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Russia: U.S. Energy Secretary To Discuss Nuclear Issues

Washington, 18 July 1997 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of Energy Federico Pena heads for Moscow Saturday where he will meet with high-level Russian officials to discuss nuclear non-proliferation, energy development and the safeguarding of nuclear materials.

Pena told reporters in Washington yesterday that he has three major objectives for the trip: to work with the Russians to help keep nuclear materials from terrorists and rogue states; to lay the groundwork for an international energy ministerial meeting to take place in Moscow early next year; and to develop ways to further open Russian energy markets to American and international investors.

In regards to the non-proliferation of nuclear materials, Pena said the U.S. has a "compelling national interest" to ensure that the more than 650 tons of nuclear matter in Russia and countries of the former Soviet Union is well protected and secure.

Pena said the U.S. Department of Energy has "unique technical skills and experience" that it will offer to the Russians to help them make an orderly transition to more modern safeguarding systems.

Pena said the U.S. has already been working very closely with Russian officials to help them install fences, accounting systems, radiation detectors and other basic safeguards at key nuclear installations.

For example, Pena said that at the Siberian Chemical Combine -- which by some measures is considered to be the world's largest nuclear facility and contains some 100 tons of nuclear materials -- radiation monitors have been installed to detect possible smuggling attempts.

Pena said he will also attempt to secure an agreement with Russian officials that would stop the production of weapons-grade plutonium at three reactors in Russia. Pena added he is well aware that Russia needs the energy from these reactors to provide electricity to two Russian cities, but said the U.S. could help them accomplish that goal while still reducing the nuclear proliferation threat.

Pena said he also hopes to make some progress on a trilateral agreement on the monitoring of nuclear weapon-grade material between the U.S., Russia and the International Atomic Energy Agency. He said the agreement would "promote international confidence" that U.S.-Russian arms reduction efforts would not be reversed.

Another cooperative effort of great importance, said Pena, is the U.S.-Russian joint program called the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention, or IPP.

The IPP has been in operation since the U.S. Congress authorized it in 1994 to provide paid civilian employment for thousands of Russian scientists and engineers. The purpose behind the program, said Pena, is to prevent the Russian scientists from either emigrating to rogue states that might employ their skills, or selling their knowledge abroad.

IPP funding is currently in danger of being eliminated by the U.S. Congress as lawmakers make deep slashes in the budget for fiscal 1998. But Pena said he will fight to keep the program and is confident some level of funding will remain.

Pena said he will also hold high-level talks with Russian officials in preparation for an energy summit to be held next year in Moscow at the request of Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

In June, following the summit in Denver, Colorado, U.S. President Bill Clinton and the other leaders issued a statement endorsing the Russian proposal for the 1998 energy summit.

Pena said as a result of the endorsement, energy ministers from Russia, the U.S., Japan, Germany, Great Britain, France, Italy and Canada will come together to work on important international energy and environmental issues. Pena said no specific dates for the energy summit have yet been set.

Pena said that he would also bring up legislative changes, market incentives and environmental policies that would lead to an "open and efficient energy sector" in Russia and encourage American and international investments.

"Russia offers an important investment opportunity for U.S. oil and gas companies," said Pena.

According to Pena, by the end of 1997, approximately $400 million will have been invested in Russia by U.S. companies.

But Pena added that non-proliferation was certainly the most urgent issue during his visit .

Pena said: "Remember, it only takes 8 kilograms of nuclear material to make a nuclear weapon. Estimates are that there is enough weapons-grade material in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union to make 40,000 nuclear bombs. In my view, those are 40,000 reasons to give a sense of urgency to the work we will do in Russia starting on Saturday."

During his five-day trip, Pena says he will meet with Russian Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin, Minister of Fuel and Energy Boris Nemtsov, Minister of Atomic Energy Viktor Mikhaylov, Minister of Natural Resources Viktor Orlov, Chair of the Defense Council Yuri Baturin, and members of the Duma.