A major technical impediment confronting a nation or group bent on developing nuclear weapons is the difficulty of obtaining the necessary direct-use material. A minimum of a few kilograms of plutonium or several times that amount of highly enriched uranium (HEU) is required, with the quantity depending on the composition of the material, type of weapon, and sophistication of the design.
Russia is estimated to have approximately 675 metric tons of such material outside nuclear weapons (75 metric tons of plutonium and 600 metric tons of HEU) at a variety of institutions, much of which is protected by only limited security measures. It is in the national security interest of the United States to join with Russia to strengthen the protection of this material.
A 1997 report of the National Research Council (NRC) entitled Proliferation Concerns: Assessing U.S. Efforts to Help Contain Nuclear and Other Dangerous Materials and Technologies in the Former Soviet Union discussed the inadequate protection of direct-use material in Russia at that time and the importance of U.S. efforts to help secure this material. Although progress has been made in improving the security arrangements at some sites during the past several years, the gravity of the threat has increased. The recent decline in the Russian economy has severely affected the economic well-being of many Russian government officials, nuclear specialists, and workers who have access or could arrange access to direct-use material. While direct-use material must be guarded closely even in the best of economic times, the level of economic deprivation has increased the likelihood of attempted thefts or diversions of such material from Russian facilities. Furthermore, expanded access to Russian facilities by U.S. specialists has provided the U.S. government with new insights into the vast Russian nuclear complex. The U.S. government has identified more extensive dispersion of material and more pervasive inadequacies of protection systems than had been anticipated. Thus, with the latest economic crisis and greater problems in ensuring the security of direct-use material, the threats of theft or diversion are considerably greater than estimated three years ago.
During the past several years, the Department of Energy (DOE) has carried out a program of cooperation with the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy (MINATOM) and other Russian organizations in the protection, control, and accountability of direct-use material (MPC&A). DOE has budgeted $140
million for the program during fiscal year 1999; and DOE has requested an appropriation of $145 million for the MPC&A program during fiscal year 2000. The program has made significant contributions to upgrading security of direct-use material at a number of Russian locations and has stimulated the gradual development of a cadre of Russian specialists who are qualified to take responsibility for installing and operating MPC&A systems.
Several dozen buildings now are well equipped with security systems, and dozens more are currently being upgraded. Rapid strides have been made in developing a comprehensive program to protect the many tons of material produced for use in nuclear-powered submarines. At the Luch Production Organization outside Moscow, hundreds of kilograms of direct-use material that had been located in dozens of buildings have been consolidated into six locations. More than 30 railcars that transport direct-use material across long stretches of Russia are being upgraded to ensure proper protection. These are but a sampling of many important achievements of the MPC&A program, and they were only possible with the support of DOE. However, they are but a small beginning; adequate MPC&A systems have yet to be designed and then installed for protection of hundreds of tons of direct-use material dispersed in hundreds of buildings.
U.S. programs also have improved the skills of many specialists responsible for the operation of modern MPC&A systems at several dozen facilities. Formal training programs, as well as important on-the-job training activities, are increasing the size of the pool every month. Still, a much larger stable of qualified Russian specialists is needed to operate the MPC&A systems that are being installed, let alone systems that should be developed in the future.
In short, despite the progress, there is much that remains to be done. Given the increased threats to direct-use material in Russia, the demonstrated capability of the DOE programs to reduce the vulnerability of this material, and the improved understanding of the time and costs associated with installing MPC&A systems, continued DOE involvement in strengthening MPC&A systems in Russia should be a high-priority national security imperative for the United States for at least a decade. Meanwhile, the U.S. government must continue to emphasize the importance of MPC&A as a nonproliferation imperative at the highest political levels in Russia to achieve the final goal of ensuring that MPC&A systems are in place and operating effectively at all locations and are financially supported by the Russian government.
There are problems in need of immediate attention. The 1998 economic crisis in Russia has severely affected the Ministry of Interior (MVD) guard forces assigned to Russian facilities where direct-use material is located. At a number of facilities, the guards have encountered months of delay in receiving paychecks, have not had winter clothing for outside patrols, and have not had access to adequate meals. This is a serious concern because the physical protection systems are useless if guard forces are unavailable to respond to intrusions. Emergency measures by DOE to address these problems during the
winter of 1998–1999, undertaken at a cost of about $600,000, are a necessary start in ensuring that the guards perform at a professional level despite economic hardships.
The economic turmoil in Russia also has affected the institutions with responsibility for installing and maintaining MPC&A systems. Some Russian institutes do not have the funds to pay salaries or to ensure the continuous functioning of power and communications systems needed for operation of modern detection, alarm, and related security devices. Until economic conditions improve, they will not be able to operate the systems as intended without some U.S. financial support. To date, DOE support largely has been limited to installation, but not operation, of MPC&A systems.
For the long term, indigenization of MPC&A activities is essential. As noted earlier, the U.S. program must end eventually, and the perpetuation of the systems must be a Russian responsibility. Therefore, it is imperative to nurture Russian ''ownership'' of the technical approaches that are pursued, to encourage increased reliance on Russian specialists to lead MPC&A efforts, and to develop improved Russian capabilities to provide MPC&A equipment and services. Limited steps toward indigenization have been taken by DOE, but the program remains under the heavy influence of U.S. specialists accustomed to U.S. approaches.
DOE has made substantial progress in initiating programs at many sites, including some of the most sensitive sites in Russia. Still, the program has been delayed by administrative problems encountered in Russia at the national and facility levels, such as (1) uncertainties as to the commitment of some Russian institutions to the program, (2) difficulties in gaining routine access for U.S. specialists to sensitive facilities, (3) lack of satisfactory procedures for ensuring recognition by Russian authorities of exemptions from tax and customs payments, (4) confusion as to Russian certification requirements for equipment that is to be used, and (5) Russian indecision concerning a national materials accountancy system. Also, on-the-ground technical problems arise that sometimes result in inappropriate approaches.
Although DOE's priorities are generally consistent with the most urgent needs in protecting direct-use material, several areas require attention by DOE.
The most glaring deficiency is the lack of progress in installing and putting into operation material accountancy systems at Russian sites—including even the basic step of ensuring a complete and accurate inventory. Without such a system, there may be no way to detect whether material has been lost. While years will be necessary to complete this task, a more aggressive approach is warranted.
With several important exceptions, only limited progress has been made in efforts to consolidate direct-use material into a fewer number of buildings, and almost no progress has been made in encouraging Russian facilities with little need for direct-use material to transfer excess supplies to other
facilities. Consolidation offers the opportunity to strengthen MPC&A systems at lower costs.
Neither DOE nor Russian institutions have developed strategies to ensure the long-term sustainability of the MPC&A systems. In particular, not enough attention has been focused on ensuring that adequate Russian resources will be devoted to maintaining the MPC&A system after the completion of the DOE program.
There has been insufficient progress in providing transport systems and trucks that will ensure that direct-use material is secure during shipments within and between sites.
The management challenge in orchestrating a multitude of DOE headquarters, laboratory, and contractor personnel at about 50 sites in Russia is daunting. Steps are needed to maximize the return on U.S. expenditures, to reduce redundancy while ensuring adequate oversight, and to provide additional work incentives that will attract highly qualified specialists from the United States and Russia to participate in the program.
This report contains many recommendation to address these and related issues. The most important recommendations include:
Sustain the U.S. commitment to the program.
Maintain the current level of U.S. support ($145 million per year) for at least the next five years and be prepared to increase funding should particularly important opportunities arise. In addition, plan to continue an appropriately scaled program of cooperation thereafter, with the scope and duration of the program depending on both progress in installing MPC&A upgrades and economic conditions in Russia.
Provide support for operational costs of selected aspects of the personnel and technical infrastructure at Russian institutes to help ensure that MPC&A systems that have been installed are operated and maintained as intended.
Reassess priorities to address important vulnerabilities.
Review the languishing materials accountancy programs at all sites and, as part of adjusting overall program priorities, devote additional resources to improve and speed up performance in this area.
Continue to consolidate storage areas for direct-use material whenever possible and give greater attention to the establishment of well-designed central storage facilities that serve more than one site.
Expand the transportation program to provide a larger number of more secure vehicles to a variety of facilities, while ensuring the soundness of the procedures for tracking the movement of direct-use material.
Indigenize MPC&A capabilities.
Increase the percentage of available U.S. funding that is directed to financing activities of Russian organizations with a concomitant declining percentage directed to supporting U.S. participants in the program. This could be accomplished by using Russian specialists from institutions with well-developed MPC&A capabilities to replace some U.S. members of teams supporting activities at Russian institutions with less-developed capabilities.
Expand efforts to utilize Russian equipment and services whenever possible and to encourage Russian enterprises and institutes to increase their capabilities to provide high-quality equipment and associated warranties and services.
Reduce impediments to effective cooperation.
Develop an improved political/legal framework for U.S.—funded MPC&A activities in Russia that ensures long-term stability for the program and exemptions from taxes, customs charges, and related fees .
Establish in Moscow a DOE-MPC&A office that can troubleshoot and help overcome barriers to rapid progress and that can facilitate the coordination of MPC&A activities with other DOE programs.
Improve management of U.S. personnel and financial resources.
Develop a clearer division of responsibility between DOE headquarters staff and specialists of the DOE laboratories. The division should recognize the lead role of headquarters in intergovernmental negotiations, formulation of general policy guidance, determination of priorities among sites, and financial oversight. It should recognize the role of the laboratories in providing advice to headquarters on the policy aspects of the program, in making technical decisions in accordance with headquarters' policy guidance and budgetary allocations, and in providing specialists who are responsible for the development and implementation of MPC&A upgrades.
Coordinate MPC&A program activities with activities of related DOE programs to take advantage of opportunities for programs to reinforce one another.
Despite many program accomplishments to date, the remaining MPC&A task is huge. Reducing the risk of illicit transfers of direct-use material to an acceptable level will take many years of steady effort. DOE is in a unique position to accelerate the effort and should be provided with the means to do so.