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Sergei Mitrokhin

The Russian Federation and the United States. Approaches in Cooperation in Nuclear Conversion Programmes.
YABLOKO's proposals.

Specially for the YABLOKO web-site , April 3, 2002

New approaches have been developed during constructive dialogue with Russian public organisations and reflect the modern role of civil society in international cooperation aimed at reducing nuclear defence programmes.

The public in Russia is very cautious about any initiatives connected with nuclear energy sector and nuclear weapons. The population is very negative about any ideas concerning the construction of new nuclear facilities. This attitude is based on quite reasonable technological fears and significant "administrative" factors including:

- the high concentration of nuclear objects in some areas of Russia,
- the corporate nature of decisions adopted by the atomic ministry and absence of efficient state and public control,
- an under-developed system of social guarantees for the population.

All this obviously does not facilitate understanding by the Russian population of the US initiatives in support of nuclear conversion programmes. Thus, both rank-and-file citizens and a number of politicians can hardly differentiate between the projects of gratuitous aid from the US and commercial projects involving American businessmen.

The following projects may serve as vivid examples here:

- the attitude of both experts and politicians to the "know-how" deal is not unambiguous: often such programmes are regarded not as aid in the conversion of armaments, but rather as a system for supplying the US atomic energy complex with Russian uranium at dumping prices. Here the citizens think quite reasonably that huge amounts of money from this deal vanish without trace into the depths of the Ministry for Atomic Energy of the RF. Some of these funds may well be allocated implementation of international projects of the Ministry of Atomic Energy, in particular to the construction of a nuclear power station in Iran.
- The "Non-Proliferation Trust" initiative (NPT) and recommendations from the Livermore laboratory on the organisation of a depository for spent foreign nuclear fuel in the Krasnoyarsk Area are viewed negatively as a commercial project aimed at bringing profit to a group of people at the risk of turning Russia into an international nuclear waste dump.
- People are in general positive about the utilisation of nuclear submarines under the "Nanna-Lugara" programme, but raise considerable concerns about the handling of nuclear waste by the Ministry of Atomic Energy.

Public organisations and citizens oppose initiatives which, in their opinion, increase nuclear risk and the threat of radiation, instead of reducing them. Such a list includes:

- the recycling of spent nuclear fuel as a source of plutonium and radioactive waste that seeps into environment, open water reservoirs on the banks of which people live,
- the continued functioning of reactors for the development of military plutonium,
- imports of spent nuclear fuel into the country,
- the creation and development of the technology of mixed uranium-and-plutonium fuel (MOX-fuel).

The public is in favour of a complete halt to nuclear reactors for the production of plutonium for military purposes.

All this activity will inevitably lead to an increase in plutonium production, which will adversely affect solutions to the problem of non-proliferation of military nuclear materials. Thus, it should be stressed that in this case the interests of Russian society and the US position on this problem coincide.

To continue the conversion process, we should create the conditions for ensuring that it is irreversible: the most important element here is dialogue with society. Otherwise the narrow interests of lobbyists and the Ministry of Atomic Energy will win, and the final goal - demilitarisation - will not be reached.

Lack of trust in the activities of the Ministry of Atomic Energy and the inefficiency of the conversion programmes are attributable the ministry's structure. The same department joins together cash flows from state financing for nuclear weapons, incomes from the nuclear power sector and international trade with technologies and materials. The ministry also receives financial aid for conversion programmes. All this happens under conditions of top secrecy at the same production sites.

The secrecy regime often covers the use of funds for the wrong goals, negligence, as well as corruption in the Ministry of Atomic Energy. This concerns the top officials. For example, owing to an investigation conducted by the State Duma Commission for the Fight with Corruption, the Minister for Atomic Energy E.O. Adamov was dismissed from his post in March 2001. In January 2002 the Audit Chamber of the Russian Federation published the results of an audit into the financing and implementation of the special federal programme "Treatment of Radio-Active Waste and Spent Nuclear materials, Their Utilisation and Burial for 1996-2005". The audit disclosed a number of violations of financial discipline and instances of irrational use of funds. In particular, it was disclosed that no report existed on the spending of USD 270 million by the Ministry of Atomic Energy which had been received as international aid to implement projects for the treatment of radioactive waste.

Such a situation will continue until the financial flows for military production and enterprises of the nuclear fuel industry are divided.
This combination of flows conceals the subsidising of electricity production at Russian nuclear power stations and the financing of dual- purpose research.

A vivid example of such a double approach is provided by the construction of energy-substitution facilities for the military plutonium production reactor at the Mining-and-Petrochemicals Complex, which has dragged on for many years.

The production facilities of the Mining-and-Petrochemicals Complex were modernised with funds received from the USA. Now they are successfully used for energy supplies to isolate military plutonium from a functioning reactor. Consequently the USA has in actual fact financed a military programme instead of a conversion programme. The nuclear reactor continues to supply heat to the city where the workers of the complex live. The Ministry of Atomic Energy does not envisage stopping the reactor in the short term and is instead considering its conversion or the construction of a new reactor, which when combined with the production of isolated plutonium, does not change the crux of the matter. However, even if an energy replacement heat power station is built, it will be owned by the Ministry of Atomic Energy (although it will be built with US aid). The facilities of such a heat power station, considering the real demands of Zhelezhnogorsk city, will be redundant and are intended to supply energy for the spent nuclear fuel recycling plant (i.e. again to isolate plutonium) and an uranium and plutonium fuel production plant for Russian, Chinese and Iranian nuclear power stations.

Similarly the provision of physical protection for nuclear and radiation objects under the Ministry of Atomic Energy cannot be considered satisfactory. The narrow departmental approach, coupled with a lack of procedures for averting terrorist access to the objects, has given rise to criminal complacency, which I witnessed at first hand. We discovered that a group of armed people could easily penetrate the depository preserving 3,000 tons of nuclear waste. Such a penetration could lead to large-scale nuclear and radiation disaster, or theft of a significant quantity of nuclear materials.

All these problems will continue snowballing instead of being cut until the system of international aid for nuclear conversion programmes are no longer channeled for immediate disposal by the Ministry of Atomic Energy.

Only new financing approaches for conversion nuclear projects can change the situation in Russia.

Russian-American cooperation is carried out in the interests of two nations and cannot be performed without the direct participation of both the Russian and American public.

- Funds for conversion projects should be granted on a tender basis. Their recipients should not be simply "enterprises of the Ministry of Atomic Energy", but rather teams of specialists specially formed to implement specific conversion projects and responsible for their implementation.
- A financing decision should be adopted by a joint "Russian-American Tender Commission" involving not only nuclear industry experts, but also deputies at different levels and representatives from public organisations in both countries.
- Government officials in Russia and the USA should merely guarantee implementation of adopted decisions.

To implement this initiative, it is necessary to create a Russian-American "tender commission for nuclear conversion programmes", consisting of a "transparency commission" which would join together both specialists and representatives of the public and politicians. Tender-based reviews, involving the presentation of projects before a general council of experts and financial control of the projects under such a commission should provide efficient and transparent usage of the funds. The public nature of such a commission and public trust in the commission would be guaranteed by its openness to the mass media in both countries.

Such an initiative could become the next step in the establishment of mutual trust and demilitarisation of Russian-American relations.

Specially for the YABLOKO web-site , April 3, 2002

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