The Beginnings of the American Lab-to-Lab Export Control Interactions

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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Arvid Lundy, Los Alamos National Laboratory (retired)


By late 1989 export control issues in the USSR and what was soon to become, unbeknownst to us, the Former Soviet Union (FSU) and Newly Independent States (NIS) had become a growing concern in the U.S. export control community. Export control advocates in the United States and a few other states including the UK were pushing for a new emphasis on control of dual-use commodities useful in both the production of weapons-usable fissile material and in actual design and building of nuclear weapons. A few states [certainly the United States (since 1978), the UK, and in a different fashion the USSR] were already controlling commodities in both of these areas. That being said, after the first Gulf War, the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) / IAEA launched a series of post-war Iraq inspections in April 1991, which almost immediately revealed startling failures of nuclear export controls by Germany, Switzerland, the UK, and the United States – as well as others. For example, one innovation in Iraq’s procurement network included the outright purchase of foreign supplier companies to circumvent the export control system.

Since there had never been an international agreement on export controls aimed at nuclear weaponization and that wasn’t covered by the IAEA’s charter, the UNSCOM immediately asked the five weapon states to each name a single technically competent individual to a committee to draw up the initial UNSCOM nuclear weaponization inspection list. The committee met at UN Headquarters in New York for one week between the first and second inspections and produced a list. This likely was the first time technical experts from all five weapon states had ever met together to discuss technical issues relating to weapon R&D and production. Vadim A. Simonenko from VNIITF was the USSR’s representative and I was the representative from the US. It was an interesting meeting with each of us being careful to adhere to our own country’s classification guidelines, which, it soon became apparent, were somewhat different. The next time Simonenko and I would meet would be at VNIITF on a more broadly applicable discussion of export control issues.

By the 1990, the United States began, not just talking about dual-use export controls, but also considering the possibility of a multi-national control arrangement. There was some involvement of laboratory specialists in meetings with a few close partner countries to discuss such a list. There was a sense that many of the adherents to the inactive Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) guidelines, including the USSR, might be interested in revitalization of the NSG and that it might be the vehicle for obtaining multi-national agreement for dual-use commodity controls on both the fuel-cycle and nuclear weaponization items.

In February 1991, the Netherlands hosted an informal meeting at The Hague, chaired by Carlton Thorne of the U.S. State Department and attended by 26 adherent countries, including the USSR, to discuss the revitalization of the NSG and the adoption of a dual-use list. Proposed guidelines and a list were shared, and a Dual-Use Working Group chaired by the United States (Thorne) was established. The group held a series of four weeklong meetings over the next nine months, culminating at a meeting in Interlaken, Switzerland in January 1992 where the Dual-Use Guidelines, a Memo of Understanding, and an Annex of equipment, materials, and related technology covering about 65 commodities were agreed to. There was a strong Los Alamos presence at all of these meetings as well as LLNL and Oak Ridge participation at most. There were also other technical delegations from many countries (the UK chaired the Technical Sub-group), but there was no technical participation from the USSR/Russia. It was represented by Foreign Ministry officials at all meetings.

Over the next three years the NSG proceeded to adopt technology controls relative to every item on both the dual-use and trigger lists, and to require defined full-scope safeguards as a condition of supply for every item on the Trigger List. All of this was considered an amazing accomplishment in such a short time and was likely driven by the combined shock of the Iraq nuclear revelations and the breakup of the USSR. I’ve gone through this somewhat lengthy introduction to indicate that nuclear export control was going through a period of significant rethinking and strengthening and that the USSR and Russia were part of the international strengthening process.

Concerns about the Former Soviet Union (FSU) States

The political and economic upheaval that followed the fall of the Soviet Union sparked widespread discussion about the risk of sale or theft of fissile material, or even an actual nuclear weapon. In the U.S. export control community, there was also concern about a less calamitous but still major proliferation threat – namely that the state-owned enterprises of the Former Soviet Union might sell, to proliferant countries, nuclear commodities, that should be under export control, in order to mitigate their deep financial crises. In addition, there was concern that design information and technological know-how that should be export controlled may be sold by individuals, and possibly transmitted via email, Internet or other developing electronic communications. International aid agreements with the new countries of the FSU stressed the importance of establishing effective export-control systems. These states had been on the “denied export” side of the Cold War COCOM controls, which covered a very wide range of goods desirable for both civil and military applications. Several having suffered under COCOM controls were eager to join the NSG so as to be on the side of the controller rather than the controlled. Russia already was a member of the NSG however and well understood that the analogy to COCOM was not correct.

The greatest proliferation concerns focused on Russia because it had the largest supply of fissile materials and nuclear weapons, as well as the largest manufacturing base for dual-use commodities. However, Russia had more experience with export control than other FSU countries, and it was already a member of both Zangger Committee and the NSG. This being said, asymmetries between the export control practices in Russia and the United States were cause for concern. For example, in the United States on an export case decision, it was not uncommon for more than one DOE lab to weigh in, as well as DOE Headquarters,[1], Defense, Commerce, State, Intelligence and even the White House – and to do it quickly. We had no sense of such coordination happening within Russia and I don’t think any of us had ever heard of an actual “Russian export license.” Did anyone in Russia, outside of a few high level Foreign Ministry and Minatom leaders, even know that Russia had pledged to control nuclear exports via their Zangger List and NSG participation? In the midst of all their other problems were they even concerned about nuclear proliferation in the world? And were there any enforcement provisions against illegal exports? How about actual export laws? These were some of the many questions that plagued the U.S. side, and they served as the driving force behind the lab-to-lab export control efforts.

First Steps

Export control appeared to be a stepchild compared to other U.S. government concerns about nuclear accountability that were getting attention from Congress and the executive branch. However, there was excellent intra-lab communication between the labs’ export specialists and between labs and the DOE export policy people. We all agreed that export control was important for us as well as for the rest of the world. I recall feeling like the concerns, whether valid or not, were pretty commonly shared but that no one quite knew where to start. There was much we would learn in our lab-to-lab export control efforts. We came very quickly to the realization that Russian culture was different from ours, and what we thought was the obvious way to do something could require a very different approach in their culture. Above all, we learned that Russians could be very friendly people and that interpersonal relationships were the key to getting things done.

In June 1993, the Nuclear Society International sponsored a meeting on the topic “First International Scientific Seminar; Scientists for Nuclear Arms Non-Proliferation,” hosted by the Russians on the Felix Dzerzhinsky riverboat on the Canal and Volga River between Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod. I received permission from DOE Headquarters to attend the meeting and to present a paper entitled “Some western perceptions of possible world nuclear proliferation problems caused by the breakup of the Soviet Union.” On the way to Moscow, I presented this paper at the Max Planck Institute in Munich and the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, outside of Moscow. I was given permission to present, with caveats, the estimated numbers of nuclear warheads in Russia and the United States that had recently been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. This created quite a stir with both audiences.

I was able to communicate U.S. concerns about export controls to both audiences. However, the audience I truly hoped to reach was still ahead on the Felix Dzerzhinsky.[2] The meeting was attended by a fairly large number of participants from the Kurchatov Institute, and from VNIIEF. Individuals from a few other Russian facilities and from other countries including South Korea and the UK also participated.

As in the beginning of most lab-to-lab collaborations, the inception of export control efforts was not without some opposition and contention. About a third of the way through my talk, a man in the audience stood up, pointed his finger at me, and began yelling at me in Russian, then turned and motioned for the audience to follow him as he walked out the door to the deck. Nobody followed him. At the end of my talk I was finally told that he was calling me “a capitalist pig who was trying to keep Russia from its rightful place in world markets and that I should not be listened to.” Immediately an elderly British woman stood up and said I might not be a capitalist pig but being from Los Alamos I was definitely a threat to world peace and should not be listened to! At this point, someone else I didn’t know stood up and introduced himself as Mark Hibbs from McGraw Hill Europe and Nucleonics Week. He proceeded to give a rousing defense of Los Alamos, export controls and of me in particular.

With the conversation back on track, there followed a fairly lengthy question and answer period discussing how American companies dealt with export controls and the process for issuing a license. Several on the Russian side expressed reluctance regarding export control before they had developed some global markets. As my paper was the last paper in an evening session, we then retreated to the deck to admire the passing countryside (it was light until very late) and share some food and drink.

The boat trip and meeting continued for a couple more days, and we had many conversations with different attendees but especially with Vladimir Shmelev from the Kurchatov Institute. Nobody else, least of all the VNIIEF people, seemed interested in export control issues, but Shmelev immediately had grasped the importance of nuclear export controls for the world. He had spent a few years in Vienna at the IAEA.[3] He also had been one of the original reactor operators who put the first nuclear power station on the grid at the Institute of Physics and Power Engineering (IPPE) in Obninsk, and he was very proud of that achievement. He asked if there was any chance DOE would fund efforts on export control at the Kurchatov Institute. I told Shmelev that I would explore the possibility. One thing that I didn’t fully understand at the time was that the Kurchatov Institute was a separate federal research center, not under Minatom. This had both advantages and disadvantages for us as regards supporting export control work there. The Kurchatov Institute could identify many non-MINATOM facilities that manufactured dual-use commodities, but we urgently needed to get export awareness into MINATOM facilities.

In July 1994, we received five visitors from the Kurchatov Institute at DOE Headquarters in Washington, followed by a visit to Los Alamos. Visitors included Alexander Gavrishin, Gennadi Grigoriev, Yuri Ostroumov, Vladimir Shmelev, and Vladimir Sukhoruchkin. We negotiated several export control related tasks to support development of the Russian export control system. These tasks included [1] design and implementation of software for a computerized export case processing system; [2] translation of the NSG related Handbook for the Nuclear Suppliers Group Dual-Use Annex into Russian; and [3] to identify Russian producers of commodities on the NSG trigger and dual-use lists.

It took some time to actually get these tasks started but I believe this was the first contract for lab-to-lab export control-related work that DOE funded in Russia. The Handbook for the Nuclear Suppliers Group Dual-Use Annex was being written jointly by the Oak Ridge and Los Alamos national laboratories for the English speaking NSG members to help identify shipments of dual-use items and give some background on the reasons for their control. This was a fairly large (~350 pages) book with color photographs showing what the commodities looked like, how they were shipped, and an unclassified rationale for their control. I remember being quite impressed when I saw the stacks of the Russian version of the handbook ready for distribution in 1997. The computerized export case processing software ended up being installed at IPPE/Obninsk and then at Minatom headquarters and VNIITF.

In October 1994, the Second International Scientific Seminar: “Scientists for Nuclear Arms Nonproliferation” sponsored by the Nuclear Society International was held at the Moscow Country Club. Bill Sutcliff from LLNL and Gene Taylor and I from Los Alamos attended. I gave a paper written jointly with Trisha Dedik from DOE Headquarters on “Export Controls and Technical Review of Export License Cases.” We also received quite an extensive tour of the research facilities at the Kurchatov Institute, but we did not meet any Minatom people interested in export control.

In retrospect, we were ready to start cooperation at least two years before we found the right opening at Minatom. We had not been successful in getting cooperation from Minatom or any Minatom facility. We seemed unable to find people within Minatom with any concern for export control. To be fair, Minatom was in desperate economic straits and could not pay its salaries – why would it be eager to restrict exports? Minatom was huge: ten closed cities and over 1,000,000 people. With some facilities getting less than 10% of their normal budgets, they were desperate for funds and exporting had to be attractive. Could central control even be maintained with such a lack of funds?

Doors Open at Minatom

In May 1996, Nuclear Society Russia and the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management sponsored a conference in Moscow on “Nonproliferation and Safeguards of Nuclear Materials in Russia.” Ann Cernicek (Los Alamos) presented a paper co-authored with Tess Oxenstierna from DOE Headquarters. Ken Cross and Lina Ravina from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and I also attended. After the conference, the three of us visited IPPE to explore developing export control collaborations with Minatom institutes, which until that time had proven very difficult. Lena, who grew up in Russia and worked for several years at the IPPE, was enormously helpful in developing good working relations with IPPE. Deputy Director, Vladimir Chitaykin, was enthusiastic about developing cooperation on export control. He also thought that Minatom Headquarters would be supportive. I stressed the need to involve VNIIEF or VNIITF as only they would have the expertise needed to review certain license requests. He was optimistic about that as well. We were greatly encouraged by the reception at IPPE and their enthusiasm in working together.

Shortly afterward Minatom designated IPPE and VNIITF as the primary laboratories within Minatom for export control technical assistance in the Minatom complex. Under DOE direction, Oak Ridge rather quickly established a contract with IPPE, and somewhat later LLNL established a contract with VNIITF. Large joint workshops on export control issues were held at IPPE in February and June of 1997 with Oak Ridge, LLNL, and Los Alamos experts present. Carl Thorne, who retired from the State Department where he had done so much for the development of international nuclear export controls while in the State Department, joined the team as a representative of DOE Headquarters. Thorne was able to clarify the meaning of articles in the NSG and Zangger lists, explain the obligations of states under the guidelines, and was an excellent person to fully explain the workings of the international system to newcomers. The U.S. side gave many presentations on our best practices, procedures, and experiences in implementing nuclear export controls, stressing need for the participation of technically competent people.

I remember the optimism that pervaded the atmosphere of these workshops despite significant concerns about the pace of progress. We were now working with a team of people that were competent and understood the issues and need for export controls. However, it was just the beginning, and nothing had yet changed within the Minatom facilities.

It was the interpersonal connections made in these workshops, however, that assured us that our work would bear fruit. Vadim Ptashny from VNIITF, for example, had an enthusiastic, commanding presence from the start. One afternoon, the U.S. side expressed concern that we were not making progress fast enough in the workshop and requested an evening session. When we reconvened after dinner, Vadim requested a few minutes at the start. He walked up, pulled a curtain aside revealing a piano, sat down at the piano, and overwhelmed us with a short solo concert that was both calming and energizing! He also was eager to host a meeting at VNIITF. He told us that ideally when it was held we should drive the 1,850 km distance from Moscow to Snezhinsk, the home of VNIITF, just east of the Urals – and he was serious! He was well known for often driving when he needed to go to Moscow and told us of the wonderful countryside and rural Russian people we would see and meet.

On our side, George Anzelon from LLNL also made an especially good impression in that he was learning Russian and was at a stage where he liked to practice it. Ken Cross was also well liked. At one point Ken got in a discussion with some Russians about titanium, and he lamented about it being too expensive for common consumer goods. They told him that wasn’t really true at least not in MINATOM and at our next meeting they presented him with a full-sized titanium snow shovel! Though these anecdotes seem in some ways inconsequential compared to the high stakes work of nuclear export control, these humanizing moments brought technical experts together on common ground, instilled confidence in our counterparts from across the world, and invigorated us with the knowledge that, despite our differences, we were united under one mission.

Summing Up

When we finally convened the first export control meeting at VNIITF in October 1998, we discussed what should be covered in a Nuclear Nonproliferation Course for policy makers. DOE and the labs had been running such a course for years, and we had shared some of the content with visiting Russians. They liked the idea of such a course for Minatom managers, and they presented a draft version of their proposed nuclear weapon fundamentals talk. In discussing the energy release of a nuclear weapon, they compared it to what they said was a well-known high explosive accident in Russia where an entire train – with every car carrying high explosive — had detonated, and how many hundreds of such trains would be required to equal the magnitude of one nuclear weapon release. John Kammerdiener, a nuclear weapon designer at Los Alamos, and I had developed a similar weapons fundamentals lecture but didn’t have such a good comparison for the magnitude of explosive yield. I went back and got a good picture of the devastation of the Murrah Building bombing in Oklahoma City (at that point the worst terrorist bombing the United States had experienced) and calculated the yield from the ammonium nitrate bomb in the Ryder rental truck as 0.0015 kilotons. I showed a few ground level photos of Hiroshima and pointed out to get the Hiroshima energy release from Ryder truck bombs would require over 8000 trucks and parked bumper to bumper the line would be over 40 miles long. We have gotten a lot comments about that comparison – a really graphic comparison that nuclear weapons really are in a different class. I tell this story to illustrate that idea transfer wasn’t just one-way. We got good ideas from the Russians.

Vadim Ptashny was even more inspiring on his home turf. Very energetic, he moved the meetings along well and built in some sightseeing and relaxation too. One afternoon, we went to VNIITF’s guesthouse out in the forest and were shown the monument to their anti-aircraft rocket forces who in 1960 had shot down Francis Gary Power’s U2 spy plane as it approached to photograph their laboratory! We then had dinner and a sauna in the guesthouse though most of us declined the ice water immersion after the sauna. The next night Vadim had all the Americans and his key staff to his home for dinner and to meet his family and to play more piano for us.

Vadim’s passing in 1999 was a huge loss to the program for both sides, but reading Novikov’s report, it’s clear that they regrouped and accomplished much in his absence. I’m very impressed reading the report of all that has been accomplished. The United States went through a similar process although spread over more years. Russia appears to have built a strong base for understanding how the availability of new technologies challenges export controls.

However, export controls require constant vigilance because these challenges are never ending. New technologies and derived commodities are developed that need control, or new technologies and derived commodities are developed that have such wide application and low cost that control is not feasible, and these same new technologies may replace older technologies so that control of the older technology and commodity no longer makes sense. Export control feasibility is always a balancing act between the magnitude and importance of non-sensitive civil uses and the criticality of sensitive military use. The changing civilian commercial world must be understood as well as the weapon-related nuclear world. Another problem can be that classified information leaks make simpler but non-obvious ways of doing something “well known” such that protection of the older required commodities no longer makes sense. Because nuclear export control demands international cooperation, it is essential that knowledgeable weapon states have technical experts present when the NSG or Zangger list modifications are discussed. With advancing technology and leakage of design information, nuclear export control will gradually have lesser and lesser control impact on basic nuclear weapon development, but it will remain strong. And the first indication of a proliferant nuclear weapons program is often an attempt to obtain commodities on one of the control lists.

I have provided a personal perspective of how American technical specialists supported the U.S. government’s efforts to help Russia build an effective export control system. The articles by M. Novikov of VNIITF and L.A. Kochankov and V.S. Kostrykin of VNIIEF, specialists from the two Russian nuclear weapon design institutes. demonstrate the effectiveness of these efforts. I believe that together we helped to ensure a safer and more secure world.

ATTACHMENT: Attendees at the 1st Joint Russian / US VNIITF Meeting on Export Control Cooperation

Table 1. US Participants

George Anzalon Jared DuFresne
Ken Cross Lina Ravina, Interpretor
Jennifer Reichert Arvid Lundy
Jim Munroe LLNL
LLNL OR Laboratories
OR Laboratories ANL

Table 2. Principal VNIITF Participants

Viktor S. Mamontov Head of Export Control Laboratory
Vadim D. Ptashny Principal Investigator
Edward V. Moiseenko Nuclear Testing Expert
Vladislav I. Tarzhanov High Explosives Expert
Vladimir P. Bulanov Nuclear weapons Manufacturing
Alexey N. Startsev Physicist/Computers
Sergei A. Sentyakov Weaponization Expert
Arkadiy S. Loganov Security
Mikhail Yu. Novikov Deputy Head Export Control Lab

Table 3. Participants from IPPE

Nikolai Shevchenko Export Control Laboratory
Vladimir Khabarov Export Control Laboratory
Gennadiy Pshakin MPC&A Program

Table 4. Other Attendees from VNIITF

Evgeny N. Avrorin Vladimir N. Ananyichuk Sergey G. Andreev
Ivan N. Astakhov Mikhail I. Avramenko Anatoly I. Balamutin
Ramil’ R. Bayturin Vyacheslav N. Belov Berta N. Boltneva
Vladimir P. Bulanov Vladimir Y. Bushuev Evgeny F. Chuikov
Arkady A. Isupov Marina E. Kotegova Yury I. Kuznetsov
Vladimir B. Litvinov Nikolay G. Mikhal’kov Oleg M. Mamayusupov
Tatyana N. Petrovtseva Gennady V. Orlov Oleg A. Perushkin
Vladimir P. Ratnikov Valentina M. Prikhod’ko Dmitry L. Rublyov
Valery A. Savin Valery I. Rod’kin Vadim A. Simonenko
Vladislav N. Smirnov Mikhail S. Starostin Andrey A. Ustselemov
Vadim I. Stepanov Vladimir G. Subbotin Rodion I. Voznyuk
Alexey S. Titarenko Sergey V. Urusov Ivan N. Zagorodnov

Table 5. Attendees from Other Russian Organizations

Yury O. Al’zhev MINATOM, Moscow
Marina P. Belyaeva MINATOM, Moscow
Vladimir N. Voloschuk MINATOM, Moscow
Mikhail I. Tymonyk VEK RF, Moscow
Andrey V. Shelukhin Mayak (Ozersk)
Igor V. Yurin Mayak (Ozersk)
Yury N. Denisenko Lesnoy
Nikolay V. Kolodyazhny Seversk
Vladimir N. Vyachin VNIIEF
Vladimir S. Kostrykin VNIIEF
Vladimir I. Dyachenko Avangard, Sarov
Sergey V. Berdnykov Zelenogorsk
Alexander F. Rogozin Trekhgorny
Andrey A. Zolotov Snezhinsk Customs
Sergey V. Berdnykov Snezhinsk Customs
Irina V. Shubina Snezhinsk (Interpreter)
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