September 30, 1999
Russia Asks U.S. to Expand Joint Efforts to Safeguard Nuclear Fuel
By JUDITH MILLER
ITE 49, SEVEROMORSK, Russia -- Russia has asked the U.S. Energy
Department to expand joint projects aimed at securing dangerous
materials, including nuclear fuel, that could be turned into
weapons, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said Wednesday on a visit
Richardson said the proposal incorporated an unusual provision
that would provide the United States greater access to highly
sensitive sites to which Moscow has barred foreigners or permitted
only limited entry.
The offer, which Russian and American officials said was
approved by Defense Minister Igor D. Sergeyev, was made by Adm.
Vladimir Kuroyedov, commander in chief of the Russian Navy, at a
private meeting Wednesday with Richardson and his senior staff.
The meeting followed a rare tour of Site 49, where the Russian
Navy stores all the nuclear fuel for its vast Northern Fleet, near
Severomorsk, the fleet headquarters, a restricted area.
Richardson's entourage was the first senior American delegation
granted permission to visit what is one of Russia's largest, most
sensitive nuclear naval bases.
The Energy Department has just completed a 16-month $10 million
security upgrade at Site 49 and at the Murmansk Shipping Co., which
operates atomic-powered icebreakers that are powered with highly
enriched fuel rods that can also be used in nuclear weapons.
Six experts from several Energy Department laboratories have
spent 18 months advising the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow, the
former Soviet Union's premier research center on nuclear weapons,
on improving security at the navy's nuclear-fuel storage centers.
Most were run-down and protected by little more than barbed-wire
fences and lightly armed guards.
The Energy Department has been working to improve the accounting
and security of such dangerous materials in Russia since 1994. But
its activities here in the Northern Fleet area began only 18 months
ago, after a deranged 19-year-old Russian sailor had seized control
of a nuclear submarine in Murmansk and held the ship for eight
The head of the press office at the base, Capt. Sergei
Anoufriev, said the sailor, who had passed a psychological test,
had lied about his mental history. The sailor shot and killed five
crew members before committing suicide.
That case, Russian and American officials agreed, awakened the
navy to the security threat posed by insiders, rather than foreign
foes. As a result, the Russian Navy began what American officials
called a crash program to consolidate its numerous nuclear-fuel
storage centers into a single complex.
Site 49, with 11,000 square feet of storage, can hold up to 55
tons of highly enriched uranium. Wednesday, Navy officials showed
off double fencing with electronic sensors, bright lights,
foot-thick steel doors, closed-circuit television monitors,
emergency alarms that connect to the headquarters in Murmansk and
response forces in case of a terrorist attack. The giant center,
built into a hill and painted in camouflage, is to begin receiving
fuel next week, officials said.
On Tuesday, Richardson began a weeklong tour of Energy
Department projects at several of the most sensitive military
installations in Russia. The agency spends more than $300 million a
year on projects aimed at bolstering the safety and physical
protection of nuclear fuel and other material that could be used in
bombs. It has projects in 10 of the once-secret nuclear cities at
53 sites throughout the former Soviet Union, 30 of which are in
"This project," Richardson said at Site 49, "came in on
budget and under the planned time."