Scientists: Moscow financial crisis jars nuclear security
Researchers worry about institute in Moscow
January 31, 1997
Web posted at: 3:00 p.m. EST (2000 GMT)
From Moscow Bureau Chief Eileen O'Connor
MOSCOW (CNN) -- New signs are emerging that Russia's nuclear
arsenal may not be as secure as the world had hoped.
CNN has obtained letters from Russia's top nuclear research
center warning of potentially disastrous developments if the
country's current economic crisis continues.
The letters, written by scientists from Moscow's Kurchatov
Institute, warn that if Russia's financial crisis deepens,
they cannot guarantee the safety of the nuclear facility or
of its nuclear stockpiles. The scientists are among the
government workers who have not been paid for months.
The letters note that while the amount of radioactive
material at the Kurchatov Institute is only one-tenth that of
Chernobyl, the potential effects could be more lethal, given
the institute's location in the heart of Moscow.
"We are located in the middle of the city. God forbid
something bad happens here that will affect the whole city's
population. So nuclear safety is our top priority," said
Nikolai Ponomaryov-Stepnoi, the institute's deputy director.
No money for worn equipment
The letters also warn of potential breakdowns in worn
equipment such as a water filtration system that helps cool
the reactors and which has not been worked on in 20 years.
The Kurchatov Institute has received less than 9 percent of
its 1996 budget allocation from the Russian government, not
enough to carry out much-needed fixes.
The scientists say they can guarantee safety for now.
"If we are talking about today, we can guarantee that," said
Ponomaryov-Stepnoi, but he said it is hard to say when that
guarantee will expire.
Last week, scientists at Kurchatov were promised one month of
the four months of salary they are owed, but they have yet to
see even that.
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