17 November

Russian minister advocates development of nuclear power industry


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Russian minister advocates development of nuclear power industry BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; Dec 30, 2001 Pakistan does not possess Russian nuclear technologies, and Russian nuclear weapon experts do not work in foreign countries, Russian Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev has said in an on-line interview. He maintained that radioactive materials were no more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco, and that people should be properly informed of the advantages of nuclear energy. He said that Russia was part of an international project to create a thermonuclear reactor and that it was developing fourth-generation reactors. He said a nuclear power station would be built in Russia's Far East. The following is an excerpt from the interview carried by Russian Gazeta.ru web site on 24 December. Subheadings have been inserted editorially:

[Gazeta.Ru] Good day, Aleksandr Yuryevich. Thank you for agreeing to answer our readers' questions. Let us begin...

No Russian nuclear technologies in Pakistan

[Sergey from Vladivostok] Mr Minister, the CBS site reports that it is easy to buy a nuclear bomb in Pakistan. To what extent could this be true? Where did they get nuclear materials?

[Rumyantsev] Talk about it being easy to buy an atomic bomb in Pakistan is absolutely untrue, but the fact that there are nuclear materials there, that is true. There is a nuclear project in Pakistan: They gathered all the nuclear know-how and technology by attracting students, and therefore they have nuclear technologies, although this is kept in the strictest secret. There are no Soviet technologies in Pakistan.

Atomic Energy Ministry facilities well protected

[Vladimir from Nizhniy Novgorod)] Dear Mr Rumyantsev, is it possible for nuclear fuel to be stolen from Atomic Energy Ministry facilities? The press is constantly whipping up rumours to the effect that in Russia after perestroyka many fissionable materials, which could be used to create an atomic bomb, simply disappeared.

[Rumyantsev] In principle, it is possible to steal things from the Atomic Energy Ministry facilities, but it is impossible to steal fissionable materials, which could be used to make an atomic bomb. There are physical defences and technical defences for this known as inventory control and monitoring of nuclear materials. This system was introduced from the very beginning of our national atomic project. But isolated thefts are possible, in principle, and, as a matter of fact, they have occurred.

[Marina from Moscow)] Aleksandr Yuryevich, recently the press carried reports about the arrest of the Balashikhinskaya group, which was attempting to sell one kilogram of uranium. Could you tell us how it got to be in the outskirts of Moscow: From one of your enterprises or from abroad? As far as I know, a sample of the uranium was handed over to the Atomic Energy Ministry for analysis.

[Rumyantsev] Indeed, a group that was attempting to sell a kilogram of uranium was arrested recently. This was uranium intended for nuclear power stations enriched by about 3 per cent of fissionable isotopes, whereas for nuclear weapons this needs to be at least 95 per cent enrichment. This was a very lengthy operation for our special services. The material was stolen from a plant in Elektrostal that produces atomic fuel. This group was kept under surveillance for many years and as a result the operation ended successfully. But this theft had nothing to do with the proliferation of nuclear arms.

No Russian nuclear bomb experts work abroad

[Natalya Alekseyevna from Murmansk] What do you think, how many Russian nuclear physicists are working under contract in countries of the Arab world? Does the Atomic Energy Ministry keep an eye on its scientists? And if it does, how?

[Rumyantsev] It depends on how you define "nuclear physicists". If you take physicists as such, many of them have left Russia, including some from Atomic Energy Ministry, but as far as physicists who can make advances if weapons technologies are concerned, such people have not left, although they are free to leave. Nobody has left to work under contract.

Why have they not left?

People who come to work in the weapons complex undergo a very serious selection process at various levels. The system of values these people have, their moral fibre does not give them the inner potential to leave the state in order to work on nuclear projects. A highly skilled physicist immersed in such work in Pakistan, for example, could significantly advance that country's nuclear technology. Physicists have comprehensive training. Even an optical physicist, placed in a nuclear centre, will be able to adapt and develop nuclear programmes. But he must go to a country that already possesses nuclear weapons. On its own a group of physicists cannot make nuclear weapons since this requires an industrial base.

When they say that an intelligence service has stolen the secret to the atomic bomb, the contribution of the intelligence service is invaluable. This permits the path to developing a nuclear industry to be shortened. But first it needs to be established. A nuclear device is not very complex in itself, but in order to get nuclear materials - this requires an entire industry. Plants turning out weapons materials and so forth are needed.

If we get the blueprints for the Mercedes and the process charts, I am not sure that we could adapt the AZLK [Lenin Komsomol Automobile Plant] to begin production of these automobiles.

Afghanistan does not possess this kind of industrial might. But Pakistan has a nuclear culture, it has everything...

[Vasiliy from Moscow)] Can an ordinary person go to see a closed city now or do the restrictions on entry still remain in force?

[Rumyantsev] It is not possible to visit a closed city as a tourist, but the cities are visited by journalists, relatives of people working there, and by people on business. They can easily visit these cities. In other words, if there is an appropriate reason you can visit these cities...

[Vladimir from Chicago)] Dear Aleksandr Yuryevich, how would you assess the situation with the training of personnel for the Russian nuclear power industry?..

[Rumyantsev] I am very satisfied with the training of personnel in our state. Our main institutes are the Institute of Atomic Energy in Obninsk, the Moscow Power Engineering Institute and various polytechnic institutes, including the Tomsk, Yekaterinburg and St Petersburg institutes. This is where our personnel come from; they train highly skilled specialists for the nuclear power industry...

Bushehr project in Iran 10 months behind schedule

[Aleksandr from Russia] Mr Minister, what is the situation like today in Bushehr? Are you planning to visit Iran, as your predecessor did? Thank you.

[Rumyantsev] Matters at Bushehr are as follows. As you probably know, it is 10 months behind schedule. This is the result of objective factors when the construction project was suspended. We are trying to make good the lag, but it is not being rapidly cleared. Things are going well from the viewpoint of the amended schedule, and I intend to visit Iran in the very near future.

We are also training national cadres. Wherever we build nuclear facilities, these people undergo training, starting with the establishment of the station's equipment. They will not send repairs to us but develop a national infrastructure in their own country.

Where will the spent nuclear fuel from Iran go? To this end we worked actively on getting through summer amendments to our legislation - we now have the legislative base to send fresh nuclear fuel abroad and collect spent fuel. Russia will thus fulfil all its international commitments for the nonproliferation of nuclear materials.

Spent nuclear fuel well protected against terrorists

[Valeriya Kirillova from St Petersburg] Aleksandr Yuryevich, tell us, how confident are you that terrorists (be they Chechen or some others) will not blow up a transport carrying spent nuclear fuel? And if this happens how strong will the radiation contamination be?

[Oleg from Latvia] Will nuclear waste from Western Europe be transported over Latvian territory?

[Svetlana from Moscow] What kind of precautionary measures have been adopted for transporting nuclear waste?

[Rumyantsev] Nuclear waste is transported under one set of regulations, spent nuclear fuel under other, more stringent regulations. People who often drive on the Yaroslavskoye highway have noticed the lorries with containers going to the Radon scientific and research association Radon. Low radioactive waste goes there for recycling. Fuel, on the other hand, is highly active and special transport means, including automobiles, trains and containers, have been developed to carry it. A month ago, this question was heard in detail by the Russian Federation government.

This question has been discussed often and we have described what precautionary measures are used when transporting highly active spent materials from electric power stations. This is an entire system on which our most highly qualified institutes worked. First to be transported were nuclear weapons, and you all understand the degree of engineering brilliance with which nuclear weapons were transported all over our boundless country. The entire standard of transport is based on all the transport haulage and packaging that were used for hauling nuclear weapons. And during the entire history of haulage there was not a single radiation accident.

Our transport containers can withstand a normal explosion: If a special train is blown up no radiation will be released. There were five tonnes of fuel in Kozloduy while the container itself weighs 110 tonnes.

Open the Atomic Energy Ministry site (http://www.minatom.ru) where you will find a drawing of an atomic container. There are special trains for this kind of haulage and we have our own rolling stock and nearly 10,000 special transport mechanisms for hauling various materials...

Radioactive materials no more dangerous than vodka, tobacco

Yes, radioactive materials are dangerous, but like many other things such as vodka, tobacco, and emissions of sulphur dioxide gas, nitric oxide, carbon monoxide, and any industrial waste in general are dangerous for the environment. Even the Kyoto protocol is acquiring enormous force. But from the point of view of the Kyoto protocols nuclear engineering has no effect at all: We do not cause any greenhouse gas emissions.

Nobody is afraid of X-rays, yet you get an increased dose of radioactivity. It would be better if the "greens" were to fly the Moscow-Vladivostok route with a Geiger counter. Japan is the only country to be subjected to the horrors of a nuclear attack, which prompted enormous educational activities at a state level: Which threats of nuclear technologies are imaginary and which are real. This is the most educated nation in terms of nuclear technologies. And they managed to change the way people think by revealing all the dangers and positive sides of nuclear engineering. Understanding the lack of resources, the disparity between population and territory, the entire population has been brought up in such a way that it supports the development of nuclear energy, understanding that it is an important condition for the development of their state.

We must carry out educational work, but it will not change things as much as has been done in Japan. Fifty years have passed since the tragedy in Hiroshima, and it was precisely since that time that the Japanese people have been educated.

Nuclear waste at Kurchatov institute in reliable hands

[Valeriy from Moscow)] Mr Minister, as you know, there is a large amount of nuclear waste near the Kurchatov Institute. Can you please tell us when it will be removed from Moscow and who will get this legacy of Soviet experiments to develop an atomic bomb?

[Rumyantsev] Not near the Kurchatov Institute, but in the Kurchatov institute itself. I can say this with authority since I was its director for eight years. These are indeed the products of the institute's activities, practically since the moment it was founded (and it was founded in 1943) when the Kurchatov Institute was set the task of creating national nuclear weapons. The first reactor went into operation in 1946 (indicating the speed) and in just three years our industry was established to a certain extent and the first nuclear reactor began operating. The first tests were carried out in 1949.

Therefore, of course, these materials that are being stored in the Kurchatov Institute, have a 50-year long history. But since they are in the hands of specialists they pose no danger to the population. The background radioactivity rises as the distance from the Kurchatov Institute increases over a 30-hectare area of forest. I repeat, the nuclear materials are in the hands of specialists and therefore they do not pose a threat. Part of them is moved to the Mayak combine in Chelyabinsk and less active materials to the Radon scientific and production association. A great deal of money is required in order to completely eliminate the entire legacy of the project to create a nuclear weapon, and neither the state not the institute has any. But the Kurchatov Institute is a good example...

[Viktoriya from Moscow] Mr Minister, why do the Atomic Energy Ministry and Greenpeace data on accidents during the transport of nuclear materials differ to the order of tens of times? Who is misleading whom?

[Rumyantsev] An automobile is driving along and it punctures a tire - that is an accident. Greenpeace takes accident of this kind into consideration whereas we take into consideration the consequences of radiation.

Or for example an automobile slams into a tree - it is an accident but without consequences from the point of view of radiation danger.

We observe the nuclear situation, while the accident statistics in transport is the same.

Not a single nuclear incident has occurred throughout the long history of transporting nuclear materials. You cannot say that somebody is being misleading; it is just a matter of different methods of describing events...

Nuclear power sector workers receive increased wages

[Oleg Voropayev from Leningrad nuclear power station] When will the pay level of AES personnel (not counting extra pay for harmful working conditions) be raised to the pay level at thermal electric power stations?

[Rumyantsev] Our nuclear power station workers receive a good pay; the average pay of a worker is in the order of R7,000, so I cannot quite understand the question. During the past months of the year the wages at nuclear power stations have increased over those in the power engineering industry by 20 to 30 per cent.

Volgodonsk nuclear power station poses no threat

[Marina from Moscow] My relatives intend to leave Volgodonsk because they are afraid of an accident at the Rostov nuclear power station. Why was the station built so close to the city?..

[Rumyantsev] There may have been groups of people who protested against the commissioning of the Rostov, now Volgodonsk nuclear power station. The reactor at the station is fundamentally different to the one at Chernobyl. An accident like the one at Chernobyl cannot occur there due to the physics of the process: With an increase in temperature the reactor shuts down itself, the reaction ceases. There is no need to leave Volgodonsk, just take a look at other cities, satellites of nuclear power facilities - Kurchatov in Kursk Region and Desnogorsk in Smolensk Region. These are good and beautiful cities where the radioactive background is lower than in many other cities due to the fact that there are no emissions of exhaust gases and thermal power stations. It is hardly worth leaving for this reason. The nuclear power station in Volgodonsk satisfies every world criterion for a nuclear power station...

Kazakh authorities in charge of Semipalatinsk nuclear test range

[Ivan from Semipalatinsk] ... Could you tell us, who will clean up the Semipalatinsk test range and when? Or is this already an internal matter for Kazakhstan and does not concern the Russian Atomic Energy Ministry?

[Rumyantsev] To a considerable degree the question about the Semipalatinsk test range really does not concern the Atomic Energy Ministry. The government of Kazakhstan has a large number of contracts with overseas states for the enhancement of the test range. We too are doing some things, but to a considerable extent it is foreign participation. Therefore, this question is nonetheless probably for Kazakhstan. Although if there was a corresponding request from the Kazakh government, Russia is ready to review the question of activating its involvement at the Semipalatinsk test range.

Polluted Lake Karachay filled up

[Gazeta.Ru] What is being done on the Techa river and at Lake Karachay?

[Rumyantsev] Most of Lake Karachay has been filled up and only a small area of open water remains. I was there a few months ago and drove over this filled in territory by car. Naturally the radioactive background there is higher, but all of this is in a restricted zone and the population does not have access to Lake Karachay.

The cascade on the Techa river - the situation is clear and the measures are clear. Everything boils down to the question of money. We are constantly trying to earn big money with our nuclear technologies and want to direct it to eliminating the consequences of the Techa cascade.

After all there was no evil intent in what was done, and when nuclear energy was being mastered nobody understood that the products of radiochemical production represent such a danger for the environment and human life. And when scientists realized this, this became our number one task - to eliminate the consequences of creating weapons. Because when nuclear power engineering took off everything was created with the possibility of eliminating these consequences in mind.

The situation on the whole on the Techa is not catastrophic, although it is fairly unpleasant. We are investing hundreds of millions of roubles annually into the enhancement these regions - strengthening the dam so that radioactive elements in the silt would not spread beyond the spillway, constant monitoring, drilling, observing the situation with how the lens on Lake Karachay is moving; this work is done constantly and monitoring has so far not revealed a situation close to a catastrophe. But we must continue with this work...

Nuclear fuel available for next 100 years

[Sergey from Moscow] How long will there be enough nuclear fuel for the world and how many years are necessary to recycle all the generated waste?

[Rumyantsev] There will be enough nuclear fuel for slow reactors for about 100 years, but if mankind switches to fast reactors during these 100 years, there will be enough for about 2,000 years. As to how much time will be spent on recycling the generated waste, it depends on how you approach this. If we make it the main task of the state then by the middle of the century we may have a situation whereby as much is recycled as is produced. This could be done by 2050.

[Yuriy Ivanov from Moscow] Good day Mr Minister! I would like to know how many years the Mayak production association will be able to operate for and when will the ministry commission the RT-2 plant?

[Rumyantsev] The Mayak fuel processing plant is guaranteed to work for a minimum of 15 years after which the period of its operations may be extended, insofar as during this period new processing conditions and new technologies may appear. As regards RT-2, according to our estimates, it will be commissioned after 2020. The technical condition of all the facilities at the RT-2 plant on which construction has not been completed, is satisfactory. At the moment, construction has been suspended and the facilities have been mothballed...

Russia joins international effort to build thermonuclear reactor

[Sergey from Orenburg] Is work being done in Russia on creating a reactor on the basis of thermonuclear synthesis?

[Rumyantsev] Work is being done, and very actively as part of broad international cooperation. Contractor design work has been completed for an experimental thermonuclear reactor, and presently the world community is determining the site for the construction of this kind of reactor over a period of 10 to 15 years. Most likely it will be in Canada. But as I understand it, both Japan and Europe are also prepared to set aside sites for the construction of such a facility. Russia proposed a site in Sosnovyy Bor near Leningrad, however the infrastructure in Europe and Canada was more preferable. As a matter of fact, this contractor design is the very model of successful international cooperation of all the developed countries that possess nuclear technologies.

[Vladimir Grabezhnoy from Obninsk] What are the prospects for the BREST project?

[Rumyantsev] The prospects are excellent. This is a fast reactor with a lead coolant and from a scientific point of view it has really justified itself and may be realized. But this is a more distant prospect for nuclear power engineering...

[Vitaliy from St Petersburg] Will a new reactor be built at the nuclear power station in Udomlya?

[Rumyantsev] It is planned to commission the reactor, which is under construction, in 2003...

Nuclear power station to be built in Russia's Maritime Territory

[Igor Blinov from St Petersburg] Can you explain why a nuclear electric power station cannot be built in the Far East and thereby solve the electric power crisis in this region once and for all?

[Rumyantsev] Construction of the Maritime nuclear power station was begun during Soviet times and was later stopped. Quite recently, I had a meeting with Maritime Territory governor Sergey Darkin. We are preparing an agreement between the Atomic Energy Ministry and Maritime Territory on the prospects of completing the construction of the station in Maritime Territory. But in order to provide heat and electricity to all the people living there the electric power transmission lines and the heat network also need to be reconstructed, but this falls outside of our competency and is a task for the federal division and Unified Energy System of Russia company. The Maritime Territory nuclear power station will have a VVER-1000 reactor.

[Aleksey from Kazan] What percentage of the overall profits from the burial of nuclear waste will go into the Russian Federation budget and into the budget of the region where the waste will be buried?

[Rumyantsev] In accordance with adopted legislation, 25 per cent of the received funds minus costs will go into the budget of the region while the balance of the profits will go into ecological programmes. Besides, a large volume of revenues is expected in the budget from taxes.

Russia to build fourth-generation reactors

[Sergey from Moscow] Mr Minister, what are fourth-generation nuclear reactors like?

[Rumyantsev] They are modern water-cooled, water-moderated nuclear reactors in which safety will be increased to an even higher degree and all the associated additional facilities will correspond to the contemporary development of technology, current world technology. Crudely speaking, the construction of the reactor will be licked clean to perfection. In certain parameters the facility that we are building in China can already be attributed to this kind of reactor...

[Aleksandr Ivanov from Grenoble, France] Dear Aleksandr Yuryevich, an important result of the adoption of laws on spent nuclear fuel will be the fact that their realization will permit considerable funds to be directed towards improving the conditions of storage of spent nuclear fuel. In those days, at the dawn of the nuclear age, it was hard to foresee all the negative consequences that are presently known. How is scientific research being carried out today on the peculiarities of the long-term interaction between spent nuclear fuel and the surrounding materials (containers, natural rock)? How is international cooperation being implemented to this end?

[Rumyantsev] ... This work is in fact being carried out in our ministry and, in particular, in our neighbouring Institute of Inorganic Substances where radioactive waste is dispersed into material-like matrices with a forecast storage life of 1,000 years. I recall with pleasure our joint experiments with the reactor at the Kurchatov Institute as well as in Grenoble.

Nuclear researchers contribute towards electronic industry

[Andrey Yakubovskiy from Paris] Dear Aleksandr Yuryevich, your ministry always distinguished itself for its great attention to the development of fundamental research in its field. Taking into consideration the enormous production capacities of the Atomic Energy Ministry in stable isotope separation, it seems that it would be interesting to study the question of the prospective application of pure isotope materials in the semiconductor industry. Work being presently carried out on this topic (both in the West and in the RNTs KI) is fairly fragmented. The problem is certainly worthy of a state approach. I would like to hear your opinion on this issue. All the best to you.

[Rumyantsev] Another question from one of my closest colleagues with whom we actively engaged in fundamental science... You are perfectly familiar with the work that is being done at the department of molecular physics of the Kurchatov Institute. Now as far as electronics are concerned, I would like to mention the brilliant development of the General Electric company in which artificially cultivated pure isotope diamonds were used as radiators for cooling electronic devices, mainly in space technology. Indeed, the Atomic Energy Ministry should probably devote more attention to the use of isotopes in the electronics industry than it has devoted before.

[Gazeta.Ru] Goodbye, thank you for responding to the questions of our

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