Nuclear Security Summit: Russian Commitments and their Implementation

15.04.2014

Russia is bankrolling a number of nuclear-cleansing projects in post-Soviet republics. Some cases in point are the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in Kazakhstan and a number of uranium mines in other Central Asian countries. This change is explained by Russia’s new economic capabilities and its success in dealing with major nuclear challenges at home.

In the late 20th and early 21st century, Russia opted for a qualitatively new form of involvement in international nuclear security projects. In the 1990s and the first half of the 2000s, Russia was, in the first place, the recipient of international assistance in this area. Later, it actually emerged as one of the major donors prepared to finance strengthening nuclear security in other countries and share relevant experience and technologies.

In 2010, for example, Russia committed to donate to the IAEA $6.5 million for its Nuclear Security Fund’s projects in third countries. Approximately at the same time, Russia co-financed the project to remove highly enriched fuel from the Vinča reactor, Serbia.

Russia is bankrolling a number of nuclear-cleansing projects in post-Soviet republics. Some cases in point are the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in Kazakhstan and a number of uranium mines in other Central Asian countries. In part, this change is explained by Russia’s new economic capabilities and its success in dealing with major nuclear challenges at home.

Russia has approved a political decision that the continuing international projects on its territory will run until their planned conclusion. However, it is understood clearly that new foreign-financed projects are no longer in line with national interests because the primary issues have been solved and the Russian budget in its present state can cater to all existing needs, including technological requirements.

At the same time, Russia is prepared to share its experiences. It supplies radiation control equipment for customs checkpoints, specifically radiation control monitors designed to prevent trans-border traffic of nuclear materials and contaminated products. Thus, the implementation of increased nuclear security projects in Russia has produced a multiplicative effect that enables existing knowledge and technology to be used in third countries.

Russia also trains personnel for other countries. The Russia-IAEA project in 2013 included two courses for customs radiation control officers from third countries with an emphasis on South and Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Similarly there is a number of upgrade-training projects for specialists in the area of nuclear security. Russia has immense experience in the field, which it is willing to share.

Some projects are being implemented at the present time, including the removal of fresh and spent nuclear fuel from HEU-based research reactors. Over two metric tons of this material has been evacuated under a joint Russian-U.S. program, which required the signing of over 10 intergovernmental agreements between Russia and other countries, as well as almost 60 operations to depose of sensitive materials, which were preceded by the appropriate technological and legal preparations. Another 500 kg of HEU-based nuclear fuel will be removed within the next two or three years and this will draw the bottom line under the program.

As far as the Hague’s summit is concerned, much progress has been achieved in terms of reducing the civilian uses of highly enriched uranium. In recent years, the above Russian-U.S. program made it possible to evacuate all HEU from nine countries, which is a major achievement. Efforts continue to universalize the two primary international documents in nuclear security and nuclear terrorism suppression – the amended Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and the International Convention on Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.

Regretfully, the universalization process is not as rapid as one would like it to be. Suffice it to say that the two former hosts of nuclear security summits – the United States and South Korea – have failed to accede to either document. Even though one is fully aware of all accession-related home policy and legal problems, their foot-dragging sends a discouraging signal to countries that are still in doubt as to whether they should ratify the conventions. There is much work ahead, specifically in connection with the fact that the United States is going to host the next summit.

Ukraine’s political crisis also loomed large at the summit. Some participants used this opportunity to address their own political agendas and earn political dividends. Nuclear discussions were replaced by speculations on how to settle the political crisis in Ukraine. The crisis needs to be addressed, of course, but it has no relation to nuclear security aside from the fact that the current chaos in some Ukrainian regions is necessitating urgent measures to prevent illegal access to Ukraine’s rather numerous nuclear plants and research installations. The important thing is to reliably protect sensitive facilities in an environment characterized by political instability and a legal vacuum.

Generally, a great deal of work to minimize the civilian uses of HEU has been done as part of the nuclear security summit process launched by the US President Barak Obama in 2010. Attention has been attracted to the need to universalize international legal infrastructure in this area. An important issue is to induce as many countries as possible to join the above conventions as a first step toward shaping international nuclear security architecture before the next summit scheduled for 2016 in the United States.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.

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