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U.S. Should Reassess Support for Programs to Address Aging Russian Nuclear Submarines, GAO Report Says

By Marina Malenic

Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON -- As U.S.-funded WMD threat reduction projects advance toward completion in Russia, Washington's participation in the Arctic Military Environmental Cooperation program ought to be reassessed, the Government Accountability Office concluded in a report released yesterday (see GSN, Aug. 5).

Norway, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States participate in the multilateral effort to reduce the environmental effects of Russia's arctic military activities, particularly Russia's aging fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.

The U.S. Defense Department, in a 1999 program plan submitted to Congress, stated that AMEC projects would support the goals of U.S. threat reduction programs, specifically efforts to dismantle Russian ballistic missile submarines.  The congressional auditors found, however, that only one of eight AMEC projects supported the threat reduction goals.

The environmental cooperation program is heading in a new direction that represents a significant expansion from its original charter, the report states.  Moreover, AMEC officials have not adequately justified expanding the program to secure spent nuclear fuel and other material and to address security problems at Russian shipyards, naval bases, support vessels, and other facilities associated with the dismantlement process.

The U.S. Defense Department, which is responsible for U.S. projects aimed at securing nuclear materials in Russia, told GAO investigators that spent nuclear fuel and other associated radioactive materials from Russia's nuclear submarines do not pose a high-priority security threat and that the department would not fund any new initiatives in this area.

The report also identifies AMEC member countries' financial contributions to the program.  From the program's establishment in 1996 to April 2004, member countries contributed about $56 million to the effort.  The United States has been the largest contributor, providing about $31 million, or 56 percent of the total.

However, the GAO found that the overall U.S. contribution decreased from fiscal 1999 to fiscal 2004, as U.S.-funded projects were completed and as other AMEC member countries increased assistance.

The GAO report recommends that the defense secretary, in consultation with the secretaries of Energy and State, reassess further U.S. involvement in the program.

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