Lugar Legislation Package Could Spearhead Decommissioning of Non-Strategic Subs

Publish date: November 24, 2002

Written by: Charles Digges

In what could signal a sweeping mandate expansion for the Nunn-Lugar programme, Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) will be drafting legislation to allow the 10-year-old non-proliferation effort to decommission non-strategic nuclear submarines in Russia, a policy advisor from Lugar's office said this week.

The authority to deal with the non-strategic — or so-called general-purpose — submarines would be granted by a legislative package that envisions Nunn-Lugar’s expansion beyond the securing and decommissioning of only those weapons in the former Soviet Union (FSU) deemed to be a threat to the United States.

This would include the inventorying and destroying of tactical nuclear weapons; the shutdown and dismantlement of certain kinds of nuclear reactors; the searching for and destruction of radioactive battery systems used during Soviet times as power sources in remote areas, but now long orphaned by the government agencies responsible for them; the establishment of a central authority to coordinate US non-proliferation efforts, and the export of Nunn-Lugar programmes to other countries who wish to eliminate their own weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Mark Helmke, a policy advisor to Sen. Lugar, told Bellona Web in a telephone interview from Washington.

The unprecedented expansion is also intended as a spur to pledges made by G-8 nations last June at a summit in Canada to commit a combined $20bn over the next 10 years — the so-called "ten plus ten over ten" plan — to assist Russia in securing and eliminating its stockpile of Cold War nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, which many in the United States government consider to be the number one threat to world security.

The bill would hit the floor of Congress by summer in the form of a formal foreign assistance bill — which offers tighter policy strings for money spent and has a better than average chance of passing with Senator Lugar back as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, after a 15-year hiatus and a fresh crop of Republicans in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

"We will educate the new initiates to the foreign relations committee and they will get excited about the programme… and they will understand the idea that national security begins in Russia because of all the materials there," said Helmke.

But crucial to the re-ignition and expansion of Nunn-Lugar in the United States, Helmke asserted, is the participation of Europe.

"What would help the expansion of Nunn-Lugar here in the United States… would be if the Europeans sent a clear political message to the world that they are going to participate in this — and that the Russians, likewise, showed that they want this programme to work."

Minatom response


For the past several years, Nunn-Lugar has been helping to finance the defuelling and shipment of spent fuel from strategic submarines to the Mayak reprocessing facility, but it is unclear — under the combined Nunn-Lugar-G-8 efforts if that would remain the case for non-strategic submarines.

Mayak has a theoretical reprocessing capacity of 400 tonnes a year, but in reality is able to deal with only about 100 tonnes. The added fuel from the non-strategic subs would therefore cause a dangerous logjam. Tackling the non-strategic submarine problem, then, also means tackling safe storage for spent fuel from these vessels, most likely by building additional facilities either at Mayak or on the Kola Peninsula, as well as similar facilities for the Pacific Fleet.

Another concept is building numerous storage pads and dry cask containers — of the type pioneered by the Arctic Military Environmental Cooperation organization, or AMEC — on the Kola Peninsula, the Arkhangelsk region and in the Pacific to keep spent nuclear fuel in dry casks before they are be shipped to Mayak. It is Bellona’s assertion, however, that these casks should be kept in a centralized location to ease monitoring and to reduce non-proliferation risks.

Helmke, however, said he was unsure whether the decommissioning of general purpose submarines under Nunn-Lugar — and the related international programmes it hopes to drum up — would include the extraction and transportation of spent nuclear fuel to Mayak, as the Nunn-Lugar recently has been doing for the ballistic subs, saying: "It’s too early to say at this stage."

But he hinted that shipping SNF from tactical submarines to Mayak, and storing the fuel there, might be preferable to a facility on the Kola Peninsula.

"It makes perfect sense to send the spent fuel to that facility given the amount of money we’ve spent to do it. But that’s technical stuff that would have to be worked out," he said.

The state of Lugar’s legislation
As yet, however, financial issues and division of labour that will be included in the Lugar dismantlement proposal are vague, and Helmke said it was not known how much of the decommissioning burden the legislation would obligate to the United States and how much of that burden it would expect other countries that are part of the Canadian G-8 pledge — as well as other nations in Europe — to take upon themselves. Indeed, much of the programme’s success under its potential expansion is, according to Helmke, directly tied to the timely mobilization of the ten plus ten over ten strategy.

We are going to expand the American programme and at the same time strongly urge the other European countries to supplement what the US Nunn-Lugar programme is doing — there’s no reason why the 10 or 30 or the general-purpose subs couldn’t be a special project of the Scandinavian countries," said Helmke.

"This is the kind of thinking we hope comes to the surface, and Sen. Lugar as Chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee is going to push and urge and goad."

G-8 progress
However, the broad global efforts that would be spearheaded by the new, improved Nunn-Lugar have their doubters both at home and abroad. At a non-proliferation conference last week in Washington, hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Helmke said a group of European panellists — many from G-8 countries — levelled criticism at what they called America’s unilateral foreign policy. Furthermore, said Helmke, many of America’s allies in Europe have been less than enthusiastic about supporting non-proliferation efforts in Russia, and some members of the G-8 have shied away from their Canada summit pledges.

"We haven’t seen anything out of the Japanese, the Italians or the French yet," he said. He added, though, that the United Kingdom is taking steps to realize its portion of the pledge, as are the Germans and the Canadians. Nonetheless, he said, without the consolidated support of all the concerned nations, the programme will run up against a wall.

"If the G-8 tries to sweep this under the rug it could be the most damaging thing ever to the success of the Nunn-Lugar programme," he said.

Selling the plan in the United States
In the United States, the concerns are over making the numbers work — and over whose responsibility that really is.

According to a US congressional source, "the jury is still out on the issue of multi-purpose submarines. Moreover, costs need to be calculated and a case needs to be made — though this is something Europe and Japan should be doing."

The source from diplomatic circles said his conversations with congressional staffers involved with the Cooperative Threat Reduction programme, or CTR — Nunn-Lugar’s official name since 1996 — indicate a split.

"Some people in CTR and Congress think Lugar is sort of taking the programme out on a limb with this expansion idea," said the source.

"Congress likes to allocate money to easily identifiable programmes, and for the past ten years, Nunn-Lugar has been the budget item that destroys WMDs that were pointed at the United States. A lot of people involved with the programme think that adding tactical and general-purpose subs to the mix will muddle Nunn-Lugar’s goals."

According to Kenneth Luongo, executive director of the Russian-American Nuclear Security Advisory Council, or RANSAC, there is also the issue of drawing the Bush administration’s attention to the subs.

"While the Russians indicated an interest in dealing with non-strategic submarines — particularly at the G-8 summit — it is not clear whether the Bush administration is interested in these subs or not as they have not made any statement," Luongo told Bellona Web in a telephone interview earlier this week.

"Nonetheless, a number of G-8 nations have stated publicly their interest in dealing with these submarines under the Global Partnership," Luongo continued.

"But any expansion in Nunn-Lugar for general-purpose submarines will be a hard sell to Congress because any money slated for the submarines by the other G8 nations under the G8 initiative will act as a disincentive to the US government putting money in."

There is also a strong constituency on Capital Hill of Republicans who classify Nunn-Lugar as foreign aid — a concept that carries a stigma in most traditionally isolationist Republican circles. Many of these same Republicans also think that money spent by the United States to tear down Russia’s old industrial-military complex frees up Russian cash to build new weapons.

"They believe that all Nunn-Lugar is doing is helping the Russians modernize their military, which is losing its strength as an argument given that we’ve established an alliance with them, basically, through the NATO-Russia council," said Helmke.

A further argument against scuttling the upcoming legislation, Helmke noted, is that the money is there to support it. For fiscal year 2003, $1bn has been committed to CTR projects, and — thanks to the problems surrounding the Bush administration’s certification of Nunn-Lugar, there is another $500m left over from last year.

"It won’t be smooth sailing throughout, but I think it’s worth the effort and I think we can do it," Helmke said.

According to Jon Wolfsthal, Associate and Deputy Director on the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Non-proliferation Project, "working on general purpose submarines is a fine idea, and has a lot of non-proliferation and environmental benefits."

Table: Non-strategic submarines overview

Project/class Number built
Construction years In service
With fuel Without fuel
627/November 92/4 1955-1964 0/0 5/2 3/2
658/Hotel 6/2 1958-1964 0/0 23/1 4/1
659/Echo-I 0/5 1961-1963 0/0 0/54 0/0
675/Echo-II 15/14 1961-1966 0/0 6/10 9/4
671/Victor-I5 12/3 1963-1974 0/0 11/3 1/0
671RT/Victor-II 7/0 1971-1978 0/0 46/0 3/0
671RTM/Victor-III7 16/10 1976-1992 8/2 7/8 1/0
670A/Charlie-I 0/11 1970-1980 0/0 0/11 0/0
670M/Charlie-II 6/0 1972-1980 0/0 5/0 1/0
949/Oscar-I 2/0 1978-1981 0/0 2/0 0/0
949A/Oscar-II 68/5 1988-1997 5/5 0/0 0/0
705/Alfa9 7/0 1968-1981 0/0 3/0 4/0
945/Sierra 4/0 1982-1993 310/0 0/0 1/0
971/Akula 6/7 1986-2002 6/7 0/0 0/0
Total 96/61 22/14 45/40 27/711
Sub Total 15712 36 85 34