Environment News Network – 2004-05-20 09:27:50
BERLIN (May 18, 2004) — Russia faces grave environmental and terrorist threats unless donors accelerate a slow trickle of international aid for dismantling its rusting nuclear submarines, a senior official said.
Deputy Atomic Energy Minister Sergei Antipov said Russia would raise its concerns next month at a meeting of the Group of Eight (G8) leading nations in the United States.
He said Moscow was very worried at the slow rate of funding, despite a much-trumpeted G8 initiative at a 2002 summit in Canada to spend $20 billion over 10 years to secure stockpiles of nuclear, chemical, and biological materials.
“The longer a submarine remains without being scrapped and without the nuclear fuel being removed … the more danger for the environment, the greater the risk of these materials falling into the hands of terrorists or other groups for malicious purposes,” Antipov said in an interview.
“Any of the submarines — and we have 96 waiting to be scrapped — could sink. Any of them could rust through or break up. Anything could happen,” he said in Berlin, where he attended a 14-nation meeting on the issue last week.
The submarines are decommissioned vessels of the former Soviet fleet, some of which “have been rotting at their piers for several decades,” Antipov told parliament last November.
Dismantling them involves removing the highly radioactive reactor compartment, hermetically sealing it to prevent leakage and eventually transferring it to be stored for decades at a special site which Russia is building, with German help, in the northern region of Murmansk.
Diluting the Aid
Antipov said Moscow was concerned about some talk among G8 members of extending the $20 billion program to cover more countries, diluting the funds available in Russia itself.
“It’s reasonable to ask the question: If we can’t help just one country effectively, is there any point in extending efforts to others? The lion’s share of all the dangers, as far as nuclear materials are concerned, is situated in Russia. We (also) have a huge problem with stocks of chemical weapons, on which this money is also to be spent. If the money isn’t spent here but in Iraq or Nigeria or Ukraine, then solving the security problems in Russia will be put back.”
Antipov said a large proportion of the promised aid money was being spent ineffectively by donors in their own countries on “various experts, trips, and discussions.”
“It’s a well known problem; it always arises with international aid,” Antipov said. We understand they can’t help spending some of this money at home because this work has to be organized. But the question is what proportion: 10, 20, or 60 percent? Ten to 20 should probably be the upper limit, but there are actual facts today to show our partners are spending up to 60 percent at home,” he said.
As a result, only about $100 million had been spent directly in Russia in the first two years of the 10-year, $20 billion plan, he said — about half on the submarine program and the rest on securing stocks of chemical weapons.
The United States is due to host the next G8 summit next month. The group also includes Canada, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy, and Russia.