Kazakhstan News Bulletin Released weekly by the Embassy of The Republic of Kazakhstan
Vol. 3, No. 22, July 23, 2001
Last week 'The Washington Times' published a number of articles relating to Kazakhstan which we believe will be of interest to you.
The attached excerpts from the articles 'Cheney Aims to Drill Afar and Wide' and 'Kazakh Plutonium Stores Made Safe' highlight two of the most important areas of cooperation between Kazakhstan and the United States, the energy sphere and non-proliferation.
CHENEY AIMS TO DRILL AFAR AND WIDE
By David R. Sands, The Washington Times, July 20, 2001
Debates over drilling at home have dominated the headlines, but the Bush administration's energy plan also calls for some aggressive prospecting in overseas markets as well.
Kazakhstan, Russia, India and even Venezuela stand to be big winners under key sections of the energy program, released by a task force headed by Vice President Richard B. Cheney on May 18.
"There's a lot going on on the international side in that report, and it's going to matter a lot to the entire global energy market," said Robert E. Ebel, director of the energy and national security program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). "The path the U.S. chooses on production and consumption will have a huge impact on the rest of the world."
The Bush plan calls for a major diversification of oil suppliers, away from the long-standing reliance on unstable or unfriendly Middle Eastern producers.
A survey released by the American Petroleum Institute (API) on Wednesday could boost the Bush plan, which faces a tough time in Congress. The oil industry trade group found that U.S. crude oil imports for the first half of 2001 hit a record average of 60 percent of total demand, or 9.2 million barrels per day. Oil imports in April accounted for 62.8 percent of total demand, "the largest (monthly) share in history," API said.
Officials in the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan have expressed satisfaction with the Bush administration's focus on their market, where recent oil field discoveries have attracted intense industry interest.
Kazakhstan's Kashagan oil field is rated as perhaps the biggest new find in more than a generation, rivaling the oil produced by Alaska's Prudhoe Bay.
"The new administration has showed a very complete and mutual understanding of the cooperation we hope to have in the future," Vladimir Shkolnik, Kazakhstan's vice minister for energy and natural resources, said in an interview during a Washington trip this spring. "I get the feeling they understand very well our potential," Mr. Shkolnik said.
While saying private investors must lead the way, the Cheney report devotes considerable time to the Kazakh market, urging U.S. government agencies to "deepen their commercial dialogue" with Kazakhstan.
The report also endorses the proposed pipeline from Baku, Azerbaijan, through Georgia to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. Enthusiastically backed by the Clinton administration, the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline has been resisted by Moscow, which sees the project as an effort to bypass Russia.
"The big question has always been how to get the oil and gas to market. With private companies like (British Petroleum) really pushing the pipeline, it's hard to see how the Bush administration could do a 180-degree turn from what the Clinton people were recommending," Mr. Ebel said.
To complete the bypass of both Russia and Iran, the Cheney report's authors called for the State Department to push for Greece and Turkey to link their gas pipeline systems, allowing even easier access to European markets for Caspian gas
KAZAKH PLUTONIUM STORES MADE SAFE
By Christopher Pala, Special to The Washington Times, July 21, 2001
ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- U.S. officials last week voiced quiet satisfaction after one of the world's largest stockpiles of weapons-grade plutonium, located in a sensitive zone, was successfully made theft-proof in what the Energy Department called "one of the world's largest and most successful nonproliferation projects."
More than three tons of plutonium, enough to make about 400 bombs, had been stored in a fast-breeder reactor on the Caspian Sea shore in security conditions one early visitor described as similar to those of an office building.
Today, the plutonium has been fully secured, said Trisha Dedik, director of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Nonproliferation Policy, in an interview July 13 in Almaty, Kazakhstan's economic capital. "It's been a great success."
The plutonium was produced by a BN-350 fast-breeder nuclear reactor on the arid northwestern shore of the Caspian, a few miles from the city of Aktau. Both the city and 350-megawatt power plant on the Mangyshlak Peninsula, the first-ever commercial breeder reactor, owed their location to considerable uranium deposits that were mined nearby. The plant closed in 1999, at the end of its useful life.
After 26 years of providing electricity and water (by powering a desalination plant) to the Aktau region, the plant had an accumulation of 3,000 15-foot cylinders, called fuel assemblies, containing spent nuclear fuel. About 7,250 pounds of weapons-grade plutonium could be extracted from the assemblies with relative ease, according to the Energy Department.
Nearly half the assemblies emitted little radiation and could be safely handled by workers wearing light protection. The other half were too "hot" to be handled by anything but robots. All spent years in a cooling pond the size of a football field at the plant.
"When I walked in there the first time back in 1995, it had all the security of a modern office building," said Fredrick Crane, an American physicist familiar with the plant. "It was a clean and well-run reactor," said Mr. Crane. There were some guards, but otherwise all you needed was one code, like in an airport terminal, and you were in."
With each fuel assembly weighing 300 pounds, a couple of strong men with accomplices inside could spirit out the half-dozen cylinders it would take to make a nuclear bomb. "It was attractive material, and it was accessible," said Miss Dedik of the Energy Department.
Just 500 miles to the south along the Caspian coastline lies Iran and what U.S. officials say is a covert nuclear-weapons program. Eight hundred miles to the southeast is Afghanistan, base and refuge of accused terrorist mastermind Osama Bin Laden, and due west, straight across the Caspian, Chechnya smolders.
"There are fast-breeder reactors in Western Europe and Japan, but the plutonium produced there doesn't accumulate like it did in Aktau. It's reprocessed pretty quickly," Miss Dedik said. "There just aren't any big stockpiles. Remember, most weapons-grade plutonium is produced by dedicated reactors, controlled by the military, and they're usually much better guarded than this one was."
So in 1996, the government of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United States quietly set up a program to immediately enhance security and, starting in 1998, to package the fuel assemblies to prevent theft.
Miss Dedik and Mr. Crane were among several dozen Americans who worked on the project, which was funded by the U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction Program under the Nunn-Lugar Act.
A torpedo factory in Almaty that had been converted to civilian work was assigned to manufacture big steel canisters in which four or six of the plutonium-rich assemblies -- some "hot," some "cooled" -- were packed together and sealed before being returned to the cooling pond. Weighing more than a ton, the filled canisters are far too heavy to be handled by anything but a large robot, and all of them now emit lethal doses of radiation.
Last month, after nearly three years and $43 million in U.S. support, the 478th and last canister was welded shut and lowered into the pond. At the plant, Mr. Crane said, there are now manned gates, closed-circuit TV cameras, X-ray machines and turnstiles with magnetic cards, along with sensors that monitor the nuclear materials around the clock.
The packing is designed to last 50 years, but the plutonium isn't destined to stay at the closed Aktau plant that long. Eventually, under a decree signed six months ago by Mr. Nazarbayev, the canisters will be taken 2,750 miles by train to the former nuclear-testing grounds at Semipalatinsk, on the other side of this country four times the size of Texas.
There, silos will be dug into the steppe and the fat cylinders will be buried, using a technique perfected in the United States.
"It will be the longest rail shipment of plutonium ever attempted," said Miss Dedik. "They will have to design special transportation casks."
And since the rail line wanders through what is now Russia and Kyrgyzstan, special loops will have to be built so that the plutonium stays in Kazakhstan during its whole voyage.
For complete text of the articles please visit 'The Washington Times' at www.washtimes.com
News Bulletin of the Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan
(Compiled from own sources and various agencies' reports)