presents only very general impressions of conditions and trends concerning a complicated but very important topic.


As noted above, Russia possesses a very large number of IRSs, dating from production during Soviet times and continuing to today with production in Russia. The number of IRSs has been reported by IBRAE to be more than 500,000, but experts from this institute and other organizations readily acknowledge that the number is probably much greater and could be as high as 1 million or more. Moreover, Russia has long been one of the world’s largest exporters of both radionuclides and IRSs.

Of special concern are the thousands of high-activity IRSs in International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Categories 1, 2, and 3 that were produced during the Soviet era and distributed throughout the Soviet Union. A significant number were also exported to other states that had close ties to Moscow. Many of these IRSs are still located in other former Soviet states as well as in Russia. A particularly troublesome aspect of the Soviet nuclear legacy is the large number of inadequately protected high-activity IRSs that have been used as radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) to supply small amounts of electrical power at remote sites, primarily in Russia but with a few also sent to outlying states.

As indicated in Box 1-1, there were occasional attempts to steal IRSs during Soviet times. However, it is generally believed that the overall security of IRSs was adequate, and there were few reported attempts of thefts for illegal trafficking in IRSs that were in the possession of Soviet institutions. As shown in Boxes 2-1 and 2-2, theft has become a more serious concern in Russia in recent years. According to press reports, the interest of Chechen insurgents and criminal elements in Russia in malevolent uses of radioactive material, particularly IRSs, is substantial. Other press reports that are reflected in Box 2-2 raise questions about the security of RTGs. The accumulation of these press reports, although they could not be validated by authoritative sources, raises significant concerns. The history of a particularly significant event is set forth in Box 2-3.

During its visits to Russia, the committee learned from several colleagues that security of IRSs rapidly eroded during the dramatic political and economic transitions in Russia in the early 1990s. The state system was in turmoil. The institutions that had IRSs in their possession lost much of their financial base, and individuals in charge were often changed with little advance notice. Indeed, the authority vested in various components of the regulatory system was in a state of flux, and the government soon lost track of very large numbers of IRSs. Many privatized institutions stopped reporting their inventories to the government.

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