The Global Partnership and Submarine Dismantlement

Cristina Chuen
June 8, 2004

The Global Partnership and Submarine Dismantlement: Russian Cruise Missile Submarine Being Dismantled

Russian Cruise Missile Submarine Being Dismantled, Source: WikiMedia Commons

On June 8-10, 2004 the G8 (the seven major industrial countries: France, the United States, Britain, Germany, Japan, Italy, and Canada, also known as the G7, plus Russia) will hold its annual meeting in Sea Island, Georgia. One of the main points of discussion at this year’s meeting will be measures to halt and reverse the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. One such program is the G8’s own effort to fund nonproliferation projects, entitled the Global Partnership against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction. The Global Partnership was initiated at the G8 summit in Kananaskis, Canada on June 27, 2002, and commits members to raising up to $20 billion over 10 years to fund nonproliferation projects. The dismantlement of nuclear-powered submarines in Russia was identified as one of the priority areas for the Partnership. The following report outlines the current state of dismantlement efforts and recommendations for the Global Partnership countries involved. (1)

Russia’s nuclear-powered submarines and their fuel pose serious environmental and security risks. The most severe include the risk of proliferation of materials that could be used in the creation of nuclear devices or radiation dispersal devices (also known as “dirty bombs”). In the past decade, the United States has spent approximately $1 billion to eliminate nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines and improve the security of sites where nuclear warheads and fresh and spent nuclear fuel are stored. As part of this aid, Washington has also provided equipment to scrap submarines in Murmansk, Severodvinsk, and Bolshoy Kamen, much of which can now be used to dismantle general purpose nuclear-powered submarines. Nevertheless, Russia estimates that $4.5 billion more will be needed to eliminate all nuclear submarines and handle related nuclear and radioactive materials.

In the past year, very substantial commitments have been made to assist Russia in dismantling its decommissioned, general-purpose nuclear-powered submarines and in handling related nuclear and radioactive waste. For example, Italy has pledged $441 million, and a substantial part of France’s $890 million Global Partnership pledge has been earmarked for naval projects. Several countries have begun implementing their projects: The dismantlement of a few Northern Fleet submarines with funds from Norway and the United Kingdom has already begun, and both nations are helping clean up radioactive contamination and increase security at sites on Northwest Russia’s Kola Peninsula. Dismantlement of one submarine in the Russian Far East with Japanese funding is nearing completion. Germany, which has committed $367 million in the naval sphere for 2003-2008, is refurbishing the Nerpa Shipyard so that reactors, now temporarily stored in floating units (consisting of the reactor compartment and two adjacent compartments), can be prepared for long-term storage in a new land-based facility at nearby Sayda Bay. Berlin is also funding construction of this reactor storage facility, which will begin in July. The first reactors are scheduled to enter long-term storage in fall 2005. In its turn, Canada is close to concluding an agreement with Russia on submarine dismantlement and other related projects.

The commitments that have been made are clearly steps in the right direction, but more must be done to ensure that dismantlement assistance programs are successful. In particular, there is a need for increased coordination, task prioritization, and attention to potential bottlenecks and security risks. Consultations with Russian environmental regulators, particularly where current regulations and oversight are unclear, would also help ensure program success and reduce the likelihood of contradictions between various national assistance programs. Finally, as there are critical tasks that are not yet being undertaken, there is also a need for additional commitments, particularly in the Russian Pacific, where vulnerabilities are as great as in Russia’s northwest but have received far less attention. At the end of this report, some suggestions are made regarding fair burden-sharing.

Coordination Issues

In the past year, several donor countries voiced concerns about coordination of assistance projects in the naval sphere. Although the problem is receiving a great deal of attention, it is not yet clear that dismantlement efforts will be sufficiently coordinated at all levels. At present, high-level discussions on coordinating submarine assistance occur at multiple fora, including meetings of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Contact Expert Group, the Nuclear Operations Committee of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development’s Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership (NDEP), the Multilateral Nuclear Environmental Program in the Russian Federation (MNEPR) Committee, as well as under the auspices of the G8 itself (the G8 recently added a new body at the deputy foreign ministry level, called the Senior Group, to deal with proliferation; the Senior Group has three subcommittees: the Nonproliferation Expert Group, Nuclear Safety and Security Group, and a new organization – the Global Partnership Working Group – to address project implementation issues). (2)

A general division of responsibilities has resulted from these meetings, and given donor countries increasing opportunities to learn from each other. However, more must be done to ensure that all critical needs are met: one must keep in mind that the Global Partnership is a ten-year effort, and as such will span several administrations in various member nations. What will happen if a new political party wins a national election? The new administration will need time and assistance to understand how to handle its assistance projects; some new administrations might decide to alter their national programs, or not approve them at all. Each nation should try to push through its domestic implementing legislation as quickly as possible. But other partners should be prepared for all possible eventualities, and work out how to maintain critical projects if one donor reduces its involvement.

A single forum where projects could be coordinated in detail would also help promote program success. As many projects have yet to commence (but are likely to begin in the very near future), most practical problems remain in the future. As program realization picks up, it is extremely important that partners share information, to avoid duplication or gaps and develop best practices. Russia itself should also help bring these projects together, by instructing its facilities to point out gaps and overlaps and share information with partners. In addition, Moscow should be sure that its bilateral agreements with donors allow their contractors to share information with others working in the same area, ensuring that secrecy provisions protect facilities without harming cooperative efforts.

In the Russian Northwest, the most promising venue for coordinating assistance is probably the Nuclear Operations Committee. It is willing to take on this task and has the necessary operational expertise and experience. Even more importantly, it is currently funding the creation of a Strategic Master Plan for Northwest Russia, which is supposed to detail the state of all relevant facilities in the region and their needs, analyze relevant legal and regulatory frameworks, and identify high-priority tasks. The Energy Safety Analysis Center, a division of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Nuclear Safety Institute, together with the Kurchatov Institute and NIKIET (the R&D Institute of Power Engineering of the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy) are already working on the first phase of this plan, which is to be completed by the end of August 2004. (Although current bureaucratic restructuring in Russia is likely to cause delays.)

However, the Nuclear Operations Committee solution has several drawbacks. First, it is limited to Northwest Russia. There are no current plans to expand to the Russian Far East, or draw up a “master plan” for that region, something that is sorely needed. Second, Japan, Italy, and the United States – the latter the most significant assistance provider – are not NDEP members. However, the Committee expects Italy to join shortly, and has invited the United States and Japan to participate as well. While the Committee is unlikely to be given any powers of oversight, which could make decisionmaking excessively bureaucratic in any event, it could serve as a coordinator, informing members of possible gaps or overlaps between projects, and facilitating information sharing. Indeed, given the great amount of experience the United States has accumulated in working with Russia in the submarine sphere, it would be helpful to have a US presence in the NDEP, even if Washington is not directly contributing to any of the NDEP projects. Finally, NDEP members counting on using the Nuclear Operations Committee to coordinate must be active participants in the coordination process, particularly before a full Strategic Plan for Northwest Russia has been completed. If the plan is delayed, or if it omits critical information, much discussion and openness between donors will be needed to make up for the lack of information on Moscow’s part.

Even with improved top-level coordination, it remains critical that projects be coordinated on the ground level. It is impossible for high-level decisionmakers to know the details of each project, and know if there are any synergies that might exist with another project at a nearby location. There has already been one minor case of duplication in 2004, where two countries installed similar equipment, although only one set of equipment was needed. Even though the sums of money involved were not large, such practices waste precious time, effort, and money. Worse yet, duplication may lead to negative political consequences for assistance programs. If project managers are able to share information with each other, this case will not have to be repeated.

Coordination is equally critical to ensure that no bottlenecks arise. Each donor country must make certain those who carry out their projects have been instructed to actively seek out and share information with project managers from all other countries undertaking projects in nearby locations. Such sharing of information is already occurring at many sites, but not everywhere, although it is the best way to avoid duplication in the near term. Both on-site coordination and coordination at a higher level are critical for the success of international assistance efforts in the naval sphere.

Task Prioritization

Russia has identified submarine dismantlement as a national priority, and recent statements suggest that Moscow views its decommissioned nuclear navy as both an environmental and a security hazard. The latter is a recent development: Russia had previously viewed the problem as chiefly an environmental issue. Although the documents that founded the Global Partnership, signed in Kananaskis, do not mention physical protection, for several donors this is their chief concern due to terrorist worries. The efficient use of resources is also important to most donors. Thus, Russia’s own prioritization of tasks within the dismantlement area may not always reflect donor priorities.

The guidelines for the NDEP Strategic Master Plan mention prioritizing projects “with a focus on safety for personnel, public and environment.” Clearly, this is a focus that should not be overlooked, and there are tasks that must be urgently taken on to avoid related tragedies. Security and efficiency issues, however, may sometimes conflict with safety considerations, or the urge by foreign donors to take on those tasks that are easiest first. The most critical example in the naval assistance sphere has to do with spent nuclear fuel (SNF). Nuclear fuel assemblies are very difficult to remove from a submarine, and therefore quite secure before they are unloaded. From the point of view of security, all unloaded SNF should be secured before further defueling. As for efficiency, the order in which projects are undertaken is critical to meeting overall goals as quickly and cheaply as possible. Such planning might mean, for instance, that several projects are scheduled in a row, using the same equipment at the same site, instead of constructing multiple facilities to simultaneously undertake similar tasks. It may also be better to delay the dismantling of submarines that are in no danger of sinking – the sort of submarines that are currently being scrapped, in most cases – until Germany’s construction of long-term storage facilities for dismantled Northern Fleet reactors has been completed and a similar facility is constructed in the Russian Far East. Otherwise, the reactors cannot be cut out when dismantling submarines, and instead have to be maintained in short-term floating storage made up of large, three-compartment sections, until a long-term solution is ready. Such poor planning creates a need for extra towing, special heavy-duty cranes, and other equipment that might never be needed if projects are undertaken in a more logical sequence. Current dismantlement practices do not do enough to increase security or safety, while they increase costs and extend the overall timetable. Some dismantlement money should be shifted to securing SNF, site rehabilitation, and construction of reactor storage in the Russian Pacific, thus increasing short-term security and long-run efficiency.

Potential Gaps and Bottlenecks

At present, since many donor countries have yet to complete their selections of concrete projects, it is not clear if gaps will remain (such as the security issue, mentioned above) or if bottlenecks may arise. In addition to coordinating projects to avoid bottlenecks, donors should make provisions for what will happen if some projects are slowed down or do not even get started. Some tasks are critical to the success of other endeavors. It is important that Global Partnership donors make certain that their national assistance programs move forward from promises to action. It may also make sense to include some provisions to assist in critical projects if they are threatened with delays.

Security Risks: Spent Fuel and Radioisotope Thermal Generators

The security of sensitive materials should be a priority of all involved in the Global Partnership. Much has been done at Russian naval sites to upgrade nuclear materials protection, both by Russia itself and through the MPC&A program of the US Department of Energy. Nevertheless, there is more that can and should be done. While projects to secure fresh nuclear fuel have been completed, more attention should be paid to spent nuclear fuel storage, since this fuel too is highly enriched and could be a target of those who wish to construct nuclear weapons or radioactive dispersal devices. Storage at on-land facilities like Andreyeva Bay and Gremikha (in the North) and Sysoyeva Bay and Rybachiy (in the Pacific), as well as spent fuel on service vessels, is much less safe and secure than fuel in submarines awaiting dismantlement. In addition, SNF is presently stored at shipyards and at Atomflot, Russia’s nuclear-powered icebreaker base (located near the city of Murmansk, where fresh and spent nuclear icebreaker fuel, as well as SNF from submarines defueled at Nerpa Shipyard, is stored). Finally, such fuel is periodically transported to far-off Mayak, in the Urals, for reprocessing. Before donors undertake new projects, therefore, they should be certain that all new work will increase the security of nuclear materials and not add to existing risks, even temporarily. The Strategic Master Plan should help in this regard, but only if donors make certain to examine carefully how their projects fit in with other ones. While Russia will certainly try to “take up the slack” where there are gaps not filled by donor projects, it is incumbent upon all to ensure that gaps do not become too numerous, or that Russia becomes unable to close them in a timely fashion. Priority attention must be given to security issues, along with safety.

Though not strictly related to nuclear submarines, there is an additional security risk found on Russia’s shores: nearly 1,000 navigational beacons powered by radioisotope thermal generators (or RTGs) running on Strontium-90. Each generator has a radioactivity level of around 40,000 curies, making them some of the most powerful radioactive sources in the world. This material could be used to make a radiological dispersal device (or “dirty bomb”), and is far more vulnerable than most of the material at Russian naval sites (most RTGs have no physical protection of any kind and are easily accessible by sea, while the highly radioactive material is shielded in a structure that is relatively easy to transport). Norway and the United States have programs to remove this radioactive material, but at the current rate it will take many years to eliminate 1,000 RTGs. In addition, the Norwegian program to remove RTGs is temporarily on hold (though the installation of new solar-powered lighthouses to replace RTG-powered beacons continues), as Norway waits for new environmental impact assessments related to removals. Oslo is particularly concerned about Moscow’s plan to transport the RTGs using helicopters; several RTGs have been dropped from helicopters in the past. Canada, which has been coordinating closely with Norway and the United States, is expected to announce assistance in this area in the very near future, while France has indicated it is interested in removing RTGs near the Gremikha site, where French assistance will be concentrated. As of yet, no RTGs have been removed in the Pacific, although many are in particularly accessible, unguarded locations. According to Japanese Foreign Ministry sources, Moscow has not requested Tokyo’s assistance in this area. This may be because Moscow is focusing on other on-going discussions. Yet, it is critical that RTG removal be accelerated, lest this vulnerable material find its way into the wrong hands.

Environmental Oversight and Sustainability

Global Partnership projects in the nuclear sphere all face environmental risks. It is important that experience in reducing these risks be shared among the parties involved. To date, there is no apparent coordination of Global Partnership requirements for environmental impact assessments. While Russia certainly has its own regulatory requirements, and these must be fulfilled, donor countries may have additional requirements. Developing standard assessment requirements across the countries would facilitate cooperation among donor countries and make certain that differing requirements do not result in a competition among Russian enterprises for those assistance projects with less burdensome requirements. The NDEP is about to commence a project entitled the Strategic Environmental Assessment, as part of the EBRD’s environmental due diligence, on Northwest Russia. This could serve as a model for due diligence on other programs, and should help set a standard for public disclosure and consultation. It should be welcomed and supported by all Global Partnership nations involved in naval projects. All projects involving foreign donors should have environmental assessments before they commence.

In addition, there continues to be some confusion over which Russian agency is overseeing the environment at locations that have been transferred from the Russian Navy to Minatom subsidiaries SevRAO (at Andreyeva and Gremikha in Murmansk region) and DalRAO (at Sysoyeva in Primorye and Vilyuchinsk, Kamchatka). The Russian Defense Ministry’s nuclear safety inspectorate does not appear to be actively overseeing these sites, despite the fact that the civilian nuclear inspectorate has not taken over oversight. In fact, the level of oversight at Defense Ministry facilities has been questioned by some foreign project managers as well. The Russian government should address these issues, making certain that responsibilities are clear and that there is real oversight at all of its facilities. In the meanwhile, however, donor nations must pay particular attention to environmental concerns in order to avoid unforeseen problems. Therefore, they should engage the Russian civilian nuclear regulatory authority (until recently known as Gosatomnadzor, soon to become part of the Federal Service for Environmental, Technological, and Atomic Supervision) as a consultant, even where it does not have oversight authority. This has been done by Sweden in several of its projects. Involving the former Gosatomnadzor would have the additional benefit of strengthening its role, and aiding future sustainability; the service is likely to be given authority over sites that have been transferred from the navy in the long run.

What Is To Be Done?

The Global Partnership is expected to expand its roster of both donors and recipients at the Sea Island summit. Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, South Korea, and Spain have been mentioned as possible additional members, while New Zealand has already announced its intention to join. Since there are many unmet needs that remain in the area of submarine dismantlement assistance, these countries should be called upon to share these burdens. In addition, current Global Partnership members should be sure that they are contributing their fair share. For instance, in April a senior US official reportedly said that Washington hoped Japan would contribute another $1.3 billion to the Global Partnership, in order to make contributions that match the size of its economy. (3) There has been a dearth of assistance in the Pacific, home to Japan and several potential new Global Partnership members. The United States has made security upgrades, supplied equipment for and taken apart ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), and provided facilities to handle the spent fuel and radioactive waste generated by SSBN dismantlement. With Congressional approval, the US Department of Energy could extend safety and security work it is doing in the North under the AMEC program to the Pacific, where such assistance is sorely needed. Japan has provided a liquid radioactive waste processing facility at Bolshoy Kamen, is paying to dismantle one nuclear attack submarine in the Pacific, and has begun discussing dismantlement of a second submarine and possible construction of a land-based reactor storage facility in the Pacific, among other projects. But much remains to be done. Security upgrades remain critical, while construction of the reactor storage facility should not be delayed.

The Expenditures on Submarine Dismantlement¬†Table details the funding already allocated to submarine-related projects in Russia. It shows that Moscow and Washington have expended the majority of the funds so far (the US numbers include weapons dismantlement, while the Russian numbers do not). The Current Global Partnership Commitments in the Naval Sphere Table relates the commitments made by Global Partnership members and comments on the prospects for programs to begin. The Submarine Dismantlement Funding Needs Proposed Solutions Table outlines the needs in the Russian North and Pacific and offers suggestions as to how to fulfill unmet needs. While the sums are not small, they reflect what is necessary to get this job done. Russia itself is best suited to take on the most difficult tasks, in part due to liability issues related to these projects. However, Moscow has indicated that without foreign funding it cannot complete all submarine-related tasks as quickly as the risk demands. More assistance, and the best use of the money already being provided, is needed. At the end of this report, there is a graph showing the current proportion of total moneys being provided by each nation involved in the naval sphere, and another graph illustrating the percentages of Russia’s total needs that various countries have committed to funding. Even if Moscow itself continues to spend about $70 million per year on the naval sphere, and some US assistance moneys are spent in this area (for instance, on physical protection or the handling of spent fuel), this will meet only 30% of Russian needs. Other partners’ commitments will cover an additional 47% of the needs in this area. This leaves 23% of the needs unmet. It is critical that new donors commit to helping in this area, and existing donors consider increasing their commitments. If Russia’s problems are not tackled soon, the consequences and resulting expenses will be far more daunting.

Summary of Conclusions

  • Coordination of donor assistance is needed. Project managers should be given clear instructions to share information with relevant parties. Officials at the highest levels should ensure that such sharing is not restricted in overarching agreements. In addition, a venue for overall coordination is needed: the EBRD Nuclear Operations Committee could serve in this capacity for projects in Northwest Russia. A “master plan” is needed for projects in the Russian Far East, to allow integration of new donors, and help countries identify new tasks they may be willing to undertake. Coordination and planning is critical so that gaps and bottlenecks can be minimized. Since only a few projects have begun at most locations, coordination issues do not yet loom large. However, they must be anticipated in order to be avoided.
  • Tasks must be prioritized, with spent fuel security made a top concern. Proper sequencing of projects can improve security while providing efficiency gains. Since spent nuclear fuel contains highly enriched uranium and plutonium that could be used for a nuclear devise, more must be done to ensure that it is neither stolen nor diverted. This material is most vulnerable when it is not onboard a submarine – therefore, physical protection of ship-board and onshore spent fuel storage sites deserves more attention.
  • The Strontium-90 used to power nearly 1,000 Russian navigational beacons is highly radioactive, and could be used to make a powerful radiological dispersal device. Since these beacons are generally portable, accessible by sea, and have no physical security measures in place, they should be removed as soon as possible.
  • In order to ensure that assistance programs are successful and safety measures are sustained into the future, Russia’s partners should turn use Russia’s civilian nuclear safety inspectorate as a consultant for assistance projects. The use of standard environmental assessment requirements by all donor countries would also facilitate cooperation among these countries, and make certain that different terms do not lead to a preference for projects with less burdensome requirements.
  • Additional funding is required in order to scrap Russia’s nuclear submarines and make its spent nuclear fuel and radioactive wastes safe and secure in a timely fashion. All countries should do their fair share. However, success should be measured not by funds transferred but by real achievements on the ground. Only if all countries, including Russia, keep the public informed of the progress of Global Partnership projects, is the public likely to support these projects.

Notes

(1) Based on a study by CNS Senior Research Associate Cristina Chuen, with comments by CNS Deputy Director Clay Moltz. Funding provided by the Nuclear Threat Initiative. This is a preliminary draft: the final report will be completed in late August. The study uses open source materials only. Ms. Chuen has also conducted interviews via telephone and e-mail with officials from the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy, US Departments of State, Energy and Defense, Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority, Japanese Foreign Ministry, France’s Technicatome, Swedish Nuclear Power Inspectorate, United Kingdom Ministry of Trade and Industry, and European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, and experts in the field.
(2) Interview of US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton, Global Partnership Update, No. 4 (May 2004), p.3, www.sgpproject.org.
(3) “US Wants $1.3 Bil. from Japan to Help Russia Dismantle Weapons,” Kyodo, April 14, 2004; in RANSAC Nuclear News, May 4, 2004, www.ransac.org.

Comments Are Closed