UPDATE: Bellona releases “The Russian Nuclear Industry—The Need for Reform” in Washington

Publish date: June 3, 2005

Written by: Charles Digges

WASHINGTON—The Bellona Foundation has presented its report “The Russian Nuclear Industry—The Need for Reform” to high-ranking US government officials and NGOs in Washington, DC to a warm reception and the accolades of those working within the United States non-proliferation and environmental establishment.

But despite its reception as the first report of its kind, it sparked debate between non-proliferation-based camps in Washington and the more environmentally inclined NGO community, and drew attention to the differences of the American and European Russian nuclear remediation postures.

The report was presented at three venues in the US Capital: The US Government Accounting Office; at a Stimpson hearing series for Capitol Hill staffers arranged by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, both on Thursday, and a jointly-held event sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). The Bellona delegation consisted of four of the report’s co-authors: Alexander Nikitin, Igor Kudrik, Charles Digges and Nils Bøhmer. The reports other two key authors are Vladimir Kuznetsov of Russia’s Green Crosss and Vladislav Larin an independent nuclear researcher and author.

“This report has brought home to me the importance of Non-Governmental Organizations in getting governments to move forward,” said Rose Gotemoeller, a senior associate with CEIP at the Friday presentation, which was attended by more than 60 US and Russian nuclear experts, NGO members, nuclear industry officials and officials with the DOE and the Cooperative Threat Reduction Programme (CTR).

“Bellona is among the best NGOs both in terms of its thoroughness and grounding and scientific basis.”

Her sentiments were echoed by Mark Helmke, a senior staff member with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chaired by Sen. Richard Lugar, one of the original authors of the 1991 Nunn-Lugar, or CTR programme. This programme was the first of its kind in developing bilateral agreements with Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union to destroy nuclear and other weapons strategically targeted at the United States.

The Bellona presentation
The reports main conclusions include that money sent to Russia by the growing number of international donors, including the US, would be better spent on a reformed Russian nuclear industry rather than the monolithic structure Moscow inherited from the Soviet Union and did not re-evaluate. This structure includes a closed nuclear fuel cycle and the over-burdened and environmentally hazardous reprocessing at Russia’s decaying Mayak Chemical Combine.


The business approach?
Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the United States Enrichment Corporation, had a different point of view. USEC has, since 1993, been purchasing excess high enriched uranium (HEU) suitable for weapons purposes, and with Tenex, Russia’s nuclear fuel distributor, down-blending it to low enriched uranium (LEU) for use in American rectors. Gordon-Hagerty said that the HEU-LEU programme was “the most successful non-proliferation program to date.”

The reason, she said, was that it was a business to business agreement without the involvement of either the Russian or American governments. "Ten percent of the electricity we use in this country comes from (the fuel for nuclear reactors provided by) nuclear warheads that were once aimed at us," she said.

The role of NGOs
In whatever decisions are to be made in the future, Carnegie’s Gotemoeller—who is former deputy secretary of energy in the US DOE—stressed the importance of NGOs keeping the heat governments, but added the caveat the governments and not as set in their ways as may appear from the outside. AS a former US government nuclear official, now a senior associate with Carnegie, she had a unique perspective from both sies of the fence.

As deputy secretary of energy under the Clinton Administration, she said often “gnashed her teeth” when dealing with NGOs.

She said, though, that she is a “great believer in NGOs, especially when watching their progress with the Bush administration.” Because of their involvement, security upgrades at vulnerable nuclear weapons stockpiles will be completes several years ahead of schedule by 2008.

But she added that NGOs sometimes don’t have a completely clear picture of what is going on “on the inside of governments, which are more flexible than they may appear” and some actually welcome outside pressure.