by Joby Warrick
It was one of the most secretive missions at a factory that was all about secrecy: Nuclear warheads, retired from service and destined for the junkyard, were trucked at night to the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant to be dismantled, hacked into unrecognizable pieces and buried.
Workers used hammers and acetylene torches to strip away bits of gold and other metals from the warheads' corrosion-proof plating and circuitry. Useless parts were dumped into trenches. But the gold - some of it still radioactive - was tossed into a smelter and molded into shiny ingots.
Exactly what happened next is one of the most intriguing questions to arise from a workers' lawsuit against the former operators of the U.S.-owned uranium plant in western Kentucky. Three employees contend that the plant failed for years to properly screen gold and other metals for radioactivity. Some metals, they say, may have been highly radioactive when they left Paducah, bound perhaps for private markets.
The claim - based partly on circumstantial evidence - is now being investigated by Department of Energy officials who are also probing the workers' accounts of plutonium contamination and alleged illegal dumping of radioactive waste at the uranium plant.
"It is my belief that these recycled metals were injected into commerce in a contaminated form," Ronald Fowler, a radiation safety technician at the plant, states in court documents that were unsealed this week by the Justice Department.
The investigation comes amid heightened scrutiny of government efforts to recycle valuable metals piling up at more than 16 factories that are part of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. In the past week, congressional leaders, industry officials and scores of environmental groups have called on the Clinton administration to reconsider a controversial Department of Energy program to recycle scrap metal from nuclear weapons facilities into products that could end up in household goods or even children's braces.
Opponents' concerns soared this week with revelations, first reported in The Washington Post, that plutonium and other highly radioactive metals slipped into the Paducah plant over a 23-year period in shipments of contaminated uranium. The plutonium accumulated over decades in nickel-plated pipes where uranium was processed into fuel for bombs, government documents show. Smaller amounts of tainted uranium went to sister plants at Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Portsmouth, Ohio, the records show.
Scrap nickel from those plants is now the primary target of the Energy Department's metal recycling program, which would be run jointly by the federal government, the state of Tennessee and a private contractor, British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. (BNFL).
"If DOE denied or didn't know plutonium was present at Paducah, why should we trust them to release waste from identical production plants into products ranging from intrauterine devices to hip replacements?" asked Wenonah Hauter of the watchdog group Public Citizen, one of 185 organizations to sign a letter to Vice President Gore Thursday demanding a halt to the program.
Recovering gold and other valuable metals from retired nuclear weapons had been a little-known mission of the government's uranium enrichment plants over the past five decades. At Paducah, the process began in the 1950s and was conducted under extraordinary security, with heavily armed guards escorting warheads into the plant under cover of darkness.
Garland "Bud" Jenkins, one of three Paducah workers involved in the lawsuit filed under seal in June, says he worked for several years in Paducah's metals program recovering gold, lead, aluminum and nickel from nuclear weapons and production equipment.
"We melted the gold flakes in a furnace to create gold bars," Jenkins said in court documents. "The gold was never surveyed radiologically prior to its release, to my knowledge."
Jenkins also says he never saw tests performed on nickel and aluminum ingots that were hauled out of the plant in trucks. In later years, when plant managers did begin screening the metals, many were found to be contaminated, he said. Hundreds of nickel ingots are still stored at the plant, too tainted to go anywhere, he said.
A plant report included in the lawsuit filings may shed light on the degree of contamination in the gold. In a radiological survey of the plant last year, technicians discovered gold flakes inside an old ingot mold used for gold recovery. The fish scale-sized flakes were tested and found to emit radiation at a rate of 500 millirems an hour, the report said. By comparison, the average person receives between 200 and 300 millirems each year from all sources, including X-rays, radon gas and cosmic radiation from space.
"If you had a wedding ring made out of those flakes you'd be getting twice as much radiation in an hour as most people get in a year," said Joseph R. Egan, a lawyer representing the employees.
Fowler, the radiation safety technician, said he filed a report on the discovery of the radioactive gold in December but received no response from the plant's management. Nothing further was done to investigate "the possibility that [the plant] may have contaminated the nation's gold supply" at Fort Knox, he said.
Plant officials shed little light on the process. U.S. Enrichment Corp., the plant's current operator, says gold recovery at Paducah was the responsibility of the Energy Department.
Department officials, in a response to written questions from The Post, acknowledged that gold was recovered from nuclear weapons at Paducah. But, "since these actions occurred many years ago, information regarding their past dispositions is not readily available," the statement said.
In a letter to Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.)., department officials strongly defended their efforts to salvage nickel and other valuable metals that have been piling up at nuclear complex sites for years.
"Let me assure you that the safety of the public and workers and compliance with state and federal regulations are of paramount importance," said Undersecretary of Energy T.J. Glauthier. Glauthier said BNFL's license requires that "any metals released for unrestricted use will not pose a risk to human health or the environment."
The recycling program, announced in 1996 by Gore as part of his "reinventing government" initiative, was touted at the time as a "win-win" deal for the environment, industry and taxpayers. BNFL, which was awarded the recycling contract in a noncompetitive bid, has already begun recycling some of the 100,000 tons of radioactively contaminated metal that were once part of the defunct K-25 complex at Oak Ridge, the world's first full-scale uranium enrichment plant. Eventually the program expanded to Paducah and other facilities.
Purifying nickel is technically difficult because the radioactive contamination extends below the surface of the metal. According to department officials, BNFL was awarded the contract because it has developed a unique technology that can safely remove nearly all of the contaminants.
But opponents say the technology has never been proven on such a large scale. Moreover, they note, there are no federal standards for releasing contaminated metal into the marketplace. Previous attempts to set such standards in the early 1990s were abandoned because of public opposition.
And, opponents add, the lack of restrictions on the recycled metal leaves the public in the dark about which products may have come from contaminated scrap. Even if radioactivity levels are low, consumers are entitled to an informed choice when buying materials that might be used by children, activists said.
"The DOE has admitted they can't protect the safety of their workers and misled them," said Robert Wages, executive vice president of the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical & Energy Workers International Union. "Now DOE wants to dump radioactive metals into everything from baby rattles to zippers . . . and tell us not to worry."
Because there are no federal standards, the Energy Department's recycling program relies on the state of Tennessee to set guidelines and regulate the process. In June, a federal judge sharply criticized the arrangement, saying the DOE had effectively thwarted public debate of an issue in which "the potential for environmental harm is great."
But U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler rejected an attempt by labor and environmental groups to halt the recycling program, citing a law that prohibits courts from delaying federal cleanup of contaminated sites. Still, in unusually blunt language, the judge accused the Energy Department of "startling and worrisome" behavior in its alleged attempts to avoid federal oversight and public review.
"There has been no opportunity at all for public scrutiny or input on such a matter of such grave importance," Kessler wrote in her opinion. "The lack of public scrutiny is only compounded by the fact that the recycling process which BNFL intends to use is entirely experimental at this stage."
RIO DE JANEIRO - Brazil's second uranium-fuelled nuclear power station will run operational tests later this year and should be running at full capacity by May, the plant's operations superintentent said.
"We expect to start at the beginning or middle of December...when we will put the fuel in the core," said Kleber Ribeiro Consenza, adding that initial production would begin in February at 30 percent of capacity.
"We expect by April or May next year we'll be running at 100 percent power with about 1300 megawatts," he told Reuters.
The plant is located inside Brazil's nuclear complex at Angra do Reis, a picturesque bay in the south of Rio state and located 130 km (81 miles) west of Rio de Janeiro city.
Construction of the reactor, known as Angra II, began in 1976 but was mired for years by funding delays.
Angra I, Brazil's only functioning plant, began commercial operations in 1985 and has a capacity of 626 megawatts. It has already produced more than 25 million megawatt-hours, enough energy to supply a town of 1.2 million inhabitants.
According to Eletronuclear, the Rio-based body charged with overseeing Brazil's nuclear operations, the expectation is that Angra II will reduce Rio state's electrical energy imports from other states from 70 percent to 50 percent.
Angra I, notorious for its many shutdowns, was acquired from Westinghouse Electric Corp of the United States whereas Angra II was contracted from Germany's Kraftwerk Union (KWU) power engineering group, subsidiary of Siemens .
A third plant plant, Angra III, is envisaged for 2005 depending on Brazilian energy demand.
by Joe Stephens
HEATH, Kentucky. - Fields of sun-parched corn and tobacco line the narrow road that stretches from the Ohio River to Wilma Kelley's store. In recent days, customers who usually come here to chat have been consumed by a single topic, the frightening discovery of plutonium in their midst.
Visitors lean across the counter and recite illnesses that have befallen their families, listing everything from stomach aches to deadly cancers. The litany always concludes with the same question: Could plutonium from the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant be the cause?
"People are scared," said Kelley, a 69-year-old grandmother working the counter in a flowered blouse. "Everybody who comes in mentions it."
Paducah is a one-industry town where mistrust of government is as common as weathered tobacco barns. But within the past two weeks, residents have discovered from news reports that the federal government left them unknowingly exposed for decades to plutonium and other highly radioactive materials that thousands of plant workers were not told about or equipped to handle.
Plutonium, a cancer-causing metal used in nuclear bomb production, was secretly introduced to Paducah in 1953 as part of a plan to recapture uranium from the spent fuel of military reactors. Carelessly handled inside the plant, it seeped into surrounding areas and has been found in nearby public lands, even in local deer.
Since an investigation by The Washington Post brought the issue to light, government officials have come to town with apologies and promises. Kentucky Gov. Paul E. Patton (D) toured the plant. Officials from the Department of Energy, which oversees the plant, met with local residents and Energy Secretary Bill Richardson has promised a broad investigation.
On Thursday night, dozens of residents met to discuss their concern and outrage with federal and state officials. The first hour was tense but generally polite. Then a woman in the audience suddenly shouted, "You don't care if people get sick!"
Later, tempers flared. Kentucky's manager of radiation control, John Volpe, thrust his finger at an activist who challenged Volpe's contention that small amounts of radiation found in streams do not endanger public health.
"Don't call me a liar," Volpe warned.
The meeting stretched long into the night, heavy with talk of transuranics and technetium-99. Some residents complained that faced with such complex science, they had little chance of understanding precisely what happened at the plant or how much risk it poses.
As Kelley later put it, "We're just average people and we can't prove nothing. I don't know if we'll ever get to the bottom of it."
Some residents always have been a little scared of living next to the plant, a sprawling Department of Energy facility built in the 1950s to process uranium. About 10 miles west of Paducah, population 27,000, rolling fields end abruptly at the plant's barbed wire fence and roads are dotted with huge orange signs bearing bold black letters.
"WARNING. What to do if sirens sound. If unable to move away from the area for at least two miles, take shelter in a substantial building."
Others signs advise visitors that vehicles approaching the 3,500-acre complex and its cavernous concrete buildings "are subject to search." More than 2,000 area residents report to work here each day, making the plant by far the largest employer in McCracken County.
It also offers some of the best-paying jobs in a region plagued by low salaries.
"The plant is the economy" of Paducah, said city planner Steve Doolittle. "An awful lot of households have depended on those jobs through the years. People clamor to work there."
Everyone recognizes that a uranium plant poses risks, Doolittle said. But overall, he stressed, most residents consider the plant well run and the risks acceptable.
That does not include Ronald Lamb, 47, whose tractor churned up a storm of dust this week as he mowed grass on his farm near the plant.
"The creeks deposit stuff from the plant on the farm, and you stir it up and breathe it," he said during a lunch break. "You don't know what you're breathing."
Lamb said he's been worried about such things since a test of his well water identified plutonium nine years ago. The Energy Department called the reading an error, but Lamb said he was suspicious when his parents developed severe digestive problems about the same time. Four years later, his father died of cancer.
Lamb sued the contractors who ran the plant at the time, but a federal judge ruled that he failed to prove contamination. Since then, his attempts to rally neighbors against the plant have met with limited success.
"A lot of people are worried but they are scared to talk," Lamb said. "It's been bred into workers that you don't ask questions over there. For years it was a top-secret facility."
A lawsuit filed recently by workers and an environmental group contends government contractors concealed the true radiation exposures at the plant for years and let hazardous metals spread into the local environment. Plant managers allowed contaminated waste to be dumped in surrounding fields and an unprotected landfill, the lawsuit contends.
Richardson has promised that the Energy Department will promptly address the contamination and has asked the National Academy of Sciences to conduct the first study of possible worker health effects.
But for storekeeper Wilma Kelley, the proof of the plant's dangers is in her apple trees.
They grew in her front yard for years, rising from a drainage ditch that led to the plant, a mile away. Over time, she said, the 15-foot trees began to warp in a peculiar way and died.
"They were just shrunk up, deformed," she said in a soft southern drawl. "The one side facing the plant was the worst."
Kelley now worries about all the apples her family ate, the well water they drank and the vegetables they pulled from their garden. She recalls her son's congenital heart defect, her brother's chronic stomach problems, the dusty coveralls worn by her husband, a plant worker for 31 years.
"I've just got all these thoughts," Kelley said, shaking her head. "I wonder if my husband brought something home. You can think it and say it, but you have to prove something to say it's a fact. And the workers can't prove nothing."
NEW DELHI - India's 10 state-run nuclear power plants will be Y2K compliant by the end of September, a government statement said.
"Complete Y2K readiness in these power units would be achieved by September end," the statement quoted the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) as reporting to a taskforce on Y2K readiness in government systems.
Two new nuclear plants that will go on stream shortly will also be Y2K compliant, the DAE said.
The millennium bug, or the Y2K problem affects computer systems that denote the year in dates by their last two digits. As a result, computers that have not modifed their software may read 2000 as 1900 when the new year begins, causing their systems to collapse.
The DAE said all its research nuclear reactors, fuel recycling and waste management facilities will meet the end-September deadline for correcting their systems.
The department said it was ready with contingency plans and had tested all systems for safety. An external audit by independent expert teams would be carried out by end-October.
"Safety aspects have special significance in nuclear facilities," the statement said. "To ensure fool-proof safety, all the relevant system have been thoroughly assessed and tested," the statement said.
The 10 power plants generate 1,840 megawatts of electricity, making up two percent of India's total power generation.
by Duncan Shiels
LONDON - Britain is heading for a sticky environmental dilemma if it is serious about cutting greenhouse gas emissions into the next century - can it all be done without a nuclear revival?
With nuclear energy currently producing 30 percent of the country's electricity and almost no carbon dioxide (CO2), analysts believe the question of what to do when existing nuclear plants reach the end of their working lives is a question government can no longer ignore.
"Nuclear is important currently and if it's winding down then emissions would have to rise or energy consumption would have to fall," said Ulrich Bartsch, analyst at the Oxford Institute of Energy Studies.
Under the terms of the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Britain is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5 percent from 1990 levels by 2012, and CO2 is the most important of these gases in terms of its influence on global warming.
Britain is on course to meet its targets but the nine percent reduction between 1990 and 1997 in CO2 emissions is due almost entirely to a 25 percent decrease in emissions from power stations, helped by growing output from nuclear power stations.
FACING THE "NUCLEAR CLIFF"
However, with no new nuclear plants currently planned, Britain faces a "nuclear cliff" in 2020 as all reactors except Sizewell B in eastern England, which went on stream in 1995, will be obsolete. Instead of 30 percent of total energy output, Britain's nuclear capability will have been slashed to just three percent.
A joint report by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering said that the government or its successor must decide soon after the next election on a programme of nuclear building beginning in 2003.
"The government must stand up and be counted in spite of its tremendous fear of mentioning the word nuclear within hearing of the voters," said Sir Eric Ash, treasurer of the Royal Society and chairman of the group that produced the report.
Opponents of nuclear power say that the risk of accidents such as those at Three Mile Island in the United States in 1979 and Ukraine's Chernobyl in 1986 coupled with the problems of how to dispose of long-term nuclear waste, mean renewable energy is the only real clean alternative to fossil fuels.
Renewables - wind, wave, solar power and biomass - currently account for only two percent of British output and Britain has vowed to increase this to 10 percent by 2010. But a recent parliamentary select committee report said even that target will not be met with present policies.
TIME NEEDED TO DEVELOP RENEWABLES
So will "green" energy be sufficiently developed by 2020 to fill the 27 percent gap in non-fossil fuel power generation left by decommissioned nuclear power stations?
"I personally find that quite difficult to imagine," said John Mitchell, chairman of the Energy and Environment Programme of the Royal Institute of International Affairs.
"Over a period of 20 years it's possible to make quite a big change...but only if you have something that is given a commanding position by the government or already has that position commercially."
Peter Hollins, chief executive of British Energy, which operates all but a few of Britain's nuclear plants, says unfair comparisons are made between polluting fossil fuel generators and waste-generating nuclear stations.
"Producing waste and polluting are two quite different things," said Hollins. "Waste only pollutes if you allow it to."
He says the nuclear industry has a very good record in waste disposal but the costs involved make it impossible to even consider building new nuclear capacity.
"We would say there is not a level playing field," he said. "You cannot show a return on investment by investing in nuclear at this point."
EMISSIONS TRADING - A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD
But Hollins says the picture would be transformed if fossil fuel generators were made to carry the financial burden of the pollution they cause through either a carbon tax or an emissions trading system.
Emissions trade would allow companies which cannot meet their CO2 emissions reduction targets to buy the right to pollute from firms which have produced less than their quota.
Currently the British government plans an across-the-board Climate Change Levy targeting energy consumers and making no distinction between the sources of the energy they use.
But Bartsch said that even if the economics became more attractive, public antipathy to nuclear is so strong that governments or industry would find it hard to sell the idea of building new plants under any circumstances.
"I don't think there is any possibility for the public to accept more nuclear, even in ten years, so renewables will have to fill the gap," he said.
MORE GAS PLANTS COULD BUY TIME
Mitchell believes that an interim solution while renewables struggle take up the nuclear slack is to shift the balance within fossil fuel generation to gas from more polluting coal.
"A bridging position is that you can put on a lot of gas very quickly at not very much capital cost," he said.
But such a shift would be at the expense of what is left of Britain's declining coal industry, the last vestiges of which are currently protected by restrictions on the building of new gas plants, a policy which the government says ensures diversity, and thus security, of the country's energy supply.
"If one were to admit an expansion of natural gas during this period that's a way of meeting (emissions) targets but it would push you probably into gas imports," said Mitchell.
"It would raise the question of security and balance of payments but frankly that's almost inescapable anyway - coal's certainly not going to expand."
BRUSSELS - The European Union's new Energy Commissioner said that closing down the bloc's nuclear power stations would increase its dependence on imported energy "spectacularly" and undermine efforts to reduce global warming.
Loyola de Palacio told a confirmation hearing at the European Parliament that guaranteeing secure supplies of energy for the 15 nation bloc would be one of the priorities of her five year term in the EU's executive Commission.
The EU already depends on imports for 50 percent of its energy needs and this will rise to 70 percent by 2020, she told the hearing, part of the assembly's vetting of European Commission President-designate Romano Prodi's new team.
"If we gave up on nuclear power, the increase in dependency (on imports) would be spectacular and we would never meet our climate change objectives," de Palacio said when asked her views on the future of nuclear power.
A number of countries, including Germany, are reappraising their use of nuclear power, amid growing concerns about its safety.
De Palacio stressed that the decision on which sources to use was for individual governments to make.
She told the parliament that she would press hard for further liberalisation of the EU's 250 billion euro ($261.4 billion) energy market.
She warned France that if its national electricity deregulation law was not in line with EU legislation, "we will take the necessary steps to get the text improved."
De Palacio, who will also be responsible for transport policy in the new executive, pledged greater efforts to open up the rail industry to greater competition, to reduce dependence on the EU's overstretched road network.
France has consistently blocked efforts to liberalise the EU's rail freight sector, much to the frustration of both the executive Commission and the Spanish government, of which de Palacio has until recently been a part.
"We must breathe new life into rail transport to make it competitive with other transport modes. We need further liberalisation to meet the forecast increase in demand over the next few years," de Palacio said.
She cast doubt on proposals to charge all road users for using new infrastructure, saying this should not be decided at EU level, but must be left to regional authorities.
De Palacio also promised concerted efforts to deal with the growing bottlenecks in Europe's skies, calling for EU governments to back more centralised air traffic control.
"We may have 15 countries, but we only have one sky," she told the hearing.
The parliament will vet all 19 nominees to the new Commission named by president-designate Romano Prodi, before voting on September 15 on whether to approve or reject the team en masse.
The previous administration of Jacques Santer resigned in March amid accusations of corruption.
HELSINKI - Finnish power group Fortum said an environmental impact assessment had not excluded any plant types from the possible construction of a new nuclear power plant at Loviisa.
Fortum has two reactors at Loviisa while its part-owned Teollisuuden Voima (TVO) operates a further two at Olkiluoto, and industry has been lobbying for the government to authorise the construction of a fifth nuclear power plant.
"Both Loviisa and Olkiluoto are still alternative locations for the new power plant, and pressurised water technology and boiling water technology are its technical alternatives," Fortum said in a statement.
Fortum said it had handed the environmental impact assessment to the trade and industry ministry on Monday and that development plans for a fifth reactor were now up to TVO.
by the Council of the Corporation
of the City of Cornwall
Moved by Councillor Brian Lynch;
Seconded by Councillor Chris Savard:
WHEREAS (Recommendation #8) ; and
the Government of Canada, as part of its participation in an international nonproliferation initiative, has agreed in principle to examine the concept of using Canadian CANDU reactors to make electricity from mixed oxide fuel (MOX) derived from United States and Russian Federation surplus weapons plutonium; and
on September 2. 1999. the Government of Canada announced that it will accept U.S. and Russian test Samples of MOX for testing by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL) in Chalk River, Ontario; and
Cornwall is the identified port-of-entry for the MOX to be shipped from Russia; and
the MOX shipment from Russia would be transported on City of Cornwall streets by truck en route to the AECL facility in Chalk River, Ontario: and
the transportation plan submitted by AECL to Transport Canada for the transportation of MOX identifies the need to by-pass high population areas; and
the timing of the MOX shipment will not be publicly known; and
Canadian regulators have declared the MOX shipments as "high interest' requiring some additional special measures specific to the shipments; and
the reference in the AECL transportation plan to avoid high population areas, the secrecy of the time of the MOX shipments and the "high interest" designation given to the shipments, clearly indicates the presence of safety and security risks; and
this initial test sample shipment could lead to frequent, larger shipments in the future; and
the all-party House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade in their December 1998 report entitled 'Canada and the Nuclear Challenge: Reducing the Political Value of Nuclear Weapons for the Twenty-First Century' recommends that
''...the Government reject the idea of burning MOX fuel in Canada because this option is totally unfeasible ...''
the delegates to the International Great Lakes St. Lawrence Mayors' Conference in May of this year approved unanimously a resolution entitled ''Plutonium shipments and Burning in the Great Lakes Region'' declaring that the CANDU MOX Option not proceed; and
to date, there have not been any public hearings, environmental assessment, community consultation or parliamentary debate in Canada on the CANDU MOX Option; and
over the past several months a number of media articles have brought into question the rationale and possible success of the CANDU MOX option; and
organizations such as the Sierra Club of Canada, Northwatch, the Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout and the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility have voiced opposition to the CANDU MOX Option; and
Ontario municipalities such as the City of Sudbury have adopted resolutions opposing the transportation of MOX along Ontario highways and through their individual communities.
(Recommendation #8) ; and
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED
a copy of this resolution be sent to
M O V E D B Y : P. Dow; S E C O N D E D BY : T. Callaghan
AND WHEREAS MOX
AND FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED THAT
AND FURTHER THAT
AND FURTHER THAT
AND FURTHER THAT
MOVED BY : Councillor M. Borowicz; SECONDED BY : Councillor R. Niro
Be It Resolved
- Russian Prime Minister says nuclear weapons are fundamental.
MOSCOW - Prime Minister Vladimir Putin vowed yesterday that Moscow would maintain its nuclear arsenal to protect Russia, a day after the country celebrated its 50th anniversary of the first atomic test.
"[Nuclear weapons] remain fundamental for the country's security, a guarantee for keeping peace in modern geopolitical conditions," Putin, whose country is the second largest nuclear power, was quoted as saying by Russia's Interfax news agency.
"The development and improvement of the nuclear arsenal is one of the most important demands for our government...if we do not keep them (weapons) over the coming five to seven years, then the situation in our country will change in a radical way," he was quoted as saying at a ceremony commemorating the test.
Russia's cash-strapped government is struggling to maintain its nuclear arsenal, which was built up after World War Two when Soviet dictator Josef Stalin decided to turn his state into a nuclear power.
The success of Soviet scientists triggered a nuclear arms race during an uneasy peace between the West and the Soviet bloc which lasted for decades.
"(The development of) nuclear weapons was never an aim in itself...the development was always in response to the challenges of the times," Putin said.
Russia's Communist-dominated State Duma lower house of parliament has still to ratify a 1993 treaty, called START-2, on reducing U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.
Talks on START-3 have been stalled by U.S. requests to discuss amendments to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty so that Washington can build anti-missile defence systems, a proposal strongly opposed by Moscow.
- Brazil says its nuclear power plants are now ready for Y2K.
by Jeremy Smith
RIO DE JANEIRO - Brazil has completed compliance tests to ensure its controversial nuclear power plants are not floored by the Y2K millennium bug, senior industry officials said.
"All the tests have been completed," said Everton Carvalho, institutional relations co-ordinator for Eletrobras Termonuclear (Eletronuclear).
"It (the test) was very wide-ranging and we are ready to cope with all eventualities," he said. Eletronuclear, based in Rio de Janeiro, administers Brazil's two uranium-fuelled nuclear power plants at Angra dos Reis, a picturesque bay 130 km (80 miles) west of Rio de Janeiro.
Only the older of the plants, Angra I, is functioning while the second, Angra II, is scheduled to come online early next year. A third plant is planned for 2005, depending on energy demand.
"We have been working a lot on the millennium bug and I have more than 15 people just dedicated to it, on the software and old equipment," said Kleber Ribeiro Consenza, operations superintendent at the Angra dos Reis complex.
"We are making every effort...we don't expect to have any problems. We have been looking very deeply at all the things that we have and are now building up a contingency plan."
The millennium bug, or Y2K problem, affects computer systems that denote the year in dates by their last two digits after programmers tried to save space in the 1970s and 1980s.
Unless fixed by the end of the year, it could cause mayhem because computers that have not modified their software may read 2000 as 1900 when the new year begins, causing their systems to crash or spew out faulty data.
Consenza said U.S. inspectors had visited the plants and another international team was expected. External consultants had been contracted to make "necessary corrections" in areas where possible Y2K problems had been identified, he said.
But environmentalists, who say Angra I's performance has been less than satisfactory since it began commercial operations in 1985, are less convinced and want harder details of the plant's state of readiness to confront Y2K.
"The recommendation that we are giving is for plants to be turned off completely if there is no guarantee of things running properly," said Ruy de Goes, campaign co-ordinator for Greenpeace Brazil and a specialist on nuclear issues.
"It's the sort of risk which cannot be taken," he said. "What we are also going to do is take this to Congress and ask them for information because they are obliged to respond."
Built while Brazil was still under military rule, Angra I has become notorious for its many stoppages - nearly a dozen since 1998 - sparking heated debate about its true safety.
Critics of the plant, citing steam corrosion in piping and minor cracks in fuel rods, say the shutdowns are far more than would be normal for regular maintenance and fuel changes.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Y2K poses only a small risk to nuclear plants as computers play a limited role in energy production, measuring - among other things - turbine temperatures, spin rotations and pressures.
"Normally a nuclear power plant is operated by personnel, by hand, not by computer. Computers...only come into the picture for remote measuring," said IAEA spokesman Hans Meyer.
"If there is a ... Y2K problem, it is just that you get an alarm sign. We have pointed that out to all our member states and the Brazilians are aware of it. There might be something (a problem) at the distribution [end], not at the power plant itself."
Experts say that even if computer systems freeze at midnight on New Year's Eve, reactor operators can simply throw a switch to shut them down.
- Ukraine is not ready to close the Chernobyl nuclear plant by 2000.
by Olena Horodetska
KIEV - Ukraine is likely to miss an early 2000 deadline to close its troubled Chernobyl nuclear power plant because it needs its energy supply for the coming winter months, officials said.
"We will not have enough time to complete all construction works which might allow the safe shutdown of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant by January 1, 2000," Mykola Dudchenko, president of Energoatom, the state nuclear power agency, told a news conference.
Dudchenko said Ukraine first had to live through the difficult winter when the cash-strapped former Soviet republic could face energy shortages. Only after the winter could it make a final decision on the closure.
Ukraine promised the Group of Seven leading industrial nations in 1995 to close Chernobyl by 2000 in exchange for aid to finish building two replacement reactors in western Ukraine.
Reactor number three is Chernobyl's last operating unit after its number four reactor exploded in April 1986, spewing a cloud of radioctive dust over Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and parts of western Europe.
Thirty one people were killed outright and thousands more affected by the world's worst civil nuclear disaster.
A second reactor was stopped in 1997 after it exhausted its safe lifespan, while another has still not been rehabilitated after a fire in 1991.
Dudchenko said nine of Ukraine's 14 nuclear reactors were generating electricity and five were undergoing repairs.
Vissarion Kim, Energoatom's vice-president, said it was impossible to close Chernobyl soon because much-needed reserves of fuel at the plant would last for more than a year.
"In case of a closure we will have just to throw it (nuclear fuel) away and we are not that rich," Kim told the news conference.
Dudchenko said a lack of money to buy fuel and pay for current repair works, as well as mounting consumer debts had complicated the situation in the nuclear energy sector.
"Western partners treat our problems with understanding," he said, adding that Ukraine had spent $51 million to secure enough fuel and repair equipment while consumers owed the sector 2.6 billion hryvnias ($593 million) as of August 31.
- Slovenian police detain activists for blocking nuclear steam generators.
LJUBLJANA - Slovenian police detained 16 activists of the environmental group Greenpeace for delaying the road transport of a huge steam generator to a nuclear power plant at Krsko, 100 km (60 miles) southeast of Ljubljana.
A police spokesman said all those held were from Austria.
The demonstrators handcuffed themselves to the 666-tonne generator, delaying the movement of the load from the port of Koper for two hours.
Greenpeace is concerned because Krsko could be hit by an earthquake because it lies close to a major geological fault-line and is vulnerable to earthquakes. Last year three tremors were registered in Slovenia.
"The time bomb Krsko has to be stopped," said Andreas Havelka, nuclear expert of Greenpeace Austria. "Thirteen years of extended operation at Krsko would mean 13 more years of immediate danger to the population in Central Europe."
The steam generator is the first of two intended to prolong the working life of the Krsko reactor by 13 years to 2023.
- Swiss welders cut railway tracks and hoist Greenpeace N-protestors away.
ZURICH - Swiss police yesterday cut through railway tracks with welding equipment and used a crane to haul away Greenpeace environmentalist protesters who tried to halt a shipment of spent nuclear fuel.
Police spokesman Urs Eggenschwiler told Reuters the demonstrators had chained themselves and a 1.5-tonne metal box to the tracks near Goesgen, north of the capital Berne, in a bid to stop the shipment of spent fuel rods to France.
Police welders sliced through the tracks and a special crane lifted the four activists, about two meters (yards) of tracks and the metal box away from the site.
"Of course the tracks were immediately repaired and the shipment could proceed on schedule," Eggenschwiler said.
The spent fuel is due to go from the Goesgen plant to a reprocessing complex at La Hague in France. Greenpeace says nuclear reprocessing pollutes the oceans and has staged a series of protests against the shipments.
- China to begin new nuclear power plant construction in October.
BEIJING - China will start the construction of a nuclear power plant in the eastern province of Jiangsu next month, an official said yesterday.
"We will begin pour concrete in October," said the official of the Jiangsu Nuclear Power Co based in Lianyungang.
The plant, a Sino-Russian joint venture, will include four 1,000 megawatt nuclear power generators, he said.
The first phase of construction will include two Russian-designed reactors, due to be finished by the end of 2005, he told Reuters from Lianyungang.
Investment in the first phase of the project would be several billion dollars, the official said.
Lianyungang will be China's fouth nuclear power plant after Qingshan in the eastern province of Zhejiang, Daya Bay and Ling'ao in the southern province of Guangdong.
State media have said China plans to bring dozens of nuclear power plants on line.
- U.S. and Canada reach a deal to approve plutonium fuel shipments.
WASHINGTON - The U.S. and Canada have reached a deal to test a Canadian nuclear reactor system for possible use in disposing of Russian and American weapons-grade plutonium, the U.S. Department of Energy said yesterday.
The effort is part of a U.S. non-proliferation project to obtain, with the aid of Canada, technical information on Canadian Deuterium Uranium (CANDU) reactors.
The deal calls for Canada to accept a "small" shipment of nine nuclear fuel rods from the U.S., containing less than 120 grams of plutonium, according to a DOE statement.
Sometime this autumn, the rods will be shipped by truck from DOE's Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to a test reactor in Chalk River, Ontario, owned by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.
The fuel rods will be shipped in specially designed transportation containers which conform to safety standards set by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Canadian Atomic Energy Control Board.
"The standards ensure that the container will not break open even in a severe accident and that the public will not receive a radiation dose above regulatory limits during transport of the fuel rods," said the DOE.
The company which is chosen for the shipment duty, and the DOE will be in constant radio communication with the truck drivers, and the trucks will be tracked by satellite and protected by law enforcement personnel from terrorist attack.
All of the fuel rods to be tested were made at the Bochvar Institute in the Russian Federation and Los Alamos, DOE said.
- Ukraine to restart Chernobyl reactor number 3 on November 9.
KIEV - The only working reactor at Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear power plant, shut down in July for repair works, will be restarted on November 9, the power station said in a statement.
Reactor number three is Chernobyl's last operating unit after its number four reactor exploded in April 1986, spewing a cloud of radioactive dust over Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and parts of western Europe.
Thirty-one people were killed outright and thousands more affected by the world's worst civil nuclear disaster.
A second reactor was stopped in 1997 after it exhausted its safe lifespan, while another has still not been rehabilitated after a fire in 1991.
Only nine of Ukraine's 14 nuclear reactors are generating electricity now, with the other five undergoing repairs.
Ukraine had promised the West it would close Chernobyl by 2000 in return for assistance developing alternate sources of power.
But officials said earlier this week they could not commit to shutting the plant down, saying the ex-Soviet state of 50 million might face energy shortages during the coming winter due to financial problems.
- European Union sees Lithuania closing its second N-reactor by 2009.
BRUSSELS - The European Commission said yesterday it expected Lithuania to shut down the second of two reactors at its Ignalina nuclear power plant by 2009, after Vilnius set 2005 as the deadline for closing the first.
Lithuanian Economy Minister Eugenijus Maldeikis met Commission officials in Brussels on Thursday to present the country's national energy strategy, including the nuclear shutdown.
He argued that Lithuania has made changes which should allow it to cope better with competitive pressures in the European Union, which it has applied to join, the two sides said in a joint statement.
The Commission, the EU's executive, welcomed the decision to begin decommissioning at Ignalina, and said in a statement it "considers that this will lead to the closure of unit 2 by 2009."
The EU has consistently pressed for the closure of the Soviet-built power plant, with some countries linking the closure date to Lithuania's drive to start membership talks.
The Ignalina plant is similar to the one that caused the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine, when a reactor exploded, spewing radioactive dust over much of Europe. It currently provides Lithuania with more than 80 percent of its energy needs.
In return for closing the first Ignalina reactor, Lithuania will receive "substantial long-term financial assistance" from the EU, G7 and other international financial institutions, the statement said.
The Commission said Lithuania could now make use of additional funding under the EU's Euratom Loan financing programme and the PHARE programme for prospective EU members in eastern Europe.
Lithuania is not among the EU applicants selected for fast-track membership talks, but hopes its decision in Ignalina could speed things up.
- Slovakia to draw up nuclear plant closure plan by end of September.
BRATISLAVA - The Slovak government will draw up a final plan for the closure of its Soviet designed Bohunice nuclear power plant by the end of September, the Economy Ministry said yesterday.
The late 1970s plant, some 60 km from the Austrian border, became a matter of dispute between Slovakia and the EU after Bratislava decided to postpone the shutdown of the oldest reactor, V1, by around 10 years to 2010, and to keep the newer V2 model in operation for even longer.
On Wednesday, European Commission representative Francois Lamoureux said that he foresaw a linkage between the Slovak government's readiness to draw up a precise timetable for Bohunice's closure and the country's chances of entering the EU.
Austria in particular has made thinly veiled threats to veto Slovakia's accession to the EU unless an acceptable solution for Bohunice is found.
Slovakia was excluded from the first group of EU candidate countries in 1997, mainly because of its right-wing nationalist government of the time.
The current reformist government, which took power after an election last September, has made early EU accession one of its priorities.
Alica Durianova, the economy ministry's spokeswoman, told Reuters on Thursday that the government was looking at several scenarios for Bohunice and also the question of EU compensation for losses incurred as a result of the shutdowns.
She gave no clues as to what the new timetable may be.
"The government had already discussed the matter earlier this year...and will return to it next week, so that a schedule for the Bohunice plant solution can be completed by the end of the month," said Durianova.
- Russia says its nuclear power plants are safe, not to worry about Y2K.
LONDON - Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov said that Russia's nuclear power plants were as safe as those in Western Europe and unlikely to suffer millennium computer glitches.
"I think we have the same level of safety in all our units as Western units of the same vintage," Adamov told reporters in London.
An explosion at the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine in April 1986 spewed a cloud of radioactive dust over parts of Russia and Europe and raised fears among Western officials of repeat disasters at similar Soviet reactors.
Adamov said that since the collapse of the Soviet Union and a thawing in relations with the West, joint teams of Russian and Western experts had cooperated to improve safety through training and upgrading equipment.
"Many people think that it (safety) is only a Russian problem, it's not true," said Adamov, in London for the annual Symposium of the Uranium Institute.
He said he did not envisage any problems with the millennium computer bug, which may scramble systems that have not been programmed to recognise the date change to 2000.
He said the rate of unplanned shutdowns at Russian reactors was equal to that of Germany, and lower than France or the United States.
The G7 group of leading industrial nations launched a nuclear safety initiative at its Munich summit in 1992 for Soviet-built reactors based on the same technology that caused the Chernobyl disaster.
Gennady Nefedov, a deputy head of department at the Russian Atomic Energy Ministry, said spending on safety had been increased with international help.
"The implemented upgrading efforts have resulted in a significant upgrading in the safety and reliability of Russian nuclear power plants," he said.
- Russia is aiming to export electricity generated by nuclear power to Europe.
by Matthew Green
UK: September 13, 1999
LONDON - Russia hopes to boost its electricity grid capacity to allow it to export nuclear power to Europe, Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeni Adamov said.
"We have a good international position to produce electricity," Adamov told reporters in London.
"The problem is networks," he said, adding that Russia hoped for international help to develop high voltage lines that would allow power exports.
Adamov said Russian nuclear power stations would have 25 billion kilowatt hours of spare electricity to sell abroad were they to run at 70 percent capacity.
Capacity is being utilised at 62-63 percent this year, and could reach 69 percent next year, Adamov said.
Russia could take advantage of deregulation in European energy markets to gain a toehold for its power exports, said Adamov, who was in London to attend the annual symposium of the Uranium Institute.
Russia has spare nuclear power capacity and hopes to exploit its military nuclear installations to boost electricity production.
"We have a huge nuclear infrastructure. If we can use this infrastructure to generate electricity...that way we can add something to our economy," Adamov said.
Adamov said Russia had no plans to reduce its reliance on nuclear power stations, saying they generate power more efficiently than gas or oil.
Russia relies on nuclear power for 11-14 percent of its electricity, with the rest coming largely from gas and oil. Coal-fired and hydro stations produce a small amount, Adamov said.
Total capacity for Russia's nuclear plants is just more than 21 gigawatts and Russia will consider building more nuclear plants when domestic demand increases, Adamov said.
. . . back to List of News Stories