A secret freight of 800 kg of uranium-aluminum alloy, that is 6,000 ingots, was delivered from Yugoslavia to Russia last week. The share of weapons-grade uranium is 48 kg, which is quite enough for making three nuclear bombs.
According to the Washington Post, although the operation for transportation of uranium from Belgrade’s Vinca Institute of Nuclear Sciences to Russia’s Dimitrovgard was planned as secret, it was evident all the same. 1,200 heavily armed Yugoslavian troops and several war helicopters were involved in the operation. These extraordinary security measures were taken to prevent the uranium from hijacking on the way to Russia.
A day before, Yugoslav scientists closed an aging nuclear reactor which is 44 years old and loaded in ingots on a lorry. Early next day, two more lorries left the scientific center just as a blind. Officials from the US Department of State supervised the operation, they say, many highways leading to the airport of Belgrade were closed on that morning.
Officials from the US Energy Department 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. 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 with 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 the dangerous operation started in Yugoslavia. A Scientific research institute of nuclear reactors is situated there. PRAVDA.Ru informed recently that a nuclear power plant was planned to be constructed on its premises. As soon as ecologists told about their plans on a nuclear power plant construction, the dangerous uranium was delivered from Yugoslavia.
As reported by the Washington Post, the operation was planned in secrecy 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 considered uranium transportation to Russia as one of the most important measures taken after the Sept.11 terrorist attacks for 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 uranium transported to Russia had been produced on its 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 to the operation on uranium transportation was provided by specialists from the US Energy Department, Russia’s Ministry of Atomic Energy and the International Atomic Energy Agency. An American private group, Nuclear Threat Initiative sponsored by Ted Turner provided the most of financial backing of the operation, $5 million. The US Government appropriated $2 million. Ted Turner in his turn wondered, 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, the US Department of State thanked Russians for participation in the project: they agreed to receive the uranium, although they previously refused to. The Vinca nuclear reactor is one of 350 similar scientific centers in 58 countries of the world, weapons-grade uranium is used at all of them. The USA is sure, the reactors pose a great threat because they can be attacked by terrorists. 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 just by several security officers, that certainly wasn’t enough. The reactor was built in 1958 when Yugoslavia worked on its nuclear program. Dictator 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 interests of so-called pariah countries, as the USA calls them. It is said, even Saddam Hussein sent his emissaries to Belgrade. The operation for uranium neutralization became feasible only when Slobodan Milosevic’s regime 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 have a sigh of relief. They think it is rather suspicious that the Dimitrovgrad scientific research institute of nuclear reactors doesn’t reveal details of the deal saying it is a commercial classified information. Ecologists are not sure whether the Yugoslav cargo is classified as fuel or nuclear wastes. If the cargo is classified as nuclear wastes, it means the deal was performed in defiance of the Russian legislation prohibiting import of nuclear wastes in Russia. If the Yugoslav uranium is designed for processing in Russia, where will solid and liquid wastes of the recycling go then? Ecologists fear that the transaction will be profitable for the Scientific institute, but will bring additional radiation burden for the region.
Director of the Scientific 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 hands.” In Grachev’s words, Dimitrovgrad was chosen for receiving of the Yugoslav uranium for two reasons. The International Atomic Energy Agency is working hard to protect dangerous nuclear fuel from seizing by terrorists, that 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, no nuclear wastes were delivered to the Ulyanovsk region at all. However, citizens of the Ulyanovsk region are perfectly sure that process of making a nuclear dump of Russia has already started.