A US NGO Perspective on US – Russian MPC&A Cooperation

William C. Potter
July 26, 1998

I. Introduction

Having had the opportunity last year to address the INMM, I better appreciate today the role I play as an outsider at this important gathering of predominantly governmental and nuclear industry physical scientists. As a political scientist who also directs an NGO, I am pleased to present my personal perspectives on US-Russian cooperation for MPC&A. I have tried to follow the issue closely since the initiation of the Lab-to-Lab Program; I have visited ten nuclear facilities in the post-Soviet states over the past four years and have had a chance to observe first hand the evolution of international cooperative activities; I also am informed by the visits to many additional sites by my Monterey Institute staff and my close colleagues in the US government; and I benefit by numerous conversations on the subject with my many friends in the nuclear industry in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. I have not, however, been to a nuclear site in the past nine months, nor do I pretend to reflect, as the title of the presentation in the program suggests, a wider sample of US NGO views.

Although a great deal could and should be said about the past, present, and future of US-Russian cooperation for nonproliferation, I will confine my remarks to the following: (1) the role of MPC&A cooperation in the broader historical context of US-Soviet/Russian cooperation for nonproliferation; (2) my assessment of the most successful dimensions of MPC&A cooperation; (3) those areas which are a source of concern; and (4) one specific step that I believe should be undertaken to enhance the international MPC&A effort.

II. MPC&A in a Broader Historical Context

One of the less well known but important stories of the Cold War is the parallelism and often close consultation and cooperation between the United States and Soviet Union on nuclear nonproliferation issues.[1] This cooperation generally persisted across Democratic and Republican administrations and during even the hottest points of the Cold War.

Ironically, today, after the end of the Cold War, there are indications of major new strains in the US-Russian nonproliferation partnership. These strains are evident in the current stalemate in strategic arms control negotiations, major disputes over Russian nuclear exports to Iran and India and missile exports to Iran, growing differences over the activities of the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM), the lack of meaningful progress in intelligence-sharing regarding illicit nuclear trafficking, the lack of cooperation on important regional security issues (e.g., in South Asia and the Middle East), and domestic political pressures in both countries to emphasize short-term, economic and military considerations to the neglect of longer term international security and nonproliferation objectives.

This general erosion or unraveling of US-Russian cooperation for nonproliferation on a number of fronts comes at a most inopportune time. Not only is the international nonproliferation regime under siege due to the nuclear weapons tests in South Asia, it is also at risk as a consequence of the largely unnoticed but significant collapse of the 1998 NPT Preparatory Committee in Geneva only two days before the first Indian blasts. In light of these threats to the integrity of the NPT and at a time when there are major disagreements between the United States and Russia over numerous proliferation issues, it is all the more important to solidify and intensify US-Russian cooperation for MPC&A.

III. MPC&A Accomplishments

I am a great supporter of the CTR program in general, and the MPC&A effort in particular. I don’t have the time, however, nor do I need for this audience, to recite all of the major accomplishments that have been made in the realm of MPC&A in a remarkably short period of time. I am especially in awe of the extraordinary dedication and stamina of those US and Russian experts who have labored under very difficult conditions to establish a significant MPC&A foundation in Russia and the other relevant Soviet successor states. I say this very sincerely having observed the often difficult work environment, the internecine bureaucratic warfare, and the infrequency and inadequacy of recognition for the milestones achieved.

Having long advocated the need to devote more attention to the development of a safeguards culture in the former Soviet Union, I also am pleased to recognize progress that has been made in this realm. Positive developments include: (1) a rise in the level of awareness of the importance of MPC&A activities among the leadership at a number of nuclear facilities in Russia and in other post-Soviet states; (2) the growth of indigenous advocates of effective MPC&A activities at the facility and government agency level, as well as the maturation of post-Soviet NGOs whose publications focus on nonproliferation and safeguards issues; and (3) the emergence of indigenous safeguards training programs and the development of an expanding body of safeguards expertise.[2]

Finally, with regards to MPC&A areas of which I have been most critical in the past, I am pleased to note the headway that has been made in the last year in expanding MPC&A cooperation in the propulsion reactor sector and in enhancing safeguards at nuclear sites in the non-Russian successor states. Special note should be taken of the successful removal this Spring of a portion — and I emphasize the phrase “a portion” — of the HEU that was based in Georgia and the preparations that are underway to enhance the security of a much larger quantity of low-irradiated Pu stored in Kazakhstan.

IV. Problems that Remain

Unfortunately, just as I do not have time this afternoon to detail all of the positive MPC&A developments, I also lack the time necessary to elaborate on those MPC&A areas in which difficulties remain. Many of these difficulties relate to the sheer magnitude of the problem. It is estimated, for example, that the inventory of direct-use nuclear material in the former Soviet Union is between 165-200 tons of plutonium and 1,200-1,300 tons of highly-enriched uranium (HEU).[3] Given the stated mission of the DOE MPC&A program “to reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism by rapidly improving the security of all weapons-usable nuclear material in forms other than nuclear weapons in Russia, the NIS, and the Baltics,” that is a tall order. Although DOE is justifiably proud about the progress it has made in extending MPC&A cooperation, it is mistaken in its assertion made in January 1998 that it has expanded “cooperation to every site in the former Soviet Union containing plutonium or highly enriched uranium….”[4] Indeed, I doubt if anyone from DOE has even visited one site in the former Soviet Union which, at least until very recently, was believed by Minatom to contain HEU, that of I.N. Vekua Physics and Technology Institute at Sukhumi, Georgia.

The nevertheless laudable expansion of US MPC&A activities to most of the nuclear facilities in the post-Soviet states, also begs the question of the amount of material at those sites currently inventoried, the number of locations within sites at which large quantities of fissile material are scattered, and the adequacy of protection of fissile material in transit both between and within facilities. Although I am aware of steps underway to improve material control and protection during transport, I suspect much more work remains to be done.

I also am skeptical about formal DOE pronouncements over the last several years that MPC&A activities have been completed in Belarus, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Uzbekistan. Facility directors at some of the sites in these other states would beg to differ with the DOE assessment that the MPC&A mission has been completed — especially if one employs the language of the January 1998 DOE mission statement to include reduction of the threat of nuclear terrorism as an MPC&A objective.[5]

Another problem directly related to the magnitude of fissile material stocks is the amount of financial and personnel resources available today and in the future to address the problem in the United States, Russia, and the other post-Soviet states. Although DOE has been successful to date in finding funds for most of its priority MPC&A activities, it is apt to experience greater budgetary difficulties with Congress in the future, especially if problems persist with Russia on other nonproliferation fronts (e.g., UNSCOM, India, and Iran). The budgetary issue also may be less one of overall funds available for MPC&A, and more one of constraints in their use for purposes of hiring different categories of employees (i.e., regular staff vs. program supervisors and contract employees). The latter group are especially prone to voice legitimate complaints about morale, poor quarters, and burn-out. Having periodically been engaged by different US organizational actors with nonproliferation responsibilities in the former Soviet Union, I also have the impression that there is room for vast improvement in coordinating CTR programs both within DOE and among different agencies.

Needless to say, even more severe problems of scarce resources impinge upon the ability of the post-Soviet states to create and maintain modern and effective MPC&A systems and to support independent nuclear regulatory bodies. Regrettably, an absence of transparency on the Russian side makes it impossible to make even rough estimates as to the level of Russian contributions to MPC&A activities.

A long-standing obstacle to more effective US-Russian cooperation on a variety of CTR projects has been Russian efforts to tax US deliveries. It is my understanding that recently tax authorities in Russia have maintained that the US-Russian CTR umbrella agreement governing tax exemptions has expired. As a consequence, they are seeking to tax not only DOE deliveries but also subcontracting within Russia. If true, this development can only hinder implementation of MPC&A assistance.

I mentioned earlier, under “MPC&A Accomplishments,” the emergence of individual and institutional advocates for strengthened MPC&A activities. The less welcome news is the still relatively small number of those individual advocates — many of whom are former IAEA inspectors. Indeed, with the exception of those individuals with an IAEA background, it is my impression that most of the MPC&A workforce has at best a very vague understanding of why safeguards (or nonproliferation) are important. Expressed somewhat differently, I worry that the emerging MPC&A workforce in the former Soviet Union will have excellent technical credentials but an inadequate appreciation of the broader political dimension of nonproliferation. For that reason, I regard as particularly important the kind of multidisciplinary safeguards curriculum being introduced with DOE support at the Moscow Physical Engineering Institute (MEPhI). The related but more narrowly focused MPC&A training program at Obninsk also is an essential component of what I believe should be an even higher priority activity for US-Russian MPC&A cooperation — namely, facilitating the orderly transfer of responsibility for MPC&A activities from the United States to Russia.[6] Now, while there is still money in the pipeline, is the time to confront the problem of sustainability.

In their very useful assessment of the development of a modern safeguards culture in the NIS, Jim Doyle and Steve Mladineo identify leadership awareness as an important indicator of the presence of a safeguards culture. They maintain that “increasingly, political leaders in these states [the NIS] exhibit concern for proliferation threats related to nuclear material security….”[7] As evidence they cite numerous summit statements, bilateral and multilateral ministerial agreements, several dozen signed protocols between nuclear facilities in the NIS and DOE, and a variety of domestic legal and administrative measures to address material security problems, including the federal law “On the Use of Nuclear Energy” and the adoption of a “Concept for the System of State Accounting and Monitoring of Nuclear Materials.”[8]

I do not discount the positive nature of these initiatives. Nor do I question the seriousness with which most facility directors take their MPC&A obligations. I am much more skeptical, however, about the place of nonproliferation objectives today among the Russian political leadership relative to other domestic and foreign policy goals. Among the indicators of regression I observe in Russian nonproliferation policy are the readiness to resume economically unviable nuclear trade with India immediately after India’s nuclear weapons tests, the revision in 1996 of domestic export control legislation to “grandfather” nuclear trade with states not having full-scope safeguards in place, recent efforts to undermine UNSCOM, missile exports to Iran in contravention of the MTCR, the decision this past fall not to prosecute those responsible for exporting missile equipment and technology to Iraq, and the failure to implement in a meaningful fashion the formal pledge at the April 1996 Nuclear Safety and Security Summit to share information about nuclear smuggling with US officials.

To be sure, one also can point to shortcomings in US nonproliferation behavior that raise doubts about the reliability of Washington’s declaratory policy. One recent example was the inflexible and counterproductive posture adopted at the 1998 NPT PrepCom — a stance oddly consistent with that of Russia — and one largely responsible for the collapse of the conference only two days before the first Indian nuclear tests. That being said, perhaps the greatest difficulty in forging a more effective and coordinated strategy for US-Russian nonproliferation cooperation in the future is that proliferation issues occupy a different place in the hierarchy of national policy objectives in Russia than in the United States. This different ranking is not because Russian policymakers disagree with their US counterparts about the danger of the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Instead, it is the product of only limited recognition of the issue’s relevance to their immediate economic and political situation.

V. A Proposal for Further Cooperation

I have a host of recommendations about what needs to be done to address the MPC&A problems I’ve noted. I will confine my concluding remarks, however, to one concrete proposal linked to my concern about sustainability of MPC&A activities and guided by the general principle that the United States and Russia should seek to reduce the quantity of fissile material which must be protected and the number of sites where fissile material is stored.

As part of a joint US-Russian program of consolidation and elimination, I would urge the United States, preferably in partnership with Russia, to undertake to negotiate the purchase of all HEU known to reside at research facilities in the non-Russian successor states. Given the relatively small, but nevertheless significant quantities of weapons-usable material at sites in Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan, a uranium “buy-up” approach to the non-Russian republics represents a low cost, high return nonproliferation strategy. The cost-effectiveness of this approach is especially pronounced if one calculates the investment needed to sustain at best marginally adequate safeguards at these facilities over a 10-20 year period. (Parenthetically, let me note that to the extent that HEU actually is being used by research facilities, as is the case at the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Uzbekistan, it would be desirable for the United States also to provide the small amount of money needed to convert the research reactor to run on low-enriched uranium. Plans for such conversion already have been drawn up by Russian engineers and could be implemented at some sites in three-four months at about $1 million per reactor.)

I have provided in an appendix to my paper my Center’s estimates of the amount of HEU (20% U-235 or higher) by facility in the non-Russian successor states. These amounts include approximately 75 kg of 90% HEU in bulk form at the Kharkiv Physics and Technology Institute in Ukraine and about 370 kg of HEU at the Academy of Sciences’ Scientific and Technical Center in Sosny, Belarus.

I am persuaded, based upon my interviews with senior US policymakers, that the principal obstacle to an HEU purchase plan is the difficulty of gaining interagency agreement in the United States. This difficulty is a product of the interagency battles that were waged during the ultimately successful operation of “Project Sapphire.”[9] These battles and associated domestic political considerations also explain why the small quantity of HEU removed this spring from the Institute of Nuclear Physics near Tbilisi was airlifted to the United Kingdom rather than to the United States.

In light of the inevitable bureaucratic and domestic political fallout that will be associated with any further HEU purchases, it would be advisable to remove as much of the remaining non-Russian HEU in a single, coordinated initiative. Ideally, this project would be a collaborative US-Russian activity, the United States financing the purchases, Russia providing the reactor conversion designs where applicable, and both countries accepting portions of the HEU. For political reasons, for example, the material in Sukhumi and perhaps also in Sosny, could most easily be exported to Russia. The other stocks would probably need to be exported to the United States.

I am not so naive as to believe that this purchase plan will soon be implemented. Moscow has shown little enthusiasm in the past to assist in this kind of repatriation/import process, even when it involved Russian-origin material. Keen leadership and vision, qualities often in limited supply, also will be required on the US part in order to overcome bureaucratic inertia and an aversion to risk-taking. The logic of the plan, however, is compelling as are the risks of inaction. Implementation of the plan, moreover, would be consistent with the ongoing program of US-Russian cooperation for MPC&A and would demonstrate a commitment to nonproliferation by both countries that transcends short-term economic and political interests.

Appendix: HEU Stocks in the Non-Russian Successor States

  1. Armenia: None.
  2. Azerbaijan: None.
  3. Belarus:
    • Academy of Sciences’ Scientific and Technical Center, Sosny
      Approximately 40 kg of 90% enriched HEU.
      Approximately 330 kg of HEU enriched between 20% and 89% (18 kg of 75%, 47 kg of 45%, 161 kg of 30%, 63 kg of 21%).
  4. Estonia: None.
  5. Georgia:
    • I.N. Vekua Physics and Technology Institute, Sukhumi. The Vekua Institute is in the breakaway Abkhaz region of Georgia, and is not under the control of the Georgian government. A physical inventory conducted in 1992 identified approximately 2 kg of HEU at the Sukhumi facility. According to Georgian officials at the Institute of Nuclear Physics near Tblisi, it was 90% enriched HEU. Russian officials have estimated the enrichment level of the material to be lower, although still weapons-usable. In December 1997 a Minatom team visited Sukhumi for the purpose of conducting a new physical inventory. The facility, however, had been deserted and no HEU was located. It is unclear when the HEU was diverted or where it is now.
  6. Kazakhstan:
    • National Nuclear Center– Almaty Branch
      Roughly 15 kg 36% enriched HEU fuel for reactor. Also possibly some 90% HEU fuel.
    • National Nuclear Center– Semipalatinsk Branch
      Baikal-1 Reactor Complex: Approximately 5 kg of 90% enriched HEU in the IVG.1M reactor, approximately 7 kg of 90% enriched fuel in the RA reactor, and three fresh fuel assemblies in storage each containing 200 grams of 90% enriched U-235. Non-irradiated portion of 205 kg Russian-owned HEU has been removed and returned to Russia. Irradiated portion remains.
      IGR Reactor: The reactor contains 10.62 kg of 90% enriched, uranium-graphite fuel. In addition, there is 7 kg of fresh fuel and 7 kg of spent fuel located on site.
  7. Kyrgyzstan: None.
  8. Latvia:
    • Institute of Nuclear Physics, Salaspils (outside Riga).
      Up to 4 kg 90% HEU fuel in reactor core.
  9. Lithuania: None.
  10. Moldova: None.
  11. Tajikistan: None.
  12. Turkmenistan: None.
  13. Uzbekistan:
    • Institute of Nuclear Physics, Ulugbek (outside Tashkent).
      Up to 8 kg 90% HEU fuel in reactor core.
      Approximately 9 kg fresh fuel in 11 fuel assemblies stored on-site. (Likely includes the 5 kg of fresh HEU fuel sent to Uzbekistan from Georgia in 8/95.)
    • Uzbek Radioelectrical Technical Plant “Photon,” Tashkent.
      4.55 kg of 90% HEU fuel in pulsed research reactor.
  14. Ukraine:
    • Institute for Nuclear Research , Kiev.
      Up to 13.2 kg 36% HEU fuel in reactor core. Amount of fresh fuel stored on site unknown.
      Previously this research reactor used 90% enriched fuel.
    • Kharkiv Physics and Technology Institute.
      Roughly 75 kg 90% HEU in bulk form.
    • Sevastopol Naval Academy, Sevastopol.
      36% HEU fuel for research reactor. Amount unknown.
      3.1 – 6.1 kg 10% enriched uranium.
      Possibly some 90% enriched uranium.


1. See William C. Potter, “US-Russian Cooperation for Nonproliferation: Problems and Prospects at the Turn of the Century,” Paper presented at the International Conference on Global Security, Gorbachev Foundation, Moscow (February 14, 1998).

2. For an elaboration on these points see James E. Doyle and Stephen V. Mladineo, “Assessing the Development of a Safeguards Culture in the NIS,” The Nonproliferation Review (Winter 1998), pp. 91-100 and William C. Potter, “Outlook for the Adoption of a Safeguards Culture in the Former Soviet Union,” Journal of Nuclear Materials Management (Winter 1998).

3. See Nuclear Successor States of the Soviet Union: Status Report on Nuclear Weapons, Fissile Material, and Export Controls, No. 5 (March 1998), The Monterey Institute of International Studies and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and US Department of Energy, MPC&A Program Strategic Plan (January 1998).

4. Letter by Rose E. Gottemoeller and Leonard S. Spector accompanying MPC&A Program Strategic Plan.

5. Nuclear terrorism typically connotes radiological sabotage as well as diversion of nuclear materials for terrorist use. The intended scope of the phrase in the 1998 DOE mission statement is unclear.

6. A plan to introduce a MEPhI-like safeguards curriculum at the Tomsk Polytechnic Institute apparently has been postponed or shelved.

7. See Doyle and Mladineo, pp. 93-93.

8. See Doyle and Mladineo, p. 94.

9. These disputes are discussed in Potter, “Project Sapphire: US-Kazakhstani Cooperation for Nonproliferation,” in John M. Shields and William C. Potter, editors, Dismantling the Cold War: US and NIS Perspectives on the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program (Cambridge, MA: the MIT Press, 1997), pp. 345-362.

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