Sen. Richard Lugar and former Sen. Sam Nunn are in Russia this week to celebrate the United States' 15-year effort to help Russia destroy or lock up its vast arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. But along with the program's successes, there have been notable setbacks.
Under the Cooperative Threat Reduction program authored by Nunn and Lugar, former Soviet nations have deactivated 6,982 nuclear warheads, destroyed 653 intercontinental ballistic missiles and chopped up 30 nuclear submarines.
But according to General Accounting Office reports and Defense Department officials, several CTR projects in Russia have been marked by regulatory headaches, unexpected costs and sometimes outright failures - at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Lugar, R-Ind., told The Associated Press on Tuesday that, given the level of mutual mistrust in the wake of the Cold War, it was remarkable the two former enemies had achieved so much.
The program was established at a time when Russia was weak, and the vulnerability of its nuclear, chemical and biological arsenals were ï¿½an emergency for the world,ï¿½ he said. Today, Russia is economically strong, politically stable - and increasingly determined to challenge the United States on diplomatic and military issues. Despite heightened tensions, Lugar said, he believes the disarmament program remains the bedrock of U.S.-Russian relations.
As part of their trip, Nunn and Lugar are to visit a sprawling facility for destroying shells filled with lethal nerve agents near the Siberian city of Shchuchye. The project, which has cost the U.S. more than $1 billion - more than any other single Nunn-Lugar effort in Russia - is a quarter of a billion dollars over budget and at least two years behind schedule.
Lugar aide Kenneth A. Myers III said the facility was built to destroy 2 million artillery shells filled with the poisons now being stored in Shchuchye like wine bottles on wooden racks. Each round is capable of killing enough people to fill a stadium and might easily be smuggled out of Russia, he said.
But construction of the facility has been delayed by disagreements over its design, problems with local contractors, and regulatory concerns, according to a 2006 GAO report.
In November 2005, the Russian Federal Service for Ecological, Technical and Nuclear Oversight inspected Shchuchye and found violations of environmental, industrial safety, licensing and environmental regulations, interrupting work. The GAO said the U.S. had to hire Russian consultants to negotiate the regulatory process.
At another point, Russia demanded construction of a $12 million lab the U.S. believed wasn't needed, the GAO said. Moscow also issued U.S. contractors visas good for only six months, requiring them to leave the country frequently to renew their visas - at an added cost to the project of about $3 million, the GAO said.
One of the main Russian contractors on the project said in 2005 it could no longer pay its workers after it discovered an executive had embezzled millions of dollars, the GAO reported.
The U.S. general contractor, Parsons Global Services, sought bids from other companies to complete the work, the GAO said. But Russian authorities insisted only a handful of contractors were qualified. Parsons estimated the work should cost $56 million, but in one round of bidding, the Pentagon received a single bid of $310 million. Two other rounds failed to yield a contract.
Last winter, the U.S. gave Russian officials authority to seek their own bids for the work - with the stipulation that only $200 million was left of the $1 billion the U.S. had pledged for the project. Work resumed on the project about three months ago. Officials on Monday could not immediately say how much the contract eventually cost.
The cost of Russia's overall chemical weapons destruction program was estimated last year at more than $5.6 billion, with the United States, Canada, Britain and other nations contributing $2 billion of that figure. Russia, meanwhile, had contributed about $400 million as of 2006, the GAO reported.
Shchuchye is one of seven planned Russian chemical weapons destruction facilities. Only two of those facilities are now operating, according to the GAO, two are under construction, and three haven't broken ground.
The GAO last year concluded that Russia ï¿½will likely failï¿½ to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile by 2012, as required under the Chemical Weapons Convention treaty, which outlawed chemical weapons. But the Russian government insists that it will meet the deadline.
Viktor Kholstov, deputy head of the Federal Industry Agency, last week scolded the United States and other signatories of the Chemical Weapons Convention, saying Russia's foreign partners had ï¿½failed to meet their commitments to Russia in chemical weapons destruction.ï¿½ He said slow payments by foreign donors had ï¿½complicated the implementationï¿½ of the program, although he did not say it was behind schedule. Shchuchye is not the only Nunn-Lugar project to face setbacks.
- According to the GAO, the U.S. spent 10 years and $95 million planning and building a facility for burning heptyl, a military rocket fuel. But as the facility was completed, Moscow said that it had already used or planned to use the fuel for its commercial space program. The destruction facility was never used.
- The Pentagon spent 10 years and $100 million preparing to build a factory for disposing of solid rocket motors, the GAO said. But local officials refused to grant title to the property where it was to be built, citing environmental concerns. The facility was never completed.
- The Mayak nuclear material storage facility was completed in 2003 at a cost to the United States of $335 million. The GAO said American officials were barred from observing the loading of fissile materials there.
That lack of access, the report said, meant the U.S. had ï¿½no reasonable assurance that Russia will only use the facility to store materials from dismantled nuclear weapons and not re-use the materials.ï¿½
1. Iran's Transparency Deal with IAEA Seen as Flawed
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Iran's deal with United Nations inspectors to resolve questions about its nuclear program will fall short of dispelling suspicions about clandestine efforts to build nuclear weapons, diplomats say.
They say the working document is flawed for apparently ruling out future inquiries by inspectors and making no mention of wider-ranging checks that the U.N. nuclear watchdog itself has said are needed to verify Tehran has no hidden bomb agenda.
It also does not define what Iran must do to resolve open questions, and ignores a U.N. demand for Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment to regain trust in its nuclear aspirations.
Diplomats close to the International Atomic Energy Agency touted the "understandings" with Iran as a milestone for laying out a timetable for transparency by December after four years of stalling by Tehran that prompted U.N. sanctions.
"It's a good work plan with phases and dates to resolve outstanding issues, as requested by the (IAEA's 35-nation) board of governors. Board members should welcome this development," a senior agency official told Reuters.
The August 21 pact, whose text was released on Monday, said Tehran had resolved the first issue relating to the nature of its nuclear work -- secret, small-scale experiments with plutonium, the commonest ingredient in nuclear bombs.
Details of what Iran did to defuse concerns about the tests may emerge in a new IAEA report due on Wednesday, two weeks before a meeting of the agency's 35-nation governing board.
The report will shed light on Iran's level of cooperation and could influence pending talks among six world powers on possible harsher sanctions. The United States favors tougher measures but Russia is opposed as long as Tehran's rapprochement with the IAEA proceeds.
Western diplomats, asking for anonymity due to political sensitivities, criticized the plan's failure to get Iran to reinstate the IAEA's Additional Protocol, which permits broader, short-notice inspections of sites not declared to be nuclear.
Big powers locked in a standoff with Iran over its refusal to heed U.N. resolutions demanding it suspend nuclear activity say there is no way to rule out the risk Tehran might harbor a covert military nuclear facility without the Protocol in place.
IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei has said the same, and knowledge about Iranian activities had deteriorated as a result.
A clause in the working document saying that, once Iran had cleared up issues listed, there would be "no more remaining issues and ambiguities" raised diplomatic eyebrows.
"There is surprise that the IAEA seems to have forgone the right to ask more questions," said a diplomat from one of the EU states in the sextet of powers, Germany, France and Britain.
Iran has insisted that it seeks only an alternative source of electricity, not explosives, from enriched uranium.
"Iran has wised up, realising that stiffing the IAEA helped lead to unanimous U.N. sanctions resolutions. The work plan is designed to show cooperation in order to forestall more sanctions," said Mark Fitzpatrick, chief non-proliferation analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
"But there is less here than meets the eye. (There are) serious omissions. Iran is holding on to the more political issues for leverage in any future negotiations with the Europeans and Security Council permanent members," he said.
Critics also faulted the plan's requirement that issues be addressed sequentially and require closure of each before going on to the next. This could drag out the process, especially if Iran blamed more sanctions action for foot-dragging, they said.
Western diplomats said the plan did not stipulate IAEA access to certain Iranian officials, facilities and documents crucial to verifying answers on thornier issues, including:
* particles of highly enriched -- or weapons-grade -- uranium found on technical university equipment
* research on an advanced centrifuge able to refine uranium 2-3 times faster than the old, unreliable model Iran uses now
* a black-market bomb-making manual in Iran's possession
* intelligence about administrative links between uranium processing, high explosives tests and a missile warhead design.
The plan said the IAEA aimed to resolve the centrifuge matter by November, but set no deadlines for the others.
"(Overall) the document's language appears to reflect an effort by Iran to preclude the IAEA raising questions in the future about inconsistencies or troubling developments in its nuclear program," American nuclear analysts David Albright and Jacqueline Shire said in an online commentary on Tuesday.
"The document refers to 'closing files', an idea that violates fundamental safeguards principles," they said, urging the IAEA board to seek clarification as quickly as possible. Wednesday's IAEA report will also show how far Iran's enrichment work has come.
Progress towards making atomic fuel in usable "industrial" amounts slowed this summer, possibly due to technical problems, diplomats say. Iran has denied any slowdown.
1. Russia, U.S. to Sign Nuclear Power Cooperation Deal in Fall
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A senior Russian nuclear official said Tuesday that a deal is likely to be signed with the United States this fall on the civilian use of nuclear power.
The document, initialed two months ago, envisages the transfer of fissile materials, and relevant installations and equipment.
"We hope the document will be signed during the coming fall," said Nikolai Spassky, deputy head of the Federal Agency for Nuclear Power.
He said the agency aimed to increase the share of nuclear energy in Russia's power generation to 21-25% from the current 16.5% by 2020. Russia plans to put 10 new nuclear power units into operation by 2015.
Agency chief Sergei Kiriyenko said last September that Russia was planning to build 42-58 nuclear reactors for its own needs by 2030, and 40-50 units abroad in the next 30 years.
Russia currently has 10 operational nuclear power plants with 31 reactors, but Kiriyenko said the country would need another 300 gigawatts from new plants to cover a projected energy deficit in the next three decades.
"We will have to commission new energy-generating facilities capable of producing 300 GW by 2030," he said at the time, adding that from 2015 the industry would commission at least two power-generating units annually without governmental subsidies.
Russia's reserves of coal and natural gas could be depleted in fifty years. With around 8% of the world's uranium output, Russia plans to mine 60-70% of its uranium needs domestically by 2015, with the remainder coming from joint ventures in former Soviet republics, particularly Kazakhstan, which holds 25-30% of the world's uranium reserves.
Australia is eager to join a US-led global nuclear bloc to help shape the future "architecture" of nuclear power generation.
Despite concerns Australia will be forced to take back nuclear waste from overseas, Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer says it "makes very good sense" to be involved in the fledgling Global Nuclear Energy Partnership.
With nuclear power shaping as a key election battleground, Mr Downer's enthusiasm to take part in the global process will further expose the Government to Labor's scare campaign.
Labor claims the Government is committed to building up to 25 nuclear reactors and is running a marginal seats campaign in the lead-up to the poll.
In an interview ahead of the APEC summit next week, Mr Downer spoke positively of Australia joining the nuclear group but said the Government would not be "verballed" into accepting other countries' nuclear waste.
The US President, who plans to raise the nuclear issue during his visit to Sydney next week, first raised the prospect of a global partnership in 2004.
"It makes a lot of sense for Australia to be involved," Mr Downer said.
Australia has been invited to attend a GNEP meeting in Vienna on September 16, along with Russia, Japan, China and Britain.
The minister was also hopeful of APEC achieving some breakthrough on a way forward for climate change, although the 21 leaders would not embrace binding targets to cut carbon emissions.
"If we can get a consensus on a commitment to action by all of the 21 economies on climate change . . . that will be an enormous achievement because that has not been achieved before," he said.
"I think we will get some agreement."
APEC may also herald a breakthrough on other critical issues, including agreement from China to embrace more robust energy efficiency standards.
This would involve China -- which will overtake the US as the world's biggest emitter within a year -- adopting more eco-friendly standards for refrigerators, airconditioners and other energy-guzzling appliances.
Jordanï¿½s King Abdullah II has asked his government to accelerate the implementation of the countryï¿½s nascent nuclear power program in order to reduce energy imports.
At a meeting on Sunday, the king emphasised the need for an alternative energy source for desalinating water and generating electricity to fend off the rising costs in imported energy, state news agency Petra reported.
ï¿½This issue is one of the most important challenges Jordan faces requiring radical solutions in the long term,ï¿½ King Abdullah told the first meeting of Supreme Committee for Nuclear Energy Strategy.
King Abdullah announced in January his intentions to develop a peaceful nuclear program for Jordan.
Minister for scientific research Khaled Toukan told the committee that ï¿½nuclear energy would constitute 30% of the total amount of energy produced in Jordan by 2030ï¿½, based on studies his ministry has conducted.
ï¿½This would shift Jordan from being an energy importing country to an energy producing country in 2030 by providing power at reduced costs in the industry and service sectors to support economic growth,ï¿½ Toukan said.
Jordan wants to build its first nuclear power plant by 2015.
During the April visit of Mohamed E-Baradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), King Abdullah said Jordan needed to diversify its energy sources, particularly as crude oil prices rose.
In the same month, the Jordanian parliament adopted a law allowing for the use of nuclear energy to produce electricity and desalinate water.
Government officials have previously said the kingdom has the required uranium for a nuclear energy program, with estimated reserves of 80,000 tonnes and another 100,000 tons within its phosphate deposits.
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