U.S.-Russian Cooperation to Improve Security of Ionizing Radiation Sources in Russia
The Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction legislation enacted in 1991 opened the door for nuclear security cooperation between the United States and Russia during a difficult and dangerous period. By the time program implementation began, the Soviet Union had disintegrated into 15 independent nations.
The first cooperative programs addressed the most immediate potential threat to the United States—the possibility of inadequate control over Soviet nuclear weapons in Russia and in the new nations of Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. The initiation of these programs was soon followed by the lab-to-lab program of the Department of Energy (DOE) to enhance material protection, control, and accounting (MPC&A) of weapon-usable nuclear material (i.e., plutonium, highly enriched uranium) in Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union.
In the 1990s, nuclear specialists in both countries began to extend some aspects of their cooperation to address the threat of radiological terrorism. These efforts were included in a limited way in programs such as those of the International Science and Technology Center (ISTC) in Moscow, which since 1994 has supported research and monitoring programs for redirecting Russian weapon specialists to peaceful pursuits; the Second Line of Defense program directed toward border security in Russia; and the Warhead Safety and Security Exchange program, which focused initially on nuclear warhead safety. These activities are discussed briefly in this chapter. In May 2002, the Secretary of Energy and the Minister of Atomic Energy agreed to initiate cooperation directed specifi-
cally at countering the threat of radiological terrorism from inadequately secured ionizing radation sources (IRSs) in Russia. This cooperation was to be carried out using the legal framework of the ongoing MPC&A cooperative program.
OVERVIEW OF U.S.-RUSSIAN COOPERATION TO PROTECT IRSs
The U.S. Congress authorized the new program in DOE “to protect, control, and account for radiological dispersal device materials,” both within Russia and on a broader global basis, during FY 2003.1 This chapter reviews the directions and progress of that program to date.
By the end of 2005, the U.S.-Russian cooperative program to upgrade security of IRSs had focused on four activities:
Analysis of information available in Russian databases that is intended to provide inventories of the numbers, types, and locations of IRSs that are in use or in storage in Russia—these analyses are expected to lead to recommendations concerning priority sites for improved IRS protection and for consolidation of IRSs,
Improvement of security and related infrastructure capabilities at Radon storage and disposal sites,
Collection and disposal of unwanted IRSs, and
Acceleration of the decommissioning of radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) that are or have been deployed in Russia, largely in the Far North.
DOE program officials informed the committee in January 2006 that their priority was to continue working in these four areas and, if resources permit, to initiate activities that will improve physical protection at health-related facilities that use high-activity IRSs. Prior to addressing future directions for the cooperative program in Chapter 4, this report briefly describes efforts to date and their impact based on discussions with U.S. and Russian officials and specialists and on observations during site visits in Russia.
SEARCHING DATABASES TO DETERMINE PRIORITY SITES FOR SECURITY UPGRADES
Prior to the undertaking of this study, the Nuclear Safety Institute (IBRAE) had been working with the Anti-Terrorist Center in St. Petersburg, the Rosatom Institute for Chemical Technology, the state enterprise Izotop, and other Russian organizations, with DOE support, to develop a more comprehensive inventory of IRSs than was currently available. In addition, IBRAE had been charged with identifying and prioritizing Russian facilities that need improved security for IRSs. Finally, IBRAE had been developing a database on the information resources of the many Information and Analytical Centers throughout the country and constructing a model database for possible use by organizations managing IRSs.
Initially, IBRAE divided Russia into regional sectors and by 2005 had completed reviews of 20 regional databases, which included information on activities of organizations that were not subordinate to federal government bodies. It added 13 additional regional databases, primarily in the North Caucasus, during Phase II in 2005. Finally, the more than 50 remaining regional databases were to be addressed in Phase III, which has not yet been initiated. Also, databases of activities of institutions of selected ministries and agencies were examined, beginning with 11 ministries during Phase I.
IBRAE reported that during the first phase of its activities, 291 organizations were identified as possessing a total of more than 6,000 IRSs of elevated activity. Elevated activity is defined by IBRAE as alpha and beta radioactivity of greater than 1 curie and gamma radioactivity of greater than 100 curies. IBRAE recommended specific steps to improve security at 108 organizations handling about 3,700 IRSs. Also IBRAE recommended that 44 enterprises be considered as priority locations for installation of security upgrades.2
As discussed in Chapter 2, the databases have significant shortcomings and will require substantial upgrading. IBRAE acknowledges that many IRSs have not been identified in its analytical efforts and has made the suggestions set forth below. The distribution of IRSs geographically throughout the country is quite uneven, ranging from one IRS in Dagestan, which is adjacent to Chechnya, to tens of thousands in the city of Moscow.
IBRAE has given special attention to IRSs in the possession of the Russian Academy of Sciences, its parent organization. Within the Academy, 80 organizations use IRSs for a variety of purposes. Of these
institutions, 15 manage more than 600 IRSs, including IRSs using Co-60, Cs-137, and other radionuclides of elevated activity.
Although IBRAE has made substantial progress in stimulating development of more comprehensive databases, its analyses are far from complete. Activities in only about one-third of Russia’s regions have been analyzed, and in particular, the Moscow region, which has the largest number of IRSs, has not been included. Moreover, a database is not an inventory. The recommendations about security upgrades were made largely on the basis of information supplied to IBRAE, although there were several dozen confirmatory site visits by IBRAE as well.
There is little doubt that this aspect of the U.S.-Russian cooperative program has resulted in a significantly better understanding in both Moscow and Washington of the IRS situation in Russia. U.S. financial support, interest, and technical expertise have expedited a Russian effort that otherwise might not have been undertaken for several more years. In addition, this effort has assisted IBRAE to broaden its analytical capabilities related to radiological threats. In the process, it has established a large array of contacts with key organizations, and it has become an important center of expertise in Russia concerning the many policy, technical, and financial challenges involved in upgrading the entire system of control and accounting of IRSs. In particular, according to IBRAE officials, it has developed good working relations with Izotop, which has extensive databases on the distribution of IRSs.
At the Moscow workshop in March 2005, representatives from IBRAE expressed concerns about DOE’s contractual requirements. They believed that the minimum radiation limits set by DOE to be used for including IRSs in databases were too high. In principle, all data concerning IRSs regardless of radiation intensity are important, although priorities for data collection obviously must be set. Even though DOE guidance is generally consistent with definitions of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Categories 1 and 2 IRSs, a cautionary observation made by an official of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission should be kept in mind. Only about 10 percent of the IRSs operating under licenses in the United States are in Categories 1 and 2. If a similar percentage is to be expected in Russia, then the statistical value of an inventory effort focused only on Categories 1 and 2 IRSs could be in question.
Also, IBRAE specialists were concerned that they might not be collecting sufficient data on unwanted IRSs since the reporting program is voluntary, and IRS custodians may be reluctant to provide data about problems. Only a small percentage of IRSs recovered in the United States have been Category 1 or 2. However, in the United States, IRSs have been recovered from about 500 sites with an average of about 24 IRSs taken from each site. When taking the total activity of the recovered IRSs into
account (calculating alpha and beta-gamma IRSs separately), on average each site had housed the equivalent of one or more Category 1 or 2 IRSs. DOE should consider the effect of aggregating activity levels of large numbers of low-activity sources at a single site where the total activity may be above thresholds of concern. Indeed, during the committee’s visits in Russia, the need for aggregating activities of low-activity IRSs in at least some facilities seemed clear.
While the IBRAE contract with DOE may not have been sufficiently comprehensive, DOE officials have assured the committee that subsequent guidance to IBRAE was to include in its analyses those sites at which the aggregate activity of large numbers of weak IRSs exceeds the contractual guidelines.
Further supporting the view that low-activity IRSs should not be ignored, specialists the world over are in the early learning stage with regard to the impacts of radiological terrorism.
IMPROVING SECURITY AT RADON SITES
As described previously, the Radon complex operates 16 regional storage and disposal facilities handling a wide variety of unwanted and spent IRSs as well as other forms of radioactive materials that have been collected for disposal. The complex plays a central national role in collecting and disposing of unwanted IRSs and, in effect, sets an important and highly visible standard for the entire nation. Individual Radon facilities are responsible for many IRSs in transit and on-site. DOE’s effort has been directed at upgrading security at the sites to help prevent theft or loss of IRSs in Radon’s possession. As noted in Chapter 2, an incident of theft occurred when insurgents overran a former Radon site in Grozny, Chechnya, in 2001 and escaped with an unknown number of IRSs.
The DOE-funded security upgrades at Radon sites are focused on (1) installing rapid physical security upgrades during a six-month period, (2) improving security of transportation of IRSs in the second stage, and (3) installing comprehensive upgrades with modern physical security approaches integrated with existing protection systems. The Kurchatov Institute Russian Research Center has provided valuable technical support and advice for these activities and has identified the following principles to guide the effort:
Technical subsystems and equipment that reduce maintenance and training costs are to be emphasized.
Each subsystem is to have the capability to accumulate and transmit information to the system’s center.
The overall system is to be designed so that its capacity and functions could be increased without having to interrupt operations.3
Security upgrades were completed at the Radon site in Sergiev Posad, near Moscow, in 2004. The committee had the opportunity to visit this site, observe the upgrades that had been installed, and discuss the program with facility managers. Significant security upgrades include underground storage wells, tamper-indicating devices, access control devices, and intrusion detection systems. Facility managers demonstrated very good awareness of the importance of security of IRSs and of modern methods to accomplish effective security. The buildings visited appeared well designed from a security perspective. Discussions with facility managers clearly indicated that DOE has done an excellent job in working jointly with Russian officials and technical specialists over many months to achieve these upgrades, and DOE has recognized their contributions in publicized ceremonies at the site.
The Radon system has some advantages over the approach in the United States where no such dedicated sites have the capability to accept and handle a broad range of excess and unwanted materials, IRSs, and radioactive waste. U.S. sites are specialized, and excess material is secured and managed on a segregated basis. For example, DOE waste disposal sites cannot store excess radioactive material. Most unwanted IRSs being collected because of national security concerns are stored at Los Alamos in Nevada until a disposal site or recycle facility becomes available. However, certain types of IRSs are not accepted at Los Alamos, and separate accommodations must be made for them at secure commercial locations or other DOE sites. Although some aspects of the U.S. recovery efforts are well ahead of Russian programs, this limitation in the United States has been expensive and has significantly slowed the recovery process. Today, long delay periods are sometime necessary when recoveries of IRSs are halted by a protracted process to determine whether a particular site has the capability to accept and store a particular type of IRS.4
By January 2006, DOE had completed upgrades at four Radon sites, and work was under way at three others. Two or three more were on the schedule for upgrade activities beginning in 2006. Clearly, a nationwide
Gnedenko, V. G., I. V. Goryachev, N. A. Petrov, N. V. Vitik, and Ye. G. Sergeeva. 2005. Improving Physical Security of Storage Sites and Ensuring the Safe Storage and Transport of Radiological Materials at Radon Special Complexes in the Russian Federation. Presentation at the U.S.-Russian Workshop on Safety and Security of Ionizing Radiation Sources by the Kurchatov Institute Russian Research Center, Moscow, March 14-15; see Appendix D.
U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO). 2003. Nuclear Nonproliferation: DOE Action Needed to Ensure Continued Recovery of Unwanted Sealed Radioactive Sources. GAO-03-483. Washington, D.C.: GAO.
network of secure Radon sites will establish a sound foundation for efforts to recover and secure IRSs of greatest risk.
COLLECTING AND DISPOSING OF UNWANTED SOURCES
The state enterprise Izotop is responsible for a number of aspects of safe handling of radionuclides in Russia, including their safe packaging and transport. Also, it is an important partner of DOE in recovering unwanted IRSs. The specific tasks assigned to Izotop under the cooperative U.S.-Russian program are as follows:
Discover unused, poorly maintained, or abandoned radiation devices and equipment containing IRSs,
Inspect equipment and devices proposed for return and for recycling of IRSs that are not being used for their intended purposes or that have been abandoned,
Locate, dismantle, consolidate, transport, and bury IRSs in secure repositories, and
Identify, plan, design, and carry out measures to modernize physical protection, control, and accounting of materials at selected sites where IRSs remain.
As of December 2005, the cooperative program had recovered 1,732 IRSs with a total activity of about 200,000 curies. Plans for 2006 included recovery of 474 additional IRSs with a total activity of about 160,000 curies. In addition, security upgrades were installed at the Izotop handling facility.
Although these achievements are welcome progress, the program thus far has touched only a very small portion of the IRSs that are unused or have become orphan sources. As previously noted, during visits to several Russian facilities, the committee saw a dire need for a much more comprehensive program of IRS returns and disposal.
DECOMMISSIONING OF RTGs
More than 1,000 RTGs were produced for use in the former Soviet Union. Most of these were deployed along the coasts of Russia. Almost all were used to power remote navigational and weather stations. For example, more than 130 lighthouses in the Far North rely on RTGs for power. Most RTGs are the property of the Russian Navy while some are under the control of the Ministry of Transportation.
The RTGs typically are of very high activity and present both a safety and a security concern not only to Russia but also to its neighbors should
these devices be taken across the border. As indicated in Chapter 2, a series of reported incidents involving RTGs in recent years has raised concerns about their security.
During the past few years, 200 to 300 RTGs have been taken out of service in Russia. Many are in various stages of dismantlement before being sent to Mayak for appropriate disposal. This work has been supported by an international task force of specialists from Russia, Canada, Norway, and the United States. It has led to the recovery and disposal of more than one-half of the recovered units. Other units have been recovered by the Russian authorities without external financial assistance.
RTGs singled out for disposal initially are to be moved to five regional storage locations that are being upgraded to provide secure interim storage. Construction of these sites began in 2004. Depending on the characteristics of the radionuclides, the RTGs may remain in temporary storage for up to 10 years before being moved to Mayak for disposal.
The removal of RTGs from many locations is constrained by the lack of replacement power sources. Norway has been providing solar-powered electricity generators for a number of years. DOE has used this experience as a base for providing solar energy devices as well. Several DOE-financed pilot projects to test new solar power and wind generators are under way using navy sites. An additional pilot project will rely on commercial electrical lines for power. In some cases, Russian authorities have decided that replacement energy sources are not needed. Over the longer term, in addition to the United States, several of Russia’s neighbors are working with the Russian government toward an eventual goal to decommission all RTGs and replace them with alternative power where needed.
A key Russian organization in this program is the Federal Research Institute for Physics and Automation (VNIITFA), which designed, constructed, and distributed most of the RTGs (using IRSs from Mayak). VNIITFA is also responsible for disassembling these RTGs in preparation for their disposition. An important aspect of the program is to improve security at the VNIITFA facility given the large concentration of RTGs there. Also the SEVMASH naval shipyard in the Far North handles recovered RTGs, and security upgrades have been installed at the shipyard through the cooperative program on an expedited basis.
The DOE program has worked effectively with the Russian government to reduce the dangers of high-activity RTGs. Although much progress has been made, much more needs to be done, given the large number of RTGs that are deployed. A large fraction of the DOE budget supports this effort. As noted in Chapter 2, the greatest reduction in the risk from these devices is accomplished by moving the RTGs to secure sites for storage. Whereas Russian institutions prepare the RTGs for disposal at Mayak, in the United States they are stored for eventual land
burial disposal as discussed in Chapter 2. Perhaps funds could be saved by using this approach in Russia.
RELATED COOPERATIVE ACTIVITIES IN RUSSIA
DOE is supporting other cooperative programs with Russian organizations that are relevant to its core radiological terrorism program to improve the protection of IRSs. Five such programs are described below.
Second Line of Defense Program
This program, which is designed to intercept fissile or radioactive material that is destined to be smuggled illegally across borders, has been cited in Chapter 1. The program areas are (1) providing training for customs and border protection officers, (2) improving detection of nuclear material at ports, and (3) maintaining detection and related equipment installed under other programs. DOE provides considerable equipment, including stationary detectors for vehicle, rail, and pedestrian monitoring and handheld radionuclide identifiers. Future plans call for an emphasis on upgrading sites where equipment is already in place, a maintenance program whereby the United States purchases spare parts and Russia is responsible for repairs, and joint development of criteria for completion of training and fulfillment of sustainability needs.5
Materials Protection, Control, and Accounting
The U.S.-Russian cooperative MPC&A program mentioned earlier focuses on the security of weapon-usable material at about 50 sites in Russia, including sites at which some of the most sensitive nuclear facilities in Russia are located. This program has grown from a U.S. contribution of $2 million in 1994 to approximately $150 million annually during the past few years. There are significant collateral benefits of the MPC&A, program which improves a number of aspects of facility security that also add to the security of IRSs since many of the sites covered by the MPC&A program house significant numbers of IRSs. Some of the MPC&A upgrades, such as enhancing perimeter security, installing detectors at entry or exit portal points, training security personnel, and improving response capabilities, are particularly important in improving the security of IRSs.
Also, as noted in Chapter 2, some Russian regulations address the safety and security of all types of nuclear-related activities on-site. The MPC&A program, in particular, has supported the strengthening and enforcement of such regulations with side benefits for enhancing the security of IRSs as well as the security of fissile material.
Finally, some lessons learned from the cooperative MPC&A program are relevant to the cooperative activities for protecting IRSs. For example, approaches used to upgrade transportation security during shipments of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium and the adoption of vulnerability assessment methodologies are applicable to the security of IRSs as well. On the negative side, MPC&A cooperation has sometimes been hampered by insufficient buy-in from the Russian government, making it very difficult for DOE to develop a program that will be sustained over the long term.6 Consequently, cooperation against radiological terrorism must be designed as a partnership with strong Russian leadership from the beginning.
Activities of the International Science and Technology Center
Many ISTC projects in fields such as geology, medicine, and agriculture include the use of IRSs. Also, a particularly relevant ISTC program entitled Radiation Legacy of the Soviet Union has involved a number of Russian research institutions, with core staff located at the Institute of Chemical Technology of Rosatom. This program has been under way for almost 10 years. It emphasizes both the assessment of radiation contamination throughout the country and the safety and security of radioactive materials. The distribution of IRSs is a small but important aspect of the program. A variety of reports have been issued on the achievements of the individual projects, and a number of them can be obtained at email@example.com.
Warhead Safety and Security Exchange Program
This DOE program was initiated in 1996 to foster cooperation between U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons specialists in addressing issues of warhead safety and security. During the past few years the cooperation among specialists has been extended to examining concerns about nuclear terrorism.
Naval Spent Nuclear Fuel
For several years, the Russian government has made the disposition of spent naval reactor fuels from the retired Russian general-purpose submarine fleet one of its highest priorities for nuclear cooperation with the West. Both the Russian and the U.S. governments consider spent fuel to represent primarily an environmental problem. Some countries in close proximity to Russia, such as Norway, Sweden, Germany, and the United Kingdom, are funding cooperative efforts for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel. Recently the United States has increased its concern about spent fuel becoming source material for radiological terrorism.
This report does not address the threat posed by spent fuel. Recent DOE studies indicate that the radioactive material in spent fuel does not pose a particularly large RDD (radiological dispersion device) threat.7 U.S.-Russian collaborative studies have examined the ease of stealing spent nuclear fuel from Russian shipyards, maintenance bases, floating service vessels, transportation and storage facilities, and special trains. Recommendations have been developed on approaches for increasing the level of protection of spent nuclear fuel and for mitigation of an incident should one occur.8
A GOOD START FOR THE COOPERATIVE PROGRAM
The cooperative program has made good progress. The database and inventory project is beginning to provide a broad picture of the IRS situation in Russia. The rapid physical security upgrades provide much-needed and timely improvements. Some of the most dangerous IRSs contained in high-activity RTGs have been taken out of service. However, much more needs to be done by the Russian government and cooperatively to reduce the threat to both U.S. and Russian interests.
The cooperative effort has been limited due in large measure to limited funding on both sides. Also, a number of Russian organizations responsible for the security of IRSs have not indicated an interest in participating in the program. Of particular concern is the lack of involvement of the Ministries of Health and Social Services, Natural Resources and Energy, Agriculture, and Education and Science. All of these ministries have responsibility for the stewardship of large numbers of IRSs, and the status of security procedures within the facilities of the ministries is
simply not known. Also missing from active participation in the program are the hundreds of enterprises that have IRSs in their possession.
The focus of the program has been on a few quick fixes, rather than on comprehensive long-term approaches. It has been difficult to ensure that Russian facilities will embrace over the long term modern methods of protection, control, and accounting that have been used in the program, and serious questions abound as to the sustainability of activities when the program moves from one activity to the next.
Nevertheless, the cooperative program has helped Russia improve the security of some of its most vulnerable IRSs. Perhaps the most important contribution the program has made is to bring to the attention of the Russian government the seriousness of inadequate protection of IRSs. In each of the program areas, Russian activities seem to be on the rise, probably attributable in some measure to the stimulus of the cooperative program. Also, the cooperative program has enhanced the ability of some Russian organizations to deal with IRSs while building DOE alliances with key Russian organizations that are prepared to do much more if resources are available.