Military installations outlawed

Publish date: November 6, 1997

Written by: Igor Kudrik

Turning down a request by the military Nuclear Inspection agency, the Russian Ministry of Justice earlier this autumn effectively outlawed all military nuclear installations in Russia. A governmental decree from July of this year, explicitly states that military installations are not subject to the licensing regime enforced by the civilian nuclear inspection. The military inspection department requested the right to issue licences for operation of the military installations.

Governmental Decree no. 865, signed by Russian Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin in July this year, entrusts to the State Nuclear Inspection (GAN) the right to issue licences for the operation of institutions involved with design, construction and operation of nuclear installations, as well as with the handling of radwaste and research related to nuclear energy. Before these rules were adopted, the concerned institutions were already operating on temporary permissions granted by GAN.

Military installations are excempted from GAN’s jurisdiction, as the second paragraph of the decree explicitly states: "The activities related to design, manufacturing, testing, utilisation, storage and decommissioning of nuclear weaponry and nuclear power installations of military application" are not subject to licensing by GAN. This is in accordance with the law on Utilisation of Atomic Energy, adopted in October 1995 (see below).

A GAN licence, given to an organisation, plant or naval yard, is valid for three years. In case of violation of the regulations on nuclear safety, an institution may not be granted a licence, or a licence already granted can be revoked.

GAN’s responsibilities unclear
In the beginning of the 1990’s, GAN became a federal agency, reporting directly to the President. On September 16, 1993, Presidential Decree no. 633 delegated control authority over all nuclear and radioactively hazardous objects, including those of military application to GAN. In July of 1995, another presidential decree removed the military installations from the list of GAN responsiblities, leaving the control over these installations to the military Nuclear Inspection Agency, subjected to the Ministry of Defence.

Nevertheless, GAN has maintained its presence at the shipyards subjected to the Ministry of Military Industry. These yards are currently widely involved in decommissioning of nuclear-powered submarines.

Thus, the new licensing rules have raised many questions among GAN’s inspectors, in particular concerning "nuclear power installations of military application".

It is obvious that the nuclear installations on board nuclear-powered submarines are of military application. In this light, the rules seem to imply that civilian nuclear inspection teams are no longer authorized to control the process of nuclear submarine decommissioning at the shipyards, since the licencing auhority over these lies elsewhere.

–The relationships and distribution of responsibilities in this question is a very complicated issue, and currently a matter of thorough discussion, one GAN spokesman in Moscow told Bellona Web.

Military licencing authority refused
Against the backdrop of the unclear situation surrounding GAN , the Ministry of Justice turned down a request from the Defence Ministry’s Nuclear Inspection Agency to be granted licencing authority over nuclear installations under military supervision. The reason for the denial was the lack of competence within the military Nuclear Inspection Authority.

In enforcing the new licensing system, the Russian government thus places all the nuclear installations with military applications effectively in a legal limbo, as no licencing authority exists to legalize their operation.

This, however, has de facto been the case since the Federal Law on the Utilisation of Atomic Energy was adopted on October 20, 1995. Chapter 1 (§2) of the text states that the law does not affect the "activities related to design, manufacturing, testing, utilisation, storage and decommissioning of nuclear weaponry and nuclear power installations of military application" and that these activities are "regulated by other federal laws". The catch is that no such "other federal laws" have been adopted, so until today the operation of military installations has not been unregulated by federal laws, but was instead subject to decrees from the Ministry of Defence, leading to the pervert situation that the agency to be controlled had the control authority in its own hands.

GAN expects to remain in control
With the adoption of the new licensing rules, GAN inspections at the military shipyards have been suspended again. Nevertheless, GAN officials expect the situation to be resolved in their favour.

–We were told by our Moscow headquarters to recommend to the managers of the yards we are inspecting to apply to GAN for licences to handle nuclear submarines, even though such licences no longer are within our area of responsibility, GAN chief inspector at Nerpa shipyard, Anatoly Prokhorov, told Bellona Web.

–We do believe that amendments in the near future to the licensing regulations will allow us to resume control over the military installations, added Prokhorov.

GAN expectations may be overly optimistic
GAN may well regain control over the military installations in the future. But, since the institution is working within the frame work of the Law on Utilisation of Atomic Energy, the amandments Prokhorov is waiting for must be made in the form of amendments to the law itself, not in the form of changes to the July regulations. Optimistically speaking this will at best be time-consuming.

The most probable outcome is that the state of affairs remains as it has been: GAN maintains partial control over the military installations (i.e. the shipyards), while the licensing system for the military installations – or the lack thereof – is deemed unacceptable.