Should Russia thank IAEA for such presents?
A secret shipment of 800 kg of uranium-aluminum alloy, which is 6,000 ingots, was delivered from Yugoslavia to Russia last week. The amount of weapons-grade uranium is 48 kg, which is quite enough to create three nuclear bombs.
According to the Washington Post, although the operation to transport uranium from Belgrade’s Vinca Institute of Nuclear Sciences to Russia’s Dimitrovgard was secret, it was evident all the same. Over 1200 heavily armed Yugoslavian troops and several attack helicopters were involved in the operation. These extraordinary security measures were taken to prevent the uranium from being hijacked on its way to Russia.
The day before, Yugoslav scientists closed down an aging nuclear reactor, which is 44 years old and loaded in ingots on a lorry. Early the next day, two more lorries left the scientific center just as a secretly. Officials from the US State Department supervised the operation. It has been reported that many highways leading to the Belgrade airport were closed that morning.
Officials from the US Department of Energy and Russia’s Ministry of Atomic Energy supervised the loading of the nuclear cargo. An Il-76 plane belonging to Russia’s Volga-Dnepr airline left the Belgrade airport for the Russian airport of Ulyanovsk-Vostochny at 8:04 a.m. The unloading of the dangerous cargo started at the Russian airport at 3:00 p.m. At night, the dangerous cargo, escorted by special services, was transported using four KamAZ trucks from Ulyanovsk to Dimitrovgard, about 520 miles southeast of Moscow. The second largest city in the Ulyanovsk region became the terminal of a dangerous operation started in Yugoslavia. A scientific research institute of nuclear reactors is situated there. PRAVDA.Ru reported recently that a nuclear power plant is planned to be constructed on its premises. As soon as ecologists reported their plans to construct a nuclear power plant, the dangerous uranium was delivered from Yugoslavia.
As reported by the Washington Post, the operation was planned in secrecy for over a year by US specialists, who feared that the Vinca Institute of Nuclear Sciences could become a tasty morsel for terrorists. The Bush administration considers uranium transportation to Russia to be one of the most important measures taken after the Sept.11 terrorist attacks for the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons. It is strange that Americans believe the dangerous uranium will be safe in Russia, in the country which, as the USA thinks, can’t store its nuclear weapons itself. Probably, the problem was considered in a different light, because the uranium transported to Russia was produced on Russian territory some time ago. It took a long time before Russia recognized its responsibility for the nuclear materials produced in the Soviet Union and currently scattered all over the world. US officials say that Russia “has entered a new level of cooperation” when it received the uranium from Belgrade. Technical support for the operation was provided by specialists from the US Department of Energy, Russia’s Ministry of Atomic Energy, and the International Atomic Energy Agency. A private American group, Nuclear Threat Initiative, which is sponsored by Ted Turner, provided most of the financial backing for the operation: $5 million. The US government appropriated $2 million. Ted Turner, in his turn, wonders why the government couldn’t finance such an important operation itself. The government explained that financing designed for nonproliferation purposes was strictly limited.
According to the Washington Post, US State Department thanked Russians for their participation in the project: Russia agreed to accept the uranium, although the Russian government previously refused. The Vinca nuclear reactor is one of 350 similar scientific centers in 58 countries of the world, and weapons-grade uranium is used at all of them. The USA believes that such reactors pose a great threat, because they can easily be attacked by terrorists. The Americans were terrified when they saw under which conditions the uranium ingots were stored at the Yugoslav scientific center. The aging scientific center was guarded by a few security officers, which certainly wasn’t enough. The reactor was built in 1958, when Yugoslavia worked on its nuclear program. Yugoslav leader Tito said, “We must have the atomic bomb. We must build it even if it costs us one-half of our income for years." No bomb was built; however, the uranium designed for the bomb remained. It attracted the interest of so-called "pariah states," as the USA calls them. It is even said that Saddam Hussein sent agents to Belgrade. The operation for the neutralization of the uranium became feasible only when Slobodan Milosevic’s government was overthrown. As soon as the dangerous uranium left for Russia, the Yugoslavian government said that Belgrade would no longer be a target for terrorists because of uranium.
However, ecologists from the Ulyanovsk region have no reasons so far to breathe a sigh of relief. They think it is rather suspicious that the Dimitrovgrad scientific research institute of nuclear reactors doesn’t reveal the details of the deal, saying it is commercial classified information. Ecologists are not sure whether or not the Yugoslav cargo is classified as fuel or nuclear waste. If the cargo is classified as nuclear waste, this means the deal was performed in defiance of Russian legislation prohibiting the import of nuclear waste to Russia. If the Yugoslav uranium is designed for processing in Russia, where will solid and liquid wastes after recycling go? Ecologists fear that the transaction will be profitable for the scientific institute, but will bring additional burden to the region.
Director of the Institute of Nuclear Reactors Alexey Grachev says the fuel is harmless, as it wasn’t used in nuclear reactors. “It can be even touched with one's hands.” In Grachev’s words, Dimitrovgrad was chosen to receive the Yugoslav uranium for two reasons. The International Atomic Energy Agency is working hard to protect dangerous nuclear fuel from falling into the hands of terrorists, which is why nuclear fuel is removed from unsafe territories. Should Russia thank IAEA for such presents and for the recognition that the country is safer than Yugoslavia? Another reason is that the scientific institute needs fuel for its own reactors. The director of the scientific institute says that no nuclear waste was delivered to the Ulyanovsk region at all. However, citizens of the Ulyanovsk region are perfectly sure that the process of making a nuclear dump of Russia has already started.
Sergey Nikolayev PRAVDA.Ru
Translated by Maria Gousseva
Read the original in Russian: http://pravda.ru/main/2002/09/02/46530.html
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