Annual Report to Congress

on the Safety and Security of Russian

Nuclear Facilities and Military Forces

February 2002

 

Scope Note

Congress has directed the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) to submit to the Congressional leadership and intelligence committees an annual, unclassified report assessing the safety and security of the nuclear facilities and military forces in Russia.  Congress further asked that each report include a discussion of the following:

This annual report is the third responding to this Congressional request.  The report addresses facilities and forces of the Russian Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Atomic Energy, and other Russian institutes.  It updates the September 2000 report to Congress.


This paper has been prepared under the auspices of the National Intelligence Officer for Strategic and Nuclear Programs.


Key Points


Annual Report to Congress on the Safety and Security of Russian Nuclear Facilities and Military Forces

Moscow will continue to devote scarce resources to maintaining its nuclear forces.  Nevertheless, the aging of Russia's strategic systems and Putin's military reform plan to shift resources to the general purpose forces probably will result in Russia having fewer than 2,000 strategic warheads by 2015.  Even with ongoing reductions, Moscow probably will retain several thousand nonstrategic nuclear warheads in its inventory because of concerns over its deteriorating conventional capabilities.

Russia employs physical, procedural, and technical measures to secure its weapons against an external threat, but many of these measures date from the Soviet era and are not designed to counter the pre-eminent threat faced today—an insider who attempts unauthorized actions. 

Security varies widely among the different types of Ministry of Atomic Energy (Minatom) facilities and other Russian institutes. 

Weapons-grade and weapons-usable nuclear materials have been stolen from some Russian institutes.  We assess that undetected smuggling has occurred, although we do not know the extent or magnitude of such thefts.  Nevertheless, we are concerned about the total amount of material that could have been diverted over the last 10 years. 

Over the last six years, Moscow has recognized the need for security improvements and, with assistance from the United States and other countries, has taken steps to reduce the risk of theft. 

Through the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program and the US Department of Energy’s Material Protection, Control, and Accounting Program, the United States continues to assist Russia in improving security at nuclear facilities.  Russia’s nuclear security has been slowly improving over the last several years, but risks remain. 

Russia has announced plans to more than double its capacity to generate nuclear power over the next 20 years and to begin construction of reactors with enhanced safety features.  Since July 2001, Russian media have reported increased security measures at a number of nuclear power plants.  Even with increased security measures, however, such plants almost certainly will remain vulnerable to a well-planned and executed terrorist attack.



Discussion

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the security environment surrounding nuclear weapons and materials in Russia has changed radically.  Security measures in both the Ministries of Defense (MOD) and Atomic Energy (Minatom) during the Soviet era were aimed at preventing the external or outsider threat; it was virtually unthinkable that an insider would attempt to steal a nuclear weapon or nuclear material.  In contrast, the deterioration of the Russian economy, state security apparatus, and military has resulted in an entirely new security environment—one in which concern about an insider threat predominates.  The Russians have reacted to this new threat by instituting some new security procedures at their nuclear facilities, including instituting polygraph examinations. 

Over the last three years, we have seen Moscow elevate its concern about the security of its nuclear weapons and materials.  Russian authorities ordered increased security due to concerns over a growing terrorist threat resulting from Moscow’s campaign in Chechnya, according to official statements and media reporting.

The United States is working cooperatively with Moscow to increase the safety and security of nuclear-related facilities, infrastructure, and personnel.  The Russian MOD is responsible for the nuclear military forces and its nuclear weapons storage system.  Minatom operates the national nuclear weapons complex, conducts weapons-related tests at the MOD’s nuclear test site, and controls most nuclear-related institutes and industrial facilities.  Minatom and Rosenergoatom operate Russia’s nuclear power reactors. 

Ministry of Defense

Nuclear Weapons Inventory

Moscow currently maintains fewer than 5,000 operational strategic nuclear warheads in its strategic nuclear triad, which is composed of ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers carrying nuclear-tipped air-launched cruise missiles.  Despite the emphasis on nuclear weapons as Russia’s primary means of deterrence, Russian strategic nuclear forces are subject to the same significant budget constraints affecting other portions of the government.  The strategic forces will face additional budget cuts, resulting in lower strategic warhead levels, because Putin’s military reform plan will shift resources to the general purpose forces.  Nevertheless, Moscow continues to devote scarce resources to maintaining and modernizing its forces.

Nuclear Warhead Security

The Russians have maintained security and control of their nuclear warheads and weapons, although the economic crisis of the 1990s and the consequent decline in military funding have stressed the country’s nuclear security system.

Russian officials have stated that thousands of nuclear warheads from the former Soviet stockpile have been dismantled since 1991; reportedly over 10,000 warheads have been eliminated.

Moscow is significantly reducing its nonstrategic nuclear stockpile.  In October 1991, then-Soviet President Gorbachev, responding to a US presidential initiative, announced that the Soviet Union would unilaterally consolidate most of its nonstrategic nuclear warheads in central depots and would eliminate a major portion of them.  In January 1992, President Yel'tsin publicly reaffirmed Gorbachev’s announcement.  Although Russia has taken some actions to fulfill these pledges, Moscow—because of concerns over deteriorating conventional capabilities—probably will retain several thousand nonstrategic nuclear warheads through at least 2015.

Physical Security.  To secure their weapons, the Russians employ a multi-layered approach that includes physical, procedural, and technical measures.  The security system was designed in the Soviet era to protect weapons primarily against a threat from outside the country and may not be sufficient to meet today’s challenge of a knowledgeable insider collaborating with a criminal or terrorist group.  General-Colonel Igor Valynkin, chief of the 12th Main Directorate of the Ministry of Defense (12th GUMO)—the organization responsible for warhead storage, maintenance, and logistics—stated in August 2000 that there have been no incidents of attempted theft, seizure, or unauthorized actions involving nuclear weapons.

Since the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, President Putin and Valynkin have conducted a public campaign to provide assurances that terrorists have not acquired Russian nuclear weapons. 

Over the last six years, Moscow has recognized the need for security improvements and, with US assistance, has taken steps to reduce the risk of theft.  We judge that nuclear security would improve over time if Russia routinely implemented security upgrades and procedures under US-funded threat reduction programs.  Some of the key US-funded security upgrade programs include:

Valynkin has admitted that a lack of domestic funding has made Russia dependent on foreign assistance for physical security upgrades.  Quoting Valynkin, an August 2000 press report stated that the United States is financing the procurement of security systems for the MOD.  The newspaper also described Valynkin as troubled because only a third of the new equipment had been put into service due to funding shortages.  Despite the lack of funds, however, the chief of the MOD’s Special Construction Troops reported in December 2000 that security enhancements were being completed at dozens of nuclear facilities.

Even with the enhancements, security problems may still exist at the nuclear weapons storage sites.  In August 2001, an anonymous military officer claimed in a Russian television program interview that security was lax at 12th GUMO sites.  The officer outlined a number of problems at the storage sites, including charges that there are personnel shortages and that alarms systems operate only 50 percent of the time.  The officer speculated that a terrorist organization could seize a nuclear warhead. 

Personnel Reliability.  Much like other parts of the military, the Strategic Rocket Forces and the 12th GUMO have also suffered from wage arrears as well as shortages of food and housing allowances.  In 1997, the 12th GUMO closed a nuclear weapons storage site due to hunger strikes by the workers; in 1998, families of several nuclear units protested over wage and benefit arrears.  According to Russian press, the MOD addressed most of the arrears by early 1999, and wages are now paid regularly.  Even when paid, however, officers’ wages rarely exceed $70 a month and wives cannot earn a second income because the storage sites are usually located far from cities, according to the anonymous 12th GUMO officer.

Moscow has acknowledged the potential vulnerability of its nuclear security personnel.  In October 1998, General Valynkin referenced serious incidents that had occurred at some of his subordinate facilities and stated that more stringent selection criteria for nuclear warhead personnel would be used.  Speaking at a press conference concerning US CTR funding in February 1999, Valynkin acknowledged, “the greatest problem is the person who works with nuclear warheads.  He knows the secrets, he has the access, he knows the security system.”

Ministry of Atomic Energy

Nuclear Materials Security

Russian officials recognize the need to improve the security of weapons-usable nuclear materials that we assess are stored in over 300 buildings at over 40 facilities across the country.  After a cabinet meeting on the topic in September 2000, Prime Minister Kasyanov stated publicly that protection of fissile materials varies from place to place and that in some cases the material is endangered.  At the same press conference, a Deputy Minister of Atomic Energy noted that reported attempts to steal fissile materials had dropped significantly in recent years.  He said that whereas there were 21 such reports from 1991 to 1994, there were only two from 1995 to 1999.  The Deputy Minister also criticized Western press reports for exaggerating the problem.

Press reports, in fact, generally overstate the impact of stolen material, often referring to or implying that depleted, natural, or low-enriched uranium are weapons-grade or weapons-usable material.[1]

Russian institutes have lost weapons-grade and weapons-usable nuclear materials in thefts.

The reduction in seizures of stolen material and in reported theft attempts may be due to several factors:  US assistance to improve security at Russian facilities, a possible decrease in smuggling, or smugglers becoming more knowledgeable about evading detection.  We assess that undetected smuggling has occurred, although we do not know the extent or magnitude of undetected thefts.  Nevertheless, we are concerned about the total amount of material that could have been diverted over the last 10 years. 

Efforts To Improve Physical Security and Safeguards.  Prior to DOE assistance to enhance safeguards and security, Russian MPC&A practices did not meet internationally accepted standards.  Russian facilities housing nuclear materials typically receive low funding, lack trained security personnel, and do not have sufficient equipment for securely storing nuclear materials.  The DOE-administered MPC&A program, as well as other programs, is assisting the former Soviet states to upgrade safeguards (accountability and control) over nuclear materials and physical security at a wide range of nuclear facilities.  For example:

In mid-2001 DOE reported that by the end of FY 2001 "comprehensive" security upgrades would have expanded to cover an estimated 21 percent of Russia’s weapons-usable nuclear material, and that if facilities protected by “rapid upgrades” were added, the percentage would increase to 48.[2]  When the upgrades currently underway are completed, the portion of material with improved security will increase to approximately 65 percent.  Progress is most advanced at civilian institutes and Russian Navy sites, and lags at Minatom facilities within the nuclear weapons complex—which contain most of the material of proliferation interest—because Russian security concerns prevent direct US access to sensitive materials.

Economics and Personnel Reliability.  Even after technical modernization, security for weapons-usable nuclear material depends largely on the diligence, competence, and morale of personnel who monitor systems and guard material and facilities and on managers who must emphasize security over production.  Programs to improve physical security, accountability, and training could be undermined by disgruntled Russian personnel or unreceptive managers and employees.

Because of improvements in the national economy, Russia and Minatom are now able to pay personnel on time.  Thus, for now, compensation and benefits appear adequate, and personnel no longer face the financial pressures of the late 1990s that might have led some to permit or actively participate in weapons-usable nuclear material theft.

Convenience and pressure to produce also can contribute to lapses in security.  US Government Accounting Office auditors noted in their February 2001 report that, at one facility, a gate in a fence emplaced with US aid around a weapons-usable nuclear material storage building was routinely left open and unguarded during the day.  Russian officials explained that it was simply too much trouble for the employees to open and close the combination lock repeatedly as they entered and left the building.  This practice, however, undermined control of access and meant that the only security measures in effect were the perimeter fence and guards at the facility.

Safety at Russian Nuclear Material Processing Facilities 

Russian HEU facilities have at least three levels of contamination control. 

The monitoring of personnel radiation safety is also a multi-layered process.

Another safety program is criticality safety—the process established to prevent the initiation of self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.  There are two main types of controls used to prevent criticality accidents:  administrative controls and physical controls. 

Russian nuclear facilities predominantly use physical controls, which are the more stringent and secure of the two types of controls, although we question whether they routinely follow their own rules.

Safety and Security at Russian Civilian Nuclear Power Plants

Russia has announced plans to more than double its capacity to generate nuclear power over the next 20 years, to begin construction of reactors with enhanced safety features, and to restart its long-dormant fast breeder reactor program.  The funding has not yet been allocated.  To fulfill the plan, Russia will have to extend the lives of the first-generation plants, which presents some risk to the safety of individuals living near them.  

Western assistance has been improving the safety systems and operating procedures at Soviet-designed nuclear reactors.  However, inherent design deficiencies in RBMK and older model VVER reactors will prevent them from ever meeting Western safety standards.

 After the September terrorist attacks in the United States, Minister of Atomic Energy Aleksandr Rumyantsev reported that Russian nuclear power facilities are protected by special guards patrolling around the clock in addition to national defense forces.  A Rosenergoatom official reported on 12 September 2001 that security services at the nuclear power plants are already working a “harsh regime” because of the continuing military actions in Chechnya and that additional security measures were not necessary.  Since July, Russian media have reported increased security measures at a number of plants:

Even with increased security, however, Russian nuclear power plants almost certainly will remain vulnerable to a well-planned and executed terrorist attack.



[1] In contrast, non-weapons-grade nuclear material thefts, particularly containers of radionuclides such as   cesium-137 or strontium-90, have been frequent and well documented.  Terrorists could use these radionuclides to build a radiological dispersal device (RDD).  An RDD is defined as a device designed to disperse radioactive material to cause injury and contamination by means of the radiation.  Reportedly, Chechen terrorists placed a container holding a small amount of cesium-137 in a Moscow Park in November 1995.  Remarking on this event, General Dudayev, the former leader of the Chechen independence movement, stated "[this] is just a scant portion of the radioactive substances which we have at our disposal."

[2] “Rapid upgrades” include items such as baseline item inventories, locks, delay blocks, steel cages, limiting access, and hardening windows.  “Comprehensive upgrades” include rapid upgrades plus detection systems, closed-circuit television monitoring and assessment systems, material measurement equipment, and computerized accounting systems.