Buller's assembly of a mousepox-IL4 recombinant -- so we are not at a mortal disadvantage. One day, we must hope, technology will suggest an answer.
Serguei Popov has lived with these questions longer than most. When I asked him what could be done, he told me, "I don't know what kind of behavior or scientific or political measures would guarantee that the new biology won't hurt us." But the vital first step, Popov said, was for scientists to overcome their reluctance to discuss biological weapons. "Public awareness is very important. I can't say it's a solution to this problem. Frankly, I don't see any solution right now. Yet first we have to be aware."
1. Nuclear experts discuss radwaste repository options for Russia’s Northwest
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Storage facilities for radioactive waste in Northwest Russia will be overflowing within 3 to 4 years and constructions of reinforcements has yet to begin, but several plans for permanent geological disposition are currently on the drawing board, said Rosatom officials and other experts at a St. Petersburg conference earlier this week.
“There is some 500 million cubic metres of radioactive waste piled up in Russia now with an average activity of 1.5 billion curies—this exceeds the radioactivity of the Chernobyl disaster by 30 times,” said Sergey Dyakov, head of nuclear safety at Rosatom at the conference. The conference was hosted by the Nuclear Society of St. Petersburg, the All-Russia Scientific Research Institute for Energy Technology (VNIPIET in its Russian abbreviation) and the Swedish organisations SKI ICP and SKB IC.
The Radon complex
All participants in the conference spoke about the critical situation that has been created by over-filled radioactive waste storage facilities in Russia’s Northwest.
At present the Radon complex, which deals with industrial radioactive waste storage for the Northwest area of Russia, is holding 80,000 cubic metres of waste. According to Radon Director Alexander Ignatov, the complex has only 1000 cubic metres of free storage space left, all of which will be filled within the next three to four years.
VNIPIET has worked out a new storage plan for Radon, but the government has for the past several years refused to earmark money for its construction. Ignatov said that funding for a new building at Radon to be built between 2007 and 2010 is now included in a Federal Target Programme for dealing with radioactive waste.
Conference participants said that the best solution to the problem is to create a long term repository for radioactive waste that would guarantee its safe storage for several hundred years.
VNIPIET specialists with SKB IC—which is studying the possibilities for construction of a geologic repository in Sweden—presented project outlines for two repository types, underground and surface, which the two organisations have been developing co-operatively for the past two years.
The underground repository plan presented by VNIPIET’s Valery Sorokin, envisions the burial of radioactive waste in Cambrian clay at a depth of 100 metres. This sort of storage is analogous to the construction of St. Petersburg’s deep metro. According to the project outline, the facility would consist of six chambers, five for burial, and a sixth for controlling the waste
The plan suggests constructing the repository near Sosnovy Bor—hometown to the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant 70 kilometres west of St. Petersburg—in the Koporye-Globintsa area. The repository is designed to hold 340 cubic metres of radioactive waste, but can also be expanded if necessary. The price tag for this design would be some $7500 per cubic metre.
“If we begin now, then by 2020 we can begin to accept the first loads” of waste, Sorokin said. He added that by 2020, the Leningrad Region—in which Sosnovy Bor and St. Petersburg are located—will have piled up some 200,000 to 250,000 cubic metres of radioactive waste.
SKB IC President Klaes Lindberg made a presentation on the project of surface repositories.
“When we built a repository in Sweden 20 years ago, we chose the underground method. But at that time we did not have any other experience to draw on and had to go on what we had,” he told the conference.
Now, surface repositories have begun to appear and are in use in countries like France and Spain. According to Lindberg, the advantage of surface storage is its comparatively low cost and ease of siting a location. But Lindberg refused to put a price tag on the surface repository method because expenses for such a project in Russia have yet to be calculated.
According to Lindberg’s project plans, the storage facility would have to be built at the level of ground waters at a low altitude. The project envisions that radioactive waste would be placed in cement containers, and the walls of the repository would be constructed of concrete and waterproof clay.
The lions share of expenses for a surface repository come during the concluding stages of filling it with waste. After the facility is packed, geological barriers are erected and the repository is sealed. Underground storage, on the other hand, requires the most funding during the beginning stages of constructing underground chambers.
Comparison of the projects
SKB IC and VNIPIET specialists emphasised that both project presentations need further research, including more exact financial calculations, which play an important role in choosing the variant of radioactive waste disposition. It is also necessary that the specialists compare the projects from the viewpoint of safety.
According to VNIPIET’s Ignatov, underground storage of radioactive waste is the safest route.
“I have always considered geologic repositories more far-sighted and reliable,” he said.
Alexander Nikitin, chairman of the Environment and Rights Centre Bellona in St, Petersburg said: “I don’t think surface repositories are less dangerous than underground repositories. The economical constituent will define everything.”
According to Nikitin, the advantage of surface storage is its universality. “I am not sure that all regions of Russia contain Cambrian clay. It will be much cheaper to make one project template and pass it on to other regions.”
2. UK increases funding for spent nuclear fuel storage site construction
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The United Kingdom has decided to increase its funding of the construction of a site for spent nuclear fuel to be built at the Atomflot company's territory in the Murmansk region from 15 million pounds to almost 21 million, a source in the British Embassy in Russia told Interfax.
The British Crown Agents company is taking part in the project along with the Murmansk Seafaring Agency and the Russian Atomflot state enterprise. The construction of the storage site is due to be completed in summer 2006 and the storage complex will be inspected by government experts in September. The storage site will have a capacity of 3,500 spent nuclear fuel containers and is designed for long-term storage.
The first 20 spent fuel containers will arrive at the site in June, they were contested in a tender, which won by the Sevmashpredpriyatie company. In total, the project envisages the creation of 50 containers by 2007, designed to store spent nuclear fuel for 50 years or transport it to a recycling plant, at a total cost of 7.12 million GBP. The project is a part of the global partnership program, approved at the G8 summit in 2002.
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