International responses to the threat of nuclear smuggling from Russia*

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  • This article was downloaded by: [The University of Manchester Library]On: 11 October 2014, At: 02:19Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T3JH, UK

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    International responses to thethreat of nuclear smugglingfrom RussiaWilliam Walker aa Science Policy Research Unit , University ofSussex , Mantell Building, Falmer, Brighton, BN19RFPublished online: 22 Oct 2007.

    To cite this article: William Walker (1996) International responses to thethreat of nuclear smuggling from Russia , Medicine and War, 12:1, 53-57, DOI:10.1080/13623699608409257

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  • RESPONSES TO NUCLEAR SMUGGLING THREAT

    International Responses to the Threat ofNuclear Smuggling from Russia*

    WILLIAM WALKER

    Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 9RF

    In both Russia and the United States there is increasing awareness of the securityproblem left after the Cold War by former Soviet military nuclear establishments,compounded by the severe difficulties of the Russian economy. Attempts areunderway to provide American and other assistance for improving security andtransparency; halting the production of highly-enriched uranium and plutonium;and disposing of the large surplus stocks of these weapon materials.

    KEYWORDS Highly-enriched Uranium Plutonium SmugglingRussia United States

    This paper considers international responses, especially by the UnitedStates government, which is playing much the most important role, to thethreat of smuggling of nuclear materials from Russia, and to the broaderproblem of controlling the dismantlement of a large part of the formidableSoviet industrial infrastructure and military arsenal established in the ColdWar. In addressing these problems, it must be noted that we are having todeal with a highly unstable political system, and with a people that isexperiencing great economic distress (although a few are amassing greatfortunes). One of the legacies of 60 years of communism and state repres-sion is that very little trust is built into the political and economic system,at either higher or lower levels. There is little sense of personal or collec-tive responsibility. This is fertile ground for corruption and black markets.We are dealing with a people that is very proud and often deeply xeno-phobic. Russians can be very mistrustful of 'westerners': the ancientRussian struggle between Slavophiles and westernizers carries on today.Co-operation with outsiders is not easy in these circumstances.

    The Problems

    During a visit to Washington a year ago, I found deep pessimism over thesituation in the former Soviet Union regarding the state of care of nuclear

    * Based on a presentation to the MEDACT Seminar on nuclear smuggling held at the Houseof Commons on 14 February 1995.

    MEDICINE, CONFLICT AND SURVIVAL, VOL. 12, 53-57(1996)

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  • 54 W. WALKER

    materials. The more the Americans saw of the Russian weapon establish-ments, the more they realized the extent of the mess that had beenleft behind by the end of the Cold War. The Russians were also beinguncooperative. Their initial reaction to the smuggling stories was that thiswas a western plot to discredit Russia; everything was fully under controland there was no need for additional measures.

    Attitudes in Moscow seemed to change abruptly in the late autumn of1994. The Russian government had clearly been stung by press publicity ofincidents involving radioactive materials, and realized that it had to reactto the concerns expressed by the German, US and other governments.

    In September 1994 President Yeltsin established a Commission underthe chairmanship of Stepashin, head of the KGB's successor organization,to investigate security arrangements at nuclear sites with instructions toreport within a month. The results have not been published, but they seemto have seriously alarmed the Russian government. The issues have beentreated seriously ever since. At around the same time, Yeltsin issued adecree which gave Gosatomnadzor (GAN), the nuclear regulatory agency,the statutory powers that it had previously lacked. In effect, GAN wasgiven precedence over the Ministry of Atomic Energy (Minatom) whichhad been the main bureaucratic obstruction.

    In addition, the Russian political and military elite became aware of thegreat dangers that Russia itself would face if weapon-grade materialsleaked out. It must be realized that the nation most threatened by nuclearproliferation has always been Russia. In this case, it had two particularconcerns: firstly, weapon materials might fall into the hands of emergingIslamic republics, of unsympathetic nations around the Russian periphery,or of warlords or terrorists; secondly, any demonstration that substantialamounts of weapon material were escaping from Russia would have severerepercussions for Russia's relations with the West, and even for Russia'sinternal polity.

    Hence the much more positive attitude from late 1994 onwards. Whatjoint steps have the Russians and Americans been taking? The followinginformation is derived from a series of meetings that I attended inWashington in early February 1995.

    The United States Response

    The American programme addresses four tasks, which I will consider inturn: securing weapon materials; gaining confidence through transparency;halting the acquisition of excess stocks; disposing of excess weaponmaterials.

    Securing Weapon MaterialsThe tactic (forced on the Americans) is to begin modestly, win Russianconfidence and trust, and build co-operation at both ground level and

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  • RESPONSES TO NUCLEAR SMUGGLING THREAT 55

    government level. The process is to be gradually extended to more andmore facilities, with reliance on the Russians to diffuse the best practice. In1994 much effort was focussed on the Kurchatov Institute, one of themain research centres, and on upgrading security systems.

    The US recently put forward a list of six especially sensitive facilities tobe dealt with next. Three of them are facilities for Highly EnrichedUranium, two are research laboratories specializing in fast reactor fuels;the sixth is the Mayak plutonium storage facility at Chelyabinsk. ToAmerican surprise, the Russians have agreed to this programme.

    It cannot be emphasized too strongly that no progress is possible with-out the full co-operation of the Russians, who have to believe that theyhave a stake in the outcome, down to the basic questions of who suppliespadlocks and other hardware. The Americans initially assumed that theirown equipment would be installed. They are finding that the Russians arequite capable of installing excellent security systems. Security at Russiannuclear installations appears to have been effective during the Cold War.However, it relied on social repression and on the concentration of activityin closed cities where people were kept out of sight and out of touch withthe rest of the Soviet Union. The inhabitants of these cities had higherincomes and were granted special favours by Moscow. Today, many of thesocial restraints have been lifted, and employees at nuclear installations aresuffering the same economic deprivation as the majority of Russians.

    The old security procedures were also designed to keep outsiders fromgetting in, with espionage in mind. The insider problem had not been con-fronted. Managers who know the security systems, possess the keys, andhave greater opportunity for travelling and for striking deals, may pose agreater risk than scientists and technicians.

    Even these six facilities are, of course, only a beginning. The hope isthat, when shown good practice, the Russians will quite quickly diffusethis to other facilities. However, the costs are quite formidable. In 1994the Department of Energy spent $800m on safeguards and security at itsown military sites, on top of a large historic investment. The US budget tohelp secure Russian sites under this heading for Fiscal Year 1995 is $45mand for Fiscal Year 1996 $70m. The regulatory body GAN is workingwith the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to develop an accountingsystem. Again the same principles arise, not to attempt to install a carboncopy of the US system but to encourage the Russians to develop and installtheir own, while ensuring that it is robust.

    Confidence through TransparencyThis is an extension of the security system. Three aspects have been agreed:

    exchange of information on stockpiles of weapons grade plutoniumand highly enriched uranium. This was accepted at the Clinton/Yeltsinsummit in September 1994.

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  • 56 W. WALKER

    Reciprocal inspection of dismantled weapon components was agreed ata conference in March 1994 between Secretary of State O'Leary, USDepartment of Energy, and Mr Mikhailov of the Russian Ministry ofAtomic Energy.

    A US proposal for a comprehensive 'transparency and irreversibility'regime was put forward in December 1994. This involves extensivemutual inspection of facilities and materials taken out of weapon pro-grammes principally to ensure that they could not be used again. Thereis emphasis on establishing effective Nuclear Material Accounts andControls (NMAC) in Russia. US funding under this heading is $2m in1995 and $15m in 1996.

    Halting Accumulation of Excess Stocks

    A plutonium cut-off agreement was signed in June 1994. Russia's pluto-nium from the remaining three production reactors will not be used inweapons, and the reactors will be shut down by the year 2000. The mainissue here is how to provide alternative energy. The Russians arguethat they are only keeping the production reactors operating to supplyelectricity and heat to the surrounding area. The US is proposing non-nuclear electricity stations, specifically gas-fired combined-cycle plantswhich could be operational in a couple of years. Russia wants funds tobuild nuclear stations, which would take much longer. There is also adebate about private funding. Part of the problem is that few in Russia paytheir electricity bills.

    Discussions are also being held on the future of Russian reprocessingplants (RT-1 at Chelyabinsk, RT-2 at Krasnoyarsk), converting researchreactors to use low rather than highly enriched uranium, and the futureof highly enriched uranium production. The funding for this aspect iscurrently $7m, increasing to $72m in 1996.

    Disposal of Highly Enriched Uranium and Plutonium

    Work on this aspect is still at an early stage.

    In January 1994 a purchase agreement for highly-enriched uranium wassigned. Five hundred tonnes of formerly weapons-grade uranium will goto the US Enrichment Corporation in the form of 4.5 per cent enricheduranium for sale in western civilian markets.

    A US-Russian Joint Study Initiative has been set up to assess the optionsfor eliminating surplus plutonium, including plutonium recycling (thesubstitution of plutonium for fissile uranium in power reactors) and themixing of plutonium with nuclear wastes. Russian nuclear policy-makers still enthuse about plutonium recycling. They often refer toRussia's plutonium as 'national treasure', to the amusement and irrita-tion of their American counterparts who oppose plutonium recycling oneconomic and political grounds. So far, there has been little meeting ofminds, and no action is expected in the next few years.

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  • RESPONSES TO NUCLEAR SMUGGLING THREAT 57

    Funding for all this is still small, of the order of $lm per annum at present.

    Other Activities

    Japan, Sweden, Norway and Germany all have national programmes toassist with the problems. In the United Kingdom, British Nuclear FuelsLimited is working with Mayak on security arrangements and accountingpractices in the RT-1 reprocessing plant. Engineers and managers fromMayak have visited Sellafield, and will prepare a first draft report on theimprovements that need to be made to security and accounting arrange-ments in RT-1. This will form the basis of discussions on future plans.Euratom are funding a training centre at Obninsk for staff of GAN andMinatom. The International Atomic Energy Agency is exercising a co-ordinating function. Progress is being discussed in its Board of Governors,with particular emphasis on national systems of accounts and physicalsecurity in non-Russian states (Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and others) whereIAEA safeguards must be applied now that they are parties to the NuclearNon-Proliferation Treaty as non-nuclear-weapon states.

    Prospects

    Much remains to be done. Everyone who goes to Russia comes back witha sense of the immensity of the problem - the vast scale of the industrialinfrastructure, the decrepit condition of most of the facilities, the lack ofeffective administrative controls, the blend of great responsibility and greatirresponsibility. Even with the best efforts, it will take 20 to 30 yearsto bring about satisfactory standards and controls. Much depends onrecovery of the Russian econo...