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

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Physics | Reminiscences of Russia | Caroline (Cas) Mason

Surety Technology Symposia 1993-1994

Documents and photographs for this section were kindly provided by Paul C. White and William Bookless. The description of the surety workshop draws on the Overview of Nuclear Warhead Safety and Security by Paul C. White and K. David Nokes in Section 3 of Volume I of the Doomed to Cooperate.

Photo gallery for Surety Technology Symposia

With the new Clinton administration determined early on that its nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation priorities involved close cooperation with Russia, in April 1993 David Nokes of  SNL  approached DOE with a proposal to conduct a series of nonsensitive safety and security (surety) technology workshops that would engage participation of all six of the US and Russian nuclear weapons laboratories. These symposia would address concepts and methodologies and the science and engineering of safety and security without crossing over into matters that were specific to weapons.  DOE officials endorsed an initial outreach to the Russian laboratories with this concept.

Group Photo of six people

U.S. Scientists (D. Croessmann, SNL; W. Bookless, LLNL; Interpreter, VNIITF; P. Newman, SNL; P. White, LANL; D. Olson, DOE) stand outside the Institute of Metals Physics, of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in Ekaterinburg. July 1993

With appropriate approval from the Departments of State and Energy, a team of US laboratory representatives held  exploratory discussions in Russia in July 1993. The first meeting was held at the Institute of Metals Physics in Ekaterinburg with representatives of VNIITF,  VNIIEF, and Production Association Mayak (PA Mayak), with subsequent meetings in Moscow. The immediately tangible outcomes of this series of dialogues are captured in memoranda signed by the leading participants.

Memorandum with VNIITF July 8, 1993

Memorandum with VNIIEF, July 14, 1993

These documents record the commitment by the US laboratories and Russian institutes to hold a series of non-weapons-specific Surety Technology Symposia on designated topics. The technical scope of the symposia would include risk analysis, transportation surety, hazardous materials, the response of engineered systems to abnormal environments, human reliability, and the translation and communication of technical documents.
People standing at a conference table.

U.S. participants in the Moscow meetings with scientists from VNIIEF. Moscow, Minatom, July 1993

The first Surety Technology Symposium was hosted by VNIITF in Snezhinsk in early October 1993. This historic symposium comprised five days of presentations, poster sessions, and discussions, involving over 170 experts from VNIITF, VNIIEF, PA Mayak, SNL, LANL, LLNL, DOE, DoD, and Minatom. The discussion at the meeting focused on approaches to risk assessment and the characterization of abnormal environments and hinted at the mutual benefits achievable if more sensitive, but still unclassified, topics could be addressed.

Group photo around a bomb

Participants of first Surety Symposium pose inside the VNIITF Weapons Museum. Snezhinsk, October 1993

First Surety Technology Symposium Program, October 1993

First Surety Technology Symposium Participants, October 1993

First Surety Technology Symposium Concluding Memorandum, October 1993

Shortly thereafter, the second symposium, on accident resistant containers and transportation surety, was held October–November 1993 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. During a week of meetings, nearly 60 US and 25 Russian experts discussed weapons related safety and security issues without crossing the self-imposed boundary into sensitive subjects.

Snezhinsk symposium participants relax on the banks of Lake Silach after the end of formal discussions. Snezhinsk, October 1993

Snezhinsk symposium participants relax on the banks of Lake Silach after the end of formal discussions. Snezhinsk, October 1993

Second Surety Technology Symposium Joint Memorandum, November 1993

The Memorandum of the Meeting documented the general results and pointed towards future activities.
Group photo

Formal conference photograph for First Surety Technology Symposium. Snezhinsk, October 1993

The third in this series of symposia was hosted by VNIIEF during February 1994. The topics were focused on hazardous materials identification and handling and management and were addressed in 60 papers, with parallel poster sessions.

Third Surety Technology Symposium Program, February 1994

Third Surety Technology Symposium Participants, February 1994

Third Surety Technology Symposium Joint Memorandum, February 1994

The City Courier of Sarov about Third Surety Symposium, 29 January 1994

Article appearing in the Sarov City Courier of 29 January 1994 and describing the conduct of the Symposium.

A Curious Incident of the Dosimeter, a true episode captured in a story by Paul White

The fourth and final symposium, on high-explosives safety, was hosted by LLNL in Pleasanton, CA,  later in 1994. It was quite remarkable that within a span of a little more than one year, relations progressed from no discussions of nuclear weapons surety to four symposia with hundreds of weapons specialists discussing these important topics at each other’s sites.

Group of men in a gym.

An historic volleyball match between U.S. and Russian scientists. The American team at the beginning of the match. Sarov, February 1994

Tri-Valley Herald about fourth Surety Symposium, 21 April 1994 “We’d love them to apply the talk to the weapons”

From the time this series of surety workshops was first proposed in the spring of 1993, it was understood by both sides that the workshops were an interim measure, undertaken while governments deliberated a path to a more formal framework for more sensitive exchanges. This formal framework was eventually hammered out as the “Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Russian Federation on the Exchange of Technical Information in the Field of Nuclear Warhead Safety and Security,” known as WSSX. It was signed in Moscow on December 16, 1994, by Secretary of Energy Hazel R. O’Leary for the United States and Minister of Atomic Energy Mikhailov for the Russian Federation. The WSSX agreement entered into force on June 1, 1995.

Photo gallery for Surety Technology Symposia

Group of men in a gym.

The winning (Russian) team. Sarov, February 1994

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