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Author`s name Michael Simpson

Farewell to Arms: Britons Focus on Decommissioning Russian Subs

Another stage of negotiations on financing of dismantling and decommissioning of two nuclear submarines is over at the Sevmashpredpriyatie enterprise (the Russian city of Severodvinsk, the Arkhangelsk Region). In the framework of the program "Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction" approved by the G8 countries, Great Britain following Norway finances decommissioning of non-strategic submarines. 

The negotiations started at the beginning of August with participation of Russia's Atomic Power Ministry. Deputy Director of the Nuclear Programs Department in the British Chamber of Commerce and Industry Steven Traswell visited Sevmashpredpriyatie for the second time already. David Field RWE NUKEM project director from Germany was the contractor's representative. Sevmashpredpriyatie was represented by Chief Engineer of the enterprise Vladimir Pastukhov, experts in military technique production, people from the foreign economic activity department, the design bureau, the scientific technological department and the pricing department. During the negotiations the parties have reached similar opinions and agreed that the next meeting scheduled for the beginning of October will be devoted to signing of a contract. Both sides are interested in speeding up of the project realization that is why it was decided to attract the Zvezdochka municipal enterprise to realization of the project.

Foreign partners demand that realization of the project must be maximally transparent so that they could have an opportunity to report money spending to their tax-payers. Two nuclear submarines of the 949 Project ("Granite", that is OSCAR-1 in the western classification) meant for decommissioning have been staying at the Sevmashpredpriyatie since November 1999. The spent nuclear fuel was unloaded from the submarines in 2001-2002, as it is provided by the contract concluded with Russia's Atomic Energy Ministry. 

The problem is that as far as the ministry doesn't finance the decommissioning process the submarines have been staying at the enterprise longer that they should have to. It means that there is some danger of keeping the submarines save afloat. If the two submarines are decommissioned soon, this will allow the Atomic Energy Ministry to spend financing on utilization of other submarines and the enterprise will have more free space at the wharf for realization of other important projects. Now the two submarines are being prepared for placing into the dock and for unloading of the equipment. It is planned to start the works this year already.

This is always a hard task for shipbuilders to destroy what they have done themselves. The above mentioned nuclear submarines belong to the third great generation of domestically produced submarines; they were produced at Sevmashpredpriyatie at the threshold of the 1980s. They were given the names "Arkhangelsk" and "Murmansk" in the Northern Fleet. This is still not clear why the second-generation submarines just served for 20 years while first-generation submarines served even twice longer.

However, there is another opinion explaining this peculiarity of utilization. For decades submarines that served their time were stockpiled at fleet bases which was certainly a concealed fact. At that very period it was more important to create more nuclear submarines to keep up the nuclear parity with the USA. Nobody cared about safety of nuclear submarines that had served their time. In 1992, the government issued a decree on experimental utilization of nuclear submarines and it was the beginning of the problem solution. Unfortunately, Russia couldn't solve the problem alone. Since 1997, Americans have been helping Russia with decommissioning of strategic nuclear submarines. In 1997, the Cooperative Threat Reduction project (CTR) developed by US senators Nunn and Lugar starts. The project is meant for liquidation of strategic nuclear submarines which ballistic missiles threat US's national security. In this case, Americans are not interested in utilization of multi-purpose submarines. However, the problem remains still burning for European countries, Canada and Japan that are anxious about the environmental situation in the North and the Far East.

According to Steven Traswell: "There are two basic components that are essential for Great Britain. First, we must rule out any possible access of terrorist structures to nuclear materials of any kind. The second issue we care about is ecological protection."

Mikhail Starozhilov

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