Russian Defence Ministry parts with laid-up subs

Publish date: November 3, 1998

Written by: Igor Kudrik

The Russian Defence Ministry is about to part finally with some 150 nuclear-powered submarines pulled out of service. The Ministry for Atomic Energy of the Russian Federation has taken over.

The transfer of responsibility was finally solidified with the adoption of a governmental decree named "On Measures to Accelerate the Decommissioning of Nuclear Submarines and Surface Vessels Equipped with Nuclear Power Installations Withdrawn from the Navy’s Active Service." From now on, the Ministry for Atomic Energy of Russia (Minatom) is responsible for keeping laid-up submarines afloat, for defuelling them, and for cleaning up the navy’s nuclear waste storage facilities.

In August this year, Deputy Atomic Minister Nikolay Yegorov submitted a program on how to tackle the issue, suggesting that $16.3 million this year, and $80 million next year, be earmarked to defuel all submarines by the year 2002. All in all, $250 million is required by 2005 to solve the most important issues related to submarine decommissioning.

Minatom says the funding is to come from four sources: the defence budget, profits from selling scrap metal from conventional naval ships pulled out of service, Minatom funds earned on shipments of low-enriched uranium to the U.S., and aid and assistance from other countries.

Major income source not regulated
According to Minatom’s plan, to obtain funding for decommissioning of a nuclear-powered submarine a number of conventional military vessels have to be cut up and their scrap metal sold. According to Russian daily Segodnya, the whole business of scrapping was handed over to Moscow-based Vtormetinvest Financial- Industrial Group. This group has become a dealer authorised by the Russian government. Earlier plans to tackle the decommissioning issue ended up in creation of some 20 scrap metal dealers which, indeed, earned money, but rather into their own pocket than for funding of nuclear subs scrapping. Minatom officials, according to Segodnya, acknowledge the fact that the economic relation between them and Vtormetinvest are not regulated clearly. As a matter of fact, Minatom is not accountable at all for economic activity of the financial-industrial group, thus no guarantee exist that the money will be spent as intended.

Minatom risks tackling the issue on its own
There are strong indications that the plan to use funds from selling scrap metal will not work. Letting alone the fact that Vtormetinvest may not be interested in nuclear subs, there is no guarantee that this group will get its share in the scrapping business of military conventional vessels. Just a few weeks ago, Yevgeny Yevdokimov, Governor of Murmansk County, held a speech in front of the Norwegian Parliament presenting a project on "creation of production facilities for recycling of removed-from-service military and civil equipment in the Murmansk region." The project has primarily a commercial basis, although nuclear submarines are mentioned in one line item at the end of the document. Taking into account that the Murmansk project will not be the only competitor to Vtormetinvest, Minatom may find itself relying solely on governmental donations, which are rather scarce.

In the meantime, such details as who is going to pay wages to the service crews (30-40 men) guarding each laid-up submarine (some 70 submarines in the Northern Fleet) are not clarified yet.

Nothing happens in reality
Judging by the reports from the sites where the laid-up submarines are stationed, no practical steps have been taken so far towards transfer of the subs to Minatom. The crews onboard are still subjected to the local military units, where they actually receive their payment as well.

Meanwhile, a Defence Ministry statement greets the "paper transfer" of responsibility, but claims that the time frame for decommissioning led by Minatom is not defined yet and will solely depend on Minatom’s financial capabilities.