Export Controls at RFNC-VNIIEF

Lab-to-Lab: US-Russian Lab-to-Lab Collaboration Story [Archived]

Early Lab-to-Lab | Export Control | Nielsen Jr. | Symposia | WSSX
Physics | Reminiscences of Russia | Caroline (Cas) Mason

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Mikhail Novikov, VNIITF, Snezhinsk

Export control is the most important part of the international system of nuclear security and nonproliferation. Based on the provisions of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), nuclear export control is instrumental in reducing the risk of proliferation via legal trade channels of materials, equipment, software and related technologies suitable for making a nuclear explosive device. As successor to the USSR, in 1992 Russia reaffirmed to the international community its commitment to the NPT and began to build a national system of export control.

This process took place under extremely difficult conditions of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent deep economic crisis. In the first half of the 1990s, the new Russian state undertook government reform, including control of the armed forces while undergoing a transition to a market economy and adopting appropriate legislation. This was implemented against a backdrop of reduced funding for the military-industrial complex, including nuclear facilities, and signs of active intervention in the economy by organized crime. Internationally, Russia was reducing its nuclear arsenals and repatriating the nuclear arsenals of the former Soviet Union. It is evident from all of the above that Russia had to expend a lot of effort to meet its obligations under the NPT, and in particular in the field of nuclear export control. International nonproliferation assistance programs thus assumed an important role in solving these problems. The Ministry of Atomic Energy of the Russian Federation became an important participant in these programs.

In recognition of the Russian Federation’s international obligations in nuclear non-proliferation and the need to improve the nuclear industry’s export control system, Minatom began export control cooperation with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in 1996. In September, a Letter of Intent on cooperation in the field of export control was signed by the DOE Office of Arms Control and Nonproliferation and the Minatom Department of International Relations. The objectives of the first stage of cooperation were:

  • Scientific analysis of multilateral export control regimes checklists.
  • Assistance of American specialists in training groups of technical specialists in the basics of nuclear export control.
  • Assistance in setting up in-house compliance programs for Minatom companies.
  • Exchange of experience and knowledge in the field of nuclear export control in the form of workshops, conferences and consultations.

The seminars began almost immediately with the first one organized by the DOE Office of Arms Control and Nonproliferation in Washington, D.C. in November. Representatives of the International Department of Minatom (Marina Belyaeva), IPPE (Vladimir Chitaikin) and VNIITF (Vadim Ptashnyi) participated in the seminar, discussed areas of cooperation, including at the lab-to-lab level, and visited the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). At ORNL they had the opportunity to learn about the work on U.S. export control systems by ORNL technical specialists and to discuss specific areas of the lab-to-lab collaboration. During that visit the primary contacts for laboratory cooperation were established. These included Kenneth Cross, ORNL and George Anzelon, LLNL. After George Anzelon left to work in the IAEA, the LLNL point of contact was Erika Ribanszky, and later Lee Thomas.

Subsequently, the U.S. side followed up by sponsoring two training workshops for Minatom in February and June of 1997. ORNL and IPPE organized the first international workshop on export control in Obninsk on February 11-13, 1997. The workshop was attended by representatives of various Minatom entities. Papers on export controls were presented mainly by the American side, covering extensive methodological and illustrative material about international export control regimes, U.S. best practices in nuclear export control and the roles of the DOE and its national laboratories. Ptashnyi presented an overview identifying key military and dual-use technologies related to the development of nuclear explosive devices. Chitaykin described a range of export control issues related to the nuclear fuel cycle.

Subsequently, laboratories for methodology and expert analysis in Nuclear Export Control (Russian abbreviation, OLEK) were established at IPPE in May 1997 and at VNIITF in February 1998. In April 1998, VNIITF signed a contract with VNIITF entitled “Enhancement of US-Russian Cooperation on Nuclear Export Control and Nuclear Nonproliferation.” Although the work was to be completed by the end of 1999, it was not finished until early 2001 because of the unfortunate and unexpected death of Minatom’s main proponent of export controls, VNIITF’s Vadim Ptashnyi, during heart surgery in 1999.

The contract identified the following main tasks for VNIITF:

  • To develop training materials that the Russian weapons experts would use to teach other Russian specialists about the issues of nonproliferation and export control related to the design, development, testing and production of nuclear explosive devices.
  • To study the possibility of identifying indicators of proliferation activity in the screening of license applications and from other sources in order to detect undeclared nuclear weapons activities of states as well as technical means to implement these activities.

The VNIITF staff working on this contact included the OLEK personnel and technical experts from various VNIITF departments. They developed two training courses on export control for both technical and non-technical specialists; held three working meetings with American experts, including a meeting at LLNL (June 1998, Livermore) organized the first regional seminar on export control for Minatom companies in the Urals-Siberian region (October 1998, Snezhinsk), conducted studies to determine the proliferation activity indicators (PAI) and prepared a report in Russian and English on the ​​“Problem of the indicators of proliferation activity.”

The course on “Key export control issues in the development, production and testing of nuclear weapons and nuclear charges” for technical specialists contained sensitive information and was made available only to Minatom. The American side was issued a confirmation by the Minatom’s International Relations certifying that the course was comprehensive in content and applicable to teach the fundamentals of export control to the developers of nuclear weapons. The course for non-technical professionals with the same title did not contain sensitive information. It was photocopied and distributed to the attendees of regional workshops on export control held by VNIITF OLEK.

The basic approaches to the problem of PAI were discussed with U.S. counterparts during the course of three workshops in 1998 and 1999. For the September 1999 meeting, VNIITF experts prepared a preliminary report containing a general exposition of the problem, definition of the proliferation indicators and the discussion of the objectives of the indicator-focused approach to export activities. The final report was written up in 2000. It contained information that was sensitive in terms of export control, so it was not released for public distribution and was provided, as a password-protected electronic file, only to LLNL. In the course of the project the authors analyzed the PAI problem in the framework of a hypothetical process of creating a nuclear device using the international trade channels and the proliferator’s own industrial and scientific capabilities. The project team suggested a set of indicators that reflected the logic of a potential proliferator in the process of creating a nuclear device. The team came up with a list of key nuclear technologies that would be required in the process of proliferation activity aimed at building a nuclear explosive device. They also offered an algorithm for the analysis of the data set both statistically and at the logical level.

Subsequently, the set of indicators of undeclared nuclear weapons activities was supplemented with indicators of undeclared activities to obtain nuclear materials suitable for making nuclear explosive devices. This project was carried out by the IPPE OLEK staff as an ISTC partner project.

At a 1998 IAEA export control workshop for Central Asia and the Caucasus in Vienna, Vadim Ptashniy proposed a working group of technical experts (Technical Experts Working Group, TEWG) on Nuclear Export Control of Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and the United States. In late April 1999, following the unfortunate death of V. Ptashnyi, Robert Roboski of the DOE Office of Arms Control and Non-Proliferation agreed to fund the TWEG and to call it the “Ptashnyi Group” in his memory. The TEWG met from 1999 to 2009, organized by the Argonne National Laboratory (ANL),

The first three TEWG meetings, starting in October 1999 were held at ANL. The next TEWG meetings convened in Ukraine (Yalta, 2003), Kazakhstan (Almaty, 2005), Russia (St. Petersburg, 2007) and Turkey (Istanbul, 2009) in an enlarged format. The new attending members were representatives of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Latvia and Lithuania.

Ten years of cooperation under the TEWG framework promoted mutual understanding of the state of affairs in the sphere of export control in closely economically related neighboring countries (former Soviet republics), some of which have nuclear energy and nuclear industry and the others that provide transit for nuclear goods.

The result of this cooperation include:

  • Development of an electronic manual on Export Control for the Newly Independent States (CIS and Baltic countries). The manual was developed under a CRDF (the U.S. Cooperative R&D Foundation) project.
  • Exchange of opinions on the establishment and operation of independent forensics centers, a specific element of the export control system in the Russian Federation.
  • Exchange of best practices on working with industry and research organizations in the creation of in-house compliance programs in companies.
  • Exchange of experts to make presentations at the regional conferences and seminars on export control.

VNIITF OLEK specialists were actively involved in all aspects of the group’s activities.

The most intense lab-to-lab cooperation on export control between VNIITF and the U.S. national laboratories occurred between 2000 and 2003. Since 2001, this cooperation is part of the International Nonproliferation Export Control Program run by the U.S. Department of Energy.

In the year 2000, VNIITF and LLNL signed and then successfully completed contracts for the development of training courses on nuclear export control for the Russian Customs Academy (RCA). Together with colleagues from IPPE OLEK, we developed three training courses: an 8-hour introductory course for RCA students, an 18-hour course for the RCA continuing education program, and a 30-hour course for customs officers specializing in exports of nuclear and dual-use goods at customs full-service facilities and customs checkpoints. The PCA faculty and the American side evaluated all developed courses as successful. The courses were made available to the PCA and subsequently incorporated into the curriculum of the Academy. The presentation of the most comprehensive course was held in February 2001 in the Russian Customs Academy (Lyubertsy, Moscow Region).

In 2001-2003, under the contract with LLNL, we held three regional workshops on export controls for Minatom companies in the Urals-Siberian region. The regional workshop held at the Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrate Plant in June 2003 was to study the practices of the Minatom export control system. VNIITF OLEK invited representatives of academic institutions of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences to their first export control workshop.

In addition, in 2001, under another LLNL contract, the VNIITF OLEK staff developed a training course for the first site-specific workshop on export control. This workshop for the “Mayak” Production Association (Ozersk) was successfully conducted in June 2001. Until the end of 2003, similar workshops were organized and conducted at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (Sarov), Mining and Chemical Combine (Zheleznogorsk) and the Siberian Chemical Combine (Seversk). In the following years, site-specific workshops were held in 2004 in Yekaterinburg for Sverdlovsk Research Institute of Chemical Engineering and Institute of Reactor Materials; and in 2006 in the Moscow region for representatives of the Office for the development of nuclear weapons and Rosatom enterprises in this domain. Intensive workshops of this kind made it possible to reach out to a large number of specialists from exporting companies and to make a contribution to the improvement of enterprise-level compliance programs.

The last joint research contract between export control specialists of VNIITF and LLNL was signed in 2001. It dealt with analysis of international and Russian checklists of materials, equipment and technologies related to nuclear use. The project activities were conducted in the following areas:

  • Review of the Russian “List of equipment, materials and related dual-use technologies used for nuclear purposes under export control” (Nuclear Dual-Use List) with focus on definitions and the use of technical terminology.
  • Review of the Russian list in terms of the need to extend control, perhaps unilaterally, to new types of equipment and materials.
  • Review of the Russian list in terms of the need to control essential hardware components.
  • Development of the classification of the nuclear industry goods subject to export control due to the risk of re-purposing to weapons use.
  • Research in the framework of Minatom effort to develop the Russian position in discussing the proposals of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) members to review the existing NSG checklists.

Some of the proposals submitted by VNIITF OLEK specialists to Minatom on changes to the technical terminology were included in the “List of equipment and dual-use items and related technologies used for nuclear purposes subject to export control” approved by the Russian President’s Decree №36 of 14.01.2003.

We also developed a reference tool classifying nuclear industry goods according to risk groups that could be used by members of the Minatom Export Council in reviewing the drafts of export contracts. High-tech and research-intensive industrial equipment, as well as special materials included in the above-mentioned Russian checklist were designated as the goods whose export contracts should be given an especially thorough consideration at the meetings of the Export Council.

In 2001, work began on the ISTC Partner Project with ORNL on the “Development of a handbook on the list of dual-use goods with nuclear applications for the Russian system of export control.” The project involved several Russian partners to accomplish a “Russification” of the American “Handbook of Nuclear Suppliers Group Dual-Use List” created by the specialists at Oak Ridge and Los Alamos national laboratories. Russification involved the reorganization of the directory entries in accordance with the Russian control list of dual-use items with nuclear applications and incorporation of technical descriptions and illustrations of Russian products present in this list. Materials were sourced through Minatom companies and from other providers. The Handbook was published in 2003 as a printed book with 500 copies and as a CD with an electronic interactive version of the book.

The second phase of the project developed a version specific to the CIS and Baltic countries that included the list of organizations involved in the national export control systems of these states. This was followed by the preparation of a “pocket” version of the Handbook for Russian Customs Services. By June 2005, hard copies and the interactive electronic CD version of the handbook were shipped out to the central office of the Federal Customs Service, seven Russia’s regional customs offices and three branches of the Russian Customs Academy; all in all 1,500 hard copies and 1500 CDs.

In 2006, we launched another ISTC Partner Project to create a “Handbook on the list of nuclear materials, equipment, special non-nuclear materials and related technologies subject to export controls.” The partner in this project was ORNL, with Richard Faulkner in charge of contracts on the American side. VNIITF acted as a subcontractor. In 2008, the project was successfully completed. The Handbook was printed in 500 copies and recorded electronically in 250 CDs.

Lab-to-lab collaboration in export control declined significantly since 2007. We conducted three workshops under contract with ORNL between 2007 and 2013. The cooperation between VNIITF and LLNL was completed. We view the decline in lab-to-lab cooperation on export control quite natural because the main objectives of this cooperation – to strengthen Russian industry’s export control system and to train the employees of the industry – have been achieved. The proper level of export control is now provided by the Rosatom Export Council, the Industry Export Control Laboratories and in-house compliance programs of industrial companies. The cooperation between the laboratories of the USA and Russia played a major role in this. Of great value was not only the financial assistance of the American side, but also the transfer of experience and best practices in the field of export control from the experts at the U.S. national laboratories. A continued dialogue on sharing the experiences in the field, without any doubt, would be equally useful in the future.

Russia currently continues to develop and strengthen its export control system that keeps pace with international developments on one hand and provides response to new threats and challenges on the other. The Russian nuclear industry, which is responsible for most exports of goods and technologies is fully involved in this process.

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