Dismantling Russia's Nuclear Subs:

James Clay Moltz and Tamara C. Robinson

Nuclear-powered submarines are one of the most visible and potent symbols of the U.S.-Soviet arms race. Now, dismantling large portions of those fleets has become a major post-Cold War challenge. The process of dismantling these vessels is expensive, hazardous and slow: removing missiles, torpedoes and other weapons systems; draining off and filtering liquid radioactive wastes; removing and storing spent fuel cores; cutting up and recycling usable metals; and providing for safe, long-term storage of radioactive reactor compartments.

The United States has a complete system in place to undertake this work and the funding to implement it. By contrast, Russia lacks both of these key prerequisites, and yet faces the task of dismantling an even bigger backlog of decommissioned vessels. The former Soviet Union produced 244 nuclear submarines—52 percent of the total number produced worldwide. Nearly 180 of these boats have now been decommissioned, although many had not reached the end of their service lives. Russia simply could not afford to pay their crews and arrange for regular servicing to keep the submarines operational. Officials in Moscow now readily admit that overly rapid decommissioning of submarines is part of the reason for their dilemma today, creating a backlog in a system that currently can dismantle only three to six boats per year.

But the roots of the problem lie even deeper. In the past, the Soviet Union used to dump low-level liquid radioactive wastes (mostly reactor coolant) at sea, meaning that it did not need to go through the expensive and time-consuming process of draining, storing and then filtering this material. Today, Russia has pledged to abide by the revised protocols of the London Dumping Convention, which forbid dumping of low-level radioactive wastes at sea, thus forcing Moscow to build new facilities to filter these contaminants. The treaty also prevents Russia from sinking the submarines themselves, which was a common Soviet practice for discarding old or damaged submarines.

Yet another reason for the current problem is political. The Soviet system placed its main emphasis on military production. Unfortunately, that focus resulted in a failure to plan for the inevitable: the end of the service lives of large numbers of nuclear submarines (built in the 1960s and 1970s) by the late 1980s and early 1990s. Soviet planning for war ruled out any preparations for a possible peaceful end to the Cold War. When it finally became apparent that the Cold War would end not with a bang but a whimper, Gorbachev's Soviet Union was in the throes of political and economic turmoil. Amid other, larger crises of state and economy, the fate of scores of nuclear submarines floating idly in remote harbors in Russia's Far North and Far East failed to receive the attention it required.

The result today is both a proliferation and environmental nightmare. Over 110 of Russia's decommissioned nuclear submarines still have operating nuclear reactors, which, according to Russian designs, means two reactors per vessel or more than 220 individual reactors. There is nowhere to put the liquid waste or to store the spent fuel, so the reactors have to keep operating with only skeleton crews. While, in the past, one country's failure to safely dispose of its military hardware might rightly have been viewed as its own problem, the case of nuclear submarines cannot be seen in the same light. The proliferation threat these vessels pose is global, due to the large amounts of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium—the key ingredients of nuclear weapons—contained in their fresh and spent fuel. This enormous stockpile of fissile material, which is currently not well protected from theft or diversion, presents an attractive target for a potential proliferator, whether a rogue state or sub-state actor.

If the international community is serious about controlling this deadly legacy of the Cold War, it is going to have to provide Russia with further financial and technical assistance to ensure dismantlement proceeds in a safer, more expeditious manner. To date, the United States and other countries have provided only about $100 million in assistance to combat this problem. The bulk of these funds have been devoted to dismantlement of ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). While this focus is understandable, only scant attention has been paid to Russia's decommissioned nuclear attack submarines (SSNs), 80 percent of which carry operating reactors. These submarines remain the most serious unmet challenge today. Moreover, Russia continues to decommission additional nuclear-powered submarines at a time when dismantlement is proceeding too slowly to deal with the backlog that already exists.<1>


The Threat of Diversion

Several types of threats are posed by current delays in Russia's dismantlement process. The most serious of these have to do with the possible theft or diversion of naval reactor fuel. A number of incidents have already occurred, including two documented cases involving the theft of HEU submarine fuel at sites servicing Russia's Northern Fleet. The first case occurred in July 1993, when a guard and a sailor were arrested after absconding with two fuel rods containing 1.8 kilograms of HEU (enriched to 36 percent uranium-235 (U-235)) taken from a storage site at the Zapadnaya Litsa Naval Base. Russian security officers recovered the material, and the guard and sailor were sentenced to four and five years in prison, respectively, despite troubling claims that they had only been following orders from two, more senior naval officers.

The second documented diversion of naval fuel occurred in November 1993 at the Sevmorput Shipyard. Two naval officers (one active duty and one retired), diverted 4.5 kilograms of HEU (enriched to 20 percent U-235) taken from three fuel rods. The theft was discovered after someone noticed the back door to the storage facility had been left open. Authorities arrested the two men six months later and recovered the material when the brother of one of the perpetrators, also an officer at Sevmorput, started asking around for potential buyers. Both officers involved in the actual theft received sentences of three-and-a-half years in prison. Four other cases of alleged material theft have occurred at Northern Fleet facilities since 1994. So far, none of these cases has resulted in a trial.<2>

The navy's Pacific Fleet has not been immune to the dangers associated with Russia's dismantlement problems either, and its location makes it arguably a more serious proliferation threat. In 1996, for example, 17 North Korean "agricultural workers" were caught snooping around a Russian submarine base near Vladivostok, 15 kilometers away from where they should have been. In two other incidents, North Koreans were detained for attempting to purchase from Russian naval personnel the cruising schedules for operational nuclear submarines as well as submarine dismantlement plans.<3> The facilities involved lie less than 160 kilometers from the North Korean border, meaning that a speedboat could whisk away sensitive materials before Russian authorities would even have a chance to give chase. Alleged Chinese agents have also been detained at other facilities associated with the Russian Pacific Fleet. Most of the individuals involved were deported.

An equally significant proliferation danger arises from the status of the navy's spent fuel storage. Overflowing shore-based storage facilities and floating service ships with inadequate physical protection create opportunities for diversion. In one suspicious case, in January 1996 three Russian workers at a naval base near Sovetskaya Gavan allegedly seized several spent fuel rods. According to one report, some of the material eventually found its way to Kaliningrad.<4>

No centralized MPC&A system exists for spent naval fuel, although negotiations with the United States for assistance to establish a system are underway.

In addition to the lax security protecting its stocks of fresh and spent naval fuel, Russia also faces the problem of insufficient material accounting. In early 1998, Gostatomnadzor, the Russian Federal Inspectorate for Nuclear and Radiation Safety, released a report noting nine cases in which icebreaker spent fuel inventories differed from the amount of actual fuel stored at certain sites.<5> While spent fuel requires the additional step of reprocessing in order to separate out the plutonium for use in weapons, the discrepancies are troubling and indicate serious lapses in material protection, control, and accounting (MPC&A) measures and possible diversions.

These known cases highlight the vulnerability of Russia's naval fuel stockpiles. Several of the incidents confirm the "insider threat" theory, which posits that facility personnel, who know where the material is stored, what kinds of physical protection measures are in place and how to get around them, could be likely perpetrators of diversions.


Other Risks

Another threat posed by the state of Russia's submarine dismantlement program, despite its dangers for the perpetrators, is the possibility that a rogue state or terrorist group could attempt to seize the fissile material from an operating reactor on a decommissioned nuclear submarine. Unlike the United States, which normally offloads reactor fuel within a year of a submarine's decommissioning, Russia has not removed the spent fuel from a majority of its decommissioned vessels. Moreover, the fact that most of Russia's submarines are moored at docks complicates the provision of physical protection, with at least one perimeter consisting of water. As such, the proliferation risks associated with the delay in the Russian dismantlement program may be greater than at civilian power plants and other land-based nuclear-related facilities.

One incident in particular highlights the vulnerability of Russia's nuclear-powered submarines to terrorist attack. In September 1998, a young Russian sailor commandeered an active duty Akula-class SSN that was docked at the Northern Fleet's Gadzhiyevo Naval Base, killing eight of his colleagues in the process. He barricaded himself in the boat's torpedo room, where he was preparing to set fire to the vessel and detonate its torpedoes. Ironically, Murmansk Oblast Federal Security Service (FSB) forces had arrived in Gadzhiyevo a day earlier to conduct a training exercise on how to deal with terrorists who have seized control of a nuclear submarine. When the FSB troops stormed the torpedo compartment, they found the assailant dead, apparently killed by an explosion triggered by his attempt to set fire to the torpedoes. Had the torpedoes all detonated, a serious nuclear accident could have occurred.

At Russia's naval yards, one guard normally stands watch at a time on a submarine, but personnel shortages often require a boat's command to reduce the watch detail to one guard for every two vessels. Moreover, decommissioned submarines have a minimal staff on board, decreasing their ability to maintain security and increasing the opportunities for terrorist attacks.

Another threat relates to the possible seizure of a poorly guarded, decommissioned nuclear submarine by a rogue state or a terrorist organization. This threat is most apparent in the Pacific Fleet, for the reasons mentioned above. While such an event may seem unlikely, it is worthwhile to remember the North Korean seizure of the fully manned and armed USS Pueblo in 1968.

Finally, another serious concern linked to delays in the dismantlement process is the possibility that decommissioned submarines might be sold rather than scrapped. Purchasing SSNs that have been decommissioned before the end of their service lives may be a much more attractive option to states like India that have expressed interest in purchasing new Russian nuclear submarines, as Russian prices for used vessels would likely be considerably cheaper. Sales of second-hand vessels could set the stage for possible transfers to other interested states, such as India's rival Pakistan, North Korea, South Korea and states in the Middle East. The potential revenue Russian shipyards might gain from subsequent repair contracts for these submarines might provide an additional incentive for Russia to reactivate and sell these vessels. The strategic, arms control and environmental implications of such transfers are significant. More unsettling still, Russia could provide HEU fuel for the submarines outside of International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. Under a loophole in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), any state is allowed to export naval propulsion technology and materials.<6> Such easy access to HEU could offer a potential proliferator a new route for acquiring fissile material for illicit weapons development.


Russia's Technical Problems

Four major technical obstacles currently prevent greater progress in Russian submarine dismantlement efforts: 1) inadequate spent fuel storage and transport capabilities; 2) problems with liquid radioactive waste storage and filtration; 3) the slow work pace of existing dismantlement lines; and 4) the lack of facilities for long-term storage of highly radioactive reactor compartments.

The most serious obstacle Russia now faces is its inadequate storage and transport capabilities for submarine fuel. While fresh nuclear fuel storage locations have been centralized, spent fuel storage sites have not. Current spent fuel sites are scattered all across Russia's maritime territories, with major facilities located in the Far North at the Gremikha Naval Base, the Nerpa Shipyard and Andreeva Bay (part of the Zapadnaya Litsa Naval Base), and in the Far East at Installation 927-III on the Shkotovo Peninsula and Military Unit 95051 near Petropavlovsk.

At Andreeva Bay, for example, some 21,000 spent fuel rods are stored in three concrete structures that have been filled to capacity since 1990. Recently, the facility has resorted to housing new deliveries of spent fuel rods in unprotected containers outdoors. The Russian navy also uses service ships as floating spent nuclear fuel storage facilities. Four of these PM-class service ships are operated out of the Zvezdochka Shipyard in Severodvinsk in the Far North, and three are based at Installation 927-III.

Traditionally, Russia's naval fuel cycle provided for transporting spent fuel by rail to the RT-1 reprocessing facility at the Mayak Chemical Combine in western Siberia, several thousand kilometers away from either coast. But Russia has only a limited number of TUK-18 railcars that are capable of safely moving this fuel to Mayak, resulting in a tremendous backlog. Moreover, technical and financial problems have stunted the rate of spent fuel reprocessing at Mayak, which also lacks adequate storage for spent naval fuel. With the recent changes in Russian laws that will allow the financially lucrative reprocessing of foreign spent fuel at Mayak, and with the Russian decision to abandon construction of a second reprocessing facility in Krasnoyarsk, competing interests might succeed in delaying the reprocessing of spent naval fuel.

Beyond the problem of finding storage space for spent fuel and liquid radioactive waste, Russia's naval shipyards continue to face critical shortages of equipment, material, personnel and infrastructure support, further slowing the pace of work. The poor living conditions in adjacent towns, which lack heat, electricity and food, have reduced the pool of available workers and lowered morale to dangerous levels.

Currently, there are long lines of vessels waiting to be dismantled at the three facilities that have been receiving Western (especially U.S.) technical assistance: Nerpa (Murmansk), Zvezdochka (Severodvinsk), and the Zvezda Far Eastern Shipyard (Bolshoy Kamen). Until the technical and social problems at these facilities are resolved, the rates of dismantlement and use of Western equipment will remain well below peak efficiency. Current funds also do not provide for the long-term maintenance of the U.S. equipment, putting into question the issue of whether these yards will be able to continue working even at existing rates in the future, much less fulfill plans for accelerated submarine dismantlement. In addition, many of the submarines that need to be dismantled are located at shipyards without adequate facilities to do this work.

The lack of plans for final disposition of contaminated reactor compartments is another obstacle to better progress in dealing with the existing dismantlement backlog. This problem is a serious threat to the environment in areas such as Sayda Bay and Pavlovsk Bay where growing numbers of highly radioactive, floating hulls are moored. Russian experts estimate that these vessels will remain seaworthy only for about 15 years, before salt water rusts through their sides and threatens to sink them. Unfortunately, these hulls will remain radioactive for hundreds of years.

Currently, Russia is considering three options for long-term storage of these highly radioactive solid wastes: on-shore storage, long-term floating storage, and long-term submerged storage.<7> Each of these options has significant drawbacks from an environmental perspective, yet Russia lacks the kind of dry, minimally populated, and accessible territory that would be more favorable to long-term reactor compartment storage. Until a decision is made (or new options developed), Russia will lack a plan to complete the submarine dismantlement process and clean up the backlog.

Finally, the lack of clear lines of authority (and responsibility) for submarine dismantlement has also slowed Russian progress. The changes in oversight bodies, the privatization of certain enterprises and the lack of funding all around has contributed to buck-passing and finger pointing, rather than the development of new solutions. In May 1998, the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy (MINATOM) was put in charge of submarine dismantlement. While many welcomed this news—putting an organization with obvious knowledge of the problem at the top—it is still unclear whether MINATOM will be able to fulfill this difficult role.

Funding Issues

It is estimated that the costs of Russia's dismantlement program, including fuel and waste storage and transportation, will total $2.2 billion: $1.4 billion for the Northern Fleet and $800 million for the Pacific Fleet.<8> Actual funding from the Russian federal budget, however, falls far short of this amount; by the end of 1998, an estimated $500 million had been allocated. Foreign assistance totaled nearly $30 million in 1998, and is expected to increase to $50 million to $60 million in 1999. But the average cost of dismantling one Russian nuclear submarine runs about $7 million to $10 million. The sale of scrapped metal from the submarine recoups only 20 percent to 30 percent of the dismantlement costs.<9>

Keeping decommissioned submarines afloat as they await dismantlement demands a partial crew to provide general maintenance, oversee the reactor cooling system, and guarantee safety levels, tasks that require approximately $200,000 per submarine per year, or around $26 million annually for the fleet.<10>

MINATOM's strategy for tackling submarine dismantlement aims to eliminate the currently decommissioned submarines by 2005, with funding from Russia's federal budget defraying 30 percent to 40 percent of the costs and with international assistance and revenue from the resale of usable materials comprising the rest of the funding.<11> The agency hopes to breathe life into Russian maritime industry by involving several shipbuilding and ship repair yards in the plan. However, Russia's ability to fund the program—even at these limited levels—remains questionable. The federal government is currently unable to pay the shipyards for work already completed, often resulting in strikes over wage arrears. These conditions provide incentives for disgruntled employees to consider possible material diversion for profit.

On the plus side, Russians note that MINATOM is a so-called "power ministry" that controls at least some sources of funding. This view holds that as long as Yevgeniy Adamov stays in place as head of the ministry, submarine dismantlement will remain a priority. But with Russian President Yeltsin's constant game of "musical appointments," the duration of Adamov's tenure is an unknown. Should any further crises in Russian financial markets occur, the likelihood that MINATOM will be able to find the financing for its plans could diminish even further.


Foreign Assistance Programs

Given its current problems, Russia has come to rely upon foreign assistance to support its dismantlement efforts. The United States has provided the most assistance, while Japan, Norway, the European Union and a few other countries have also contributed funds for related programs.

U.S. assistance is provided by the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program, administered by the Department of Defense (DOD), and the Nuclear Materials Security Task Force Program, formerly known as the lab-to-lab program, run by the Department of Energy (DOE). Created with the purpose of reducing the threat of leakage of weapons of mass destruction and their technologies from the former Soviet Union, the CTR program has a mandate to assist in the elimination of 564 launchers for submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and the dismantlement of 31 SSBNs. The program has furnished equipment such as guillotine shears, cable cutting machines, cranes, conveyors, plasma cutters and oxyacetylene torches.

In 1996, however, program officials rightly shifted the focus of the program from the mere provision of technology (which was not being used efficiently due to economic problems at the facilities) to making direct contracts with the shipyards on a "deliverables" basis for SSBN dismantlement. This mechanism provided funds that could be used for salaries and infrastructure upgrades that were desperately needed. Since March 1997, DOD has awarded contracts for the complete dismantlement of seven of the 31 boats. Plans are in the works for dismantling the rest of these submarines, and the program will expand in the coming years from three shipyards to four, as the huge Typhoon-class submarines begin to be dismantled with the help of the Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk that originally built them.

For its part, DOE launched a parallel program for fresh naval fuel MPC&A in 1996, working through the Kurchatov Institute. To date, the program has consisted of specific accounting and physical protection upgrades at selected sites. Under this program, fresh fuel is eventually to be consolidated into one central facility for each fleet: Site 49 at Severomorsk for the Northern Fleet and Installation 927-III on the Shkotovo Peninsula for the Pacific Fleet. In addition, DOE has developed supplemental physical protection measures for service ships involved in refueling operations.

Negotiations to forge a new agreement with MINATOM that would deal specifically with spent fuel issues have yielded several projects. One of them involves Western aid for minimal maintenance of defueling ships and for designing and constructing a dedicated on-shore defueling facility at Severodvinsk, outside of Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD) control. The availability of a civilian facility responsible only for defueling could accelerate dismantlement efforts without putting Russian naval secrets at risk. Other activities include MPC&A upgrades at two Pacific Fleet spent fuel facilities.

Recognizing its own inability to carry out dismantlement work for the 140 SSNs that make up the bulk of the existing submarine backlog, the Russian government submitted an official request for U.S. assistance in SSN dismantlement in early 1999. The request identified the DOE as the desired partner for a pilot project that would involve the upgrading of a facility near Petropavlovsk. Currently, the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow is undertaking a feasibility study under U.S. government contract to investigate how a new SSN dismantlement program might be designed in Russia. In addition, a combined DOE-DOD study is also underway to determine U.S. interests in dismantling non-strategic submarines. A decision on whether to proceed with this work could be made by the end of this year.

Prompted by Russian resumption of radioactive waste dumping in the Sea of Japan in 1993, Japan's efforts to address problems related to submarine dismantlement included funds for the construction of a floating liquid waste filtration plant for the Pacific Fleet. Construction of the U.S.-Russian-designed facility, with a capacity to process 7,000 cubic meters of liquid radioactive waste annually, cost $23 million.<12> Operating costs of the so-called Landysh facility will run approximately $3.4 million per year, and Japan has pledged to cover these costs for the first year of operation. However, problems in acquiring Russian certification for the operation of the facility at Bolshoy Kamen's Zvezda shipyard have kept the filtration plant from running since its delivery in late 1997. It is anticipated that the plant might begin operation later this year.

Besides the Landysh facility, Japan has recently accepted three new projects totaling $37 million. The first project will involve upgrading of the railroad spur from Bolshoy Kamen to the main trans-Siberian line to facilitate direct transport of spent fuel cores from the Zvezda facility. The second project will refurbish a vessel that will retrieve spent fuel cores from Petropavlovsk and other remote sites to facilities near Vladivostok that are on the main railway. And the third project will fund the dismantlement of a Victor-class nuclear submarine at Bolshoy Kamen.

In response to concerns over Russian radioactive waste contamination in the Barents and Kara Sea regions and general worries over nuclear safety on the Kola Peninsula, Norway initiated its Plan of Action in 1994. This plan delineated weapons-related contamination, spent fuel, and radioactive waste management as priority areas for Norwegian assistance. It also set the stage for Norwegian funding for construction of a spent fuel transport vessel and spent fuel railcars, improvements in liquid radioactive waste storage at Severodvinsk, and construction of a mobile liquid radioactive waste processing facility for the Northern Fleet. The latter is part of a joint U.S.-Russian-Norwegian project. Russia and Norway concluded an additional multi-project agreement of some $30 million in spring 1998, which also includes funding for some other multilateral projects. However, mutual mistrust, the absence of liability agreements and Russian denial of access to certain facilities have created serious obstacles to the fulfillment of these agreements.

To supplement other international assistance programs, the United Kingdom recently pledged $4.83 million for improving Russia's methods of handling radioactive wastes resulting from submarine dismantlement. Most of this aid will go to removing spent fuel rods from the service ship Lepse, operated out of Russia's Atomflot icebreaker base near Murmansk.

Several other multilateral assistance packages exist, including another project to deal with the Lepse. An international consortium, comprised of Swedish, United Kingdom, French and Russian companies, is also working on a proposal for interim storage of spent naval fuel at the Mayak Chemical Combine. But disputes over the type of storage facility needed and its location have delayed implementation of this project. While all of these programs have meaningful objectives, the lack of coordination provides the potential for overlapping programs and inefficient use of resources.

The Road Ahead

Russia's inability to dismantle its huge Cold War nuclear fleet in a timely and safe manner represents a threat not only to Russia itself, but also to the international community. The United States is conducting a similarly large-scale program under conditions of relative safety and efficiency, albeit at considerable cost.<13> The U.S. program benefited from extensive planning long in advance of the work now taking place. Russia is trying to create a system on the fly, and is suffering the consequences.

The greatest need today is for Russia to develop a cradle-to-grave system for submarine dismantlement that provides for integrated processing of submarines through the combined efforts of several specialized facilities. Russia's huge size will likely require parallel dismantlement processes to accommodate both the Northern and Pacific Fleets, rather than making use of a single final dismantlement facility as the United States does at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington. The question is, what steps are needed to facilitate these efforts?

On the Russian side, several decisions need to be made and policies changed. First, Russia must be more willing to open facilities to foreign countries, both for the sake of accepting dismantlement assistance and for improving the chances that foreign companies will assist facilities in economic conversion through investment. To date, too many programs have been stymied by Russia's unwillingness to grant site access. Other problems that Russia can solve itself have to do with reductions in the domestic taxation rate for facilities undertaking dismantlement work, addressing the unduly slow and bureaucratic procedures involved in "certifying" various types of foreign equipment for use in Russia (sometimes a means of extorting bribes), and providing assurances that funds going to shipyards actually reach workers (rather than disappearing into the private accounts of shipyard directors).

Overall, much can be done in the area of improving transparency, which would help ensure that continued funding is provided by foreign partners by making it easier for their legislative bodies to see positive results and to approve additional funding. Finally, Russia can speed its work by improving its own internal organization and decision-making for submarine dismantlement, including developing better plans for spent fuel storage and transport and the final disposition of reactor compartments. The jury is still out on whether MINATOM will be able to bring greater order to the existing process.

Increased foreign assistance could play a more positive role in several areas. While U.S. assistance has made considerable strides in improving fresh fuel storage and in ensuring the expeditious dismantlement of SSBNs, there are many problems that these limited programs, operating at very modest funding levels, have been unable to address. The most serious issue is that of spent fuel storage, where Russia is in desperate need of additional capacity. Even relatively cheap concrete casks provided to shipyards would improve the existing system and reduce the bottlenecks. Building new, more secure facilities at selected sites would also help alleviate current problems. Although the United States is funding some cask construction for the Northern Fleet, it has also moved recently to support limited reprocessing of fuel from a few SSBNs to jump-start dismantlement work. But this step will provide little relief and sets a questionable precedent, given U.S. goals of reducing plutonium stockpiles worldwide.

Further assistance could also provide added protection in the area of SSN dismantlement, which too often has been mischaracterized as a "purely environmental" problem. There are serious terrorist, proliferation-related and arms control threats associated with having large amounts of fissile material in operating reactors on decommissioned SSNs, which themselves could be brought back into service, sold or stolen. The international community will hopefully recognize these threats and act accordingly to provide new funds to shut down these reactors, remove this fuel and cut up these poorly protected vessels.

U.S. experience in the field of reactor compartment storage could be helpful in moving Russia toward solving this existing shortfall in its current efforts. One problem facing Russia is the difficulty of transporting reactor compartments, a field where the United States has considerable expertise due to its work in moving separated reactor sections from Bremerton to the Hanford facility on barges up the Columbia River. A similar program—or a parallel effort involving rail upgrades—could assist Russia in reaching a suitable long-term storage site for its reactor sections, either in a coastal region or (preferably) in a drier and more isolated location further inland. Overall, Russia could benefit greatly from further study of U.S. programs in their planning for a complete system of submarine dismantling, recycling and final storage.

Finally, a modicum of funding for ongoing equipment maintenance and personnel training for the technologies provided to the shipyards would help encourage the Russian government to follow through with this work beyond the confines of the current backlog. The success of START III and any follow-on agreements will depend on Russia's continued ability to reduce the numbers of SSBNs and nuclear warheads deployed at sea.

The Russian submarine dismantlement program, with the help of U.S. (and to a lesser extent other foreign) assistance programs, has made significant improvements since 1991. However, Russia still faces serious obstacles if it is going to complete its enormous task and carry a program into the future for new submarines coming off-line without suffering a major terrorist or proliferation-related incident. It is in the interest of all countries to see that Russia's dismantlement process is conducted safely and expeditiously, and that materials and technologies not used in anger during the Cold War do not fall into the hands of today's potential proliferators.


1. For more on this problem, see Georgi Kostev, Nuclear Safety Challenges in the Operation and Dismantlement of Russian Nuclear Submarines, Moscow: Committee for Critical Technologies and Nonproliferation, 1997.

[Back to text]

2. Rensselaer W. Lee III, Smuggling Armageddon: The Nuclear Black Market in the Former Soviet Union and Europe, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998, pp. 118-119.

[Back to text]

3. See Alexander Zhebin, "A Political History of Soviet-North Korean Nuclear Cooperation," in James Clay Moltz and Alexandre Y. Mansourov, editors, The North Korean Nuclear Program: Security, Strategy, and New Perspectives from Russia, New York: Routledge, forthcoming 1999, p. 36.

[Back to text]

4. Lee, Smuggling Armageddon, p. 119.

[Back to text]

5. For more information on these smuggling cases and inventory discrepancies, see the NIS Nuclear Trafficking Database, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies, Monterey, CA.

[Back to text]

6. See James Clay Moltz, "Closing the NPT Loophole on Exports of Naval Propulsion Reactors," The Nonproliferation Review, Fall 1998, pp. 108-114.

[Back to text]

7. Remarks by senior Russian naval official, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, DC, June 7, 1999.

[Back to text]

8. James Clay Moltz, Report on the Conference on "Perspectives on International Cooperation in the Dismantlement of Nuclear Submarines," Moscow, Russia, December 11, 1998.

[Back to text]

9. Retired Colonel Aleksandr I. Kurchatov, "Naval Chernobyls: Are We Sensibly Destroying Nuclear-Powered Submarines?" Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye (supplement to Nezavisimaya gazeta), May 30, 1996, No. 10, p. 5; in "Better Methods for Nuclear Submarine Dismantlement Needed," FBIS-UMA-96-138-S, May 30, 1996.

[Back to text]

10. Margarita Alenina, Vladimir Gavrilov, Pavel Filatov, and Igor Zhikarevich, "Major Areas of Activity of the International Foundation for the Promotion of Conversion and Ecology," Military Parade, September-October 1997, pp. 122-124.

[Back to text]

11. Olga Antonova, "Minatom monopoliziruyet unichtozheniye starykh podlodok," Vremya MN, June 6, 1998, p. 2.

[Back to text]

12. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, "Other Assistance: Support for the Dismantling of Nuclear Weapons," (See www.nttca.com:8010.) See also ITAR-TASS (Tokyo), March 11, 1998.

[Back to text]

13. See "U.S. Naval Nuclear Powered Ship Inactivation, Disposal, and Recycling," U.S. Department of the Navy, April 1999.

[Back to text]

James Clay Moltz directs the NIS Nonproliferation Project at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies of the the Monterey Insitute of Interational Studies. Tamara C. Robinson is a senior research associate with the project.

[Back to top]