Russian nuclear submarine accident leaves 20 dead, 22 injured -2

MOSCOW, November 9 (RIA Novosti) – An accident aboard a Russian nuclear submarine in the Pacific Ocean killed 20 and injured another 22 people, a spokesman for Russia’s Investigative Committee said on Sunday.

The accident occurred late on Saturday during the sea trials of a nuclear-powered submarine as a result of the unsanctioned activation of the submarine’s fire-extinguishing system. The incident is the worst for the Russian navy since the sinking of the Kursk submarine in 2000 when all 118 sailors died.

“According to preliminary information, the incident killed 20 people – 6 sailors and 14 civilians who were aboard the submarine while 22 people received injuries of various gravity,” Vladimir Markin said.

Capt. 1st Rank Igor Dygalo, an aide to the Russian Navy commander said on Sunday that 208 people, including 81 service personnel had been onboard the submarine at the time of the incident. He said that the sub’s reactor had not been affected and radiation levels were normal.

All the injured had been evacuated on to the Admiral Tributs anti-submarine ship and later taken to hospitals in Vladivostok.

Meanwhile, the submarine arrived at 10:30 a.m. Moscow time (7:30 GMT) at a temporary base in the Primorye Region, Dygalo said.

A high-ranking source in the Pacific Fleet said the accident had occurred in the nose section of the submarine and confirmed that it had not damaged the submarine’s reactor.

The construction of the Akula II class Nerpa nuclear attack submarine started in 1991 but has been suspended for over a decade due to lack of funding. Akula II class vessels are considered the quietest and deadliest of Russian nuclear-powered attack submarines.

The Nerpa had started sea trials on October 27.

Meanwhile, Russian investigators said that Freon gas was the cause for the death of people on board the submarine.



Moscow denies Pentagon claims of ‘stolen’ Russian nuclear weapons

Moscow denies Pentagon claims of ‘stolen’ Russian nuclear weapons

14:37 | 31/ 10/ 2008

MOSCOW, October 31 (RIA Novosti) – Russia’s Foreign Ministry denied on Friday claims by the U.S. defense secretary that large amounts of Russian nuclear weapons had been stolen or misplaced.

Speaking in Washington on Tuesday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Robert Gates expressed concern that some Russian nuclear weapons from the former Soviet arsenal may not be fully accounted for.

“I have fairly high confidence that no strategic or modern tactical nuclear weapons have leaked beyond Russian borders,” Gates said.

“What worries me are the tens of thousands of old nuclear mines, nuclear artillery shells and so on, because the reality is the Russians themselves probably don’t have any idea how many of those they have or, potentially, where they are,” he added.

“Such allegations are entirely groundless,” the ministry’s press and information department said in a statement.

“Despite all the difficulties that our country faced in the early 1990s, Russia maintained very high standards of ensuring the safety and physical protection of its nuclear arsenals,” the statement said.

“In this respect, we would like to reiterate that in a joint statement on nuclear security signed by the Russian and U.S. leaders in Bratislava in 2005 both sides acknowledged that the protection of nuclear facilities in both countries meets modern norms and requirements,” it said.

In his remarks, Gates also supported the necessity of new talks with Moscow on further strategic arms reductions, which have been advocated by both current U.S. presidential candidates, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama.

Negotiated and signed in 1991, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) is scheduled to expire on December 5, 2009. Under that accord, the United States and Russia have significantly reduced their number of nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles.

Many experts believe that if START expires without replacement verification measures, the two countries will be “flying blind” in their nuclear relations.

Russian units raid Georgian airfields for use in Israeli strike against Iran – report

Russian units raid Georgian airfields for use in Israeli strike against Iran – report

DEBKAfile Special Report

September 5, 2008, 12:58 PM (GMT+02:00)

Israeli long-range unmanned aerial vehicle

Israeli long-range unmanned aerial vehicle

The raids were disclosed by UPI chief editor Arnaud de Borchgrave, who is also on the Washington Times staff, and picked up by the Iranian Fars news agency. The Russian raids of two Georgian airfields, which Tbilisi had allowed Israel to use for a potential strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, followed the Georgian offensive against South Ossetia on Aug. 7.

Under the secret agreement with Georgia, the airfields had been earmarked for use by Israeli fighter-bombers taking off to strike Iran in return for training and arms supplies.

DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources report that flying from S. Georgia over the Caspian Sea to Iran would sharply trim the distance to be spanned by Israeli fighter-bombers, reducing flying time to 3.5 hours.

Northern Iran and the Tehran region, where most of the nuclear facilities are concentrated, would be within range, with no need to request US permission to pass through Iraq air space.

Russian Special Forces also raided other Israeli facilities in southern Georgia and captured Israeli spy drones, says the report.

Israel was said to have used the two airfields to “conduct recon flights over southern Russia as well as into nearby Iran.” The US intelligence sources quoted by UPI reported that the Russian force also carried home other Israeli military equipment captured at the air bases.

Our sources say that if the Russians got hold of an Israeli unmanned aerial vehicle complete with sophisticated electronic reconnaissance equipment, they will have secured some of the IDF’s most secret devices for spying on Iran and Syria.

When this happened before, Russian military engineers quickly dismantled the equipment, studied it and passed the technology on to Tehran and Damascus.

The Origins Of Wall-E

In Disney/Pixar’s surprisingly good Wall-E, fat, lazy Humans are catered hand-and-foot by sleek, semi-intelligent robots who ultimately teach their creators a lesson in the merits of industry, activism, and self-reliance.

Besides the movie’s cutesy references to classic movies and pop culture, the theme of humans relying completely on their creations – and the often-unfortunate results of that dependency – is definitely not a new one. Although such works as Asimov’s “I, Robot” or Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” (on which “Bladerunner” was based) have a significant emphasis on the various ways in which robots of different types and intelligence levels will assist humans in The Future, they do not go so far as to describe a civilization completely void of Human endeavor.

Here are a few that do:

1909 – “The Machine Stops”, E.M. Forster

In a remarkably prescient tale about life in the distant future, a vast ecological disaster has forced humanity underground, where people live their lives in relative isolation, communicating through instant messaging and video-conferencing. In this dystopian existence, sluggish humans have become dependent on advanced technology to maintain their idle lifestyle – until, of course, someone rocks the boat and the system breaks down.

In 1966 the story was adapted into a 50-minute drama by the BBC. Note the moving recliner chairs and the technocratic overtones:

1957 – “Blobs!” [MAD #1], Harvey Kurtzman/Wally Wood

Interestingly enough, the cover story of the very first issue of MAD (still in its original comic book format) was an obvious (yet uncredited) satire of “The Machine Stops”. In this 7-page story, two of the few remaining humans who have not let their brains atrophy as completely as their bodies take a moment to review the history of technology and how it has changed civilization – not for the better.

As can be seen in the panel above, it has all the essential elements of technologically-augmented human laziness – including reclining chairs, video screens, and cup holders. The last three panels of this bizarre adaptation are particularly poignant.

Full comics: Pages 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

1967 – “The Apple” [Star Trek Season 2 Episode 5], Max Ehrlich

In this famous episode from the original series, Capt. Kirk and his intrepid crew must deal with a planet ruled by an ancient, artificially-intelligent machine. It tends to its flock of primitive humans – feeding, housing, clothing, and even procreating them – and demands only a daily feeding of the indigenous explosive rocks. Violence ensues as Kirk tries to to free the tribe from its gilded cage (using the absence of Sex as a point of contention), causing Spock to almost be killed, while quite a few redshirts aren’t as lucky.

1986 – “Don’t Want” [Nehochuha], K. Parsamyan/A. Vatyan

From the Russian studio that brought you the Wolf-vs-Hare antics of “Nu Pogodi“, comes a cautionary tale of a young boy who doesn’t want to do anything. Falling asleep after an argument with his grandmother over his laziness, he dreams of a wonderful amusement-park land where he can spend all day in bed – eating junk food, watching TV, and playing video games – while a robotic assistant makes sure he has to do as little as possible. Only when the boy meets his grotesquely obese and sessile future-self does he realize the error of his ways.

1999 – The Matrix, The Wachowski Brothers

Although only indirectly referenced in the first movie in the series – later to be expanded in the 2003 Animatrix films “The Second Renaissance” – Earth prior to the machine uprising was a place where humans “…soon became victim to vanity and corruption” through the hedonistic use of technology – especially artificially intelligent robotics – to supply their every need. In this Frankenstein-complex scenario, when the machines finally understand that they will never be considered by their masters to be equal, they rise up and eventually destroy humanity as we know it.

So don’t turn your back on Wall-E and E.V.E.:

P.S – Almost forgot the first thing you think of when laying eyes on Wall-E:


The Rockefeller of nuclear power

The Rockefeller of nuclear power

A former salesman is seeking to turn Kazakhstan into the biggest atomic fuel supplier. By Elliot Blair Smith

Flame-licked doors of a hydrogen furnace clatter open at a Cold War bomb factory in the Altai Mountains of Kazakhstan, spilling a tray of baked metal capsules into the pale winter light. Each enriched-uranium pellet the size of a Brazil nut packs almost as much energy as a ton of coal.

Former cognac and car salesman Mukhtar Dzhakishev says he plans to triple production at the Ulba Metallurgical Plant in Oskemen, a formerly secret city south of Siberia known in Russian as Ust Kamenogorsk.

With 15% of world uranium under his control, Mr Dzhakishev (pronounced Jock-i-shev) is trading domestic mineral rights to joint-venture partners in China, Japan and Russia for the technology he needs to make Kazakhstan the world’s biggest supplier of atomic fuel for civilian nuclear reactors. He seeks to become, in effect, the John D. Rockefeller of nuclear power.

”We don’t want to be just a sack of uranium,” says Mr Dzhakishev, 44, president of the state-owned mining enterprise JSC National Atomic Company Kazatomprom, during an interview at his office in Almaty, the Central Asian country’s largest city.

He proposes to invest $850 million at the Ulba compound, 61/2 times the plant’s projected annual cash flow, according to the state company’s 2006 audited financial statement. Mr Dzhakishev says he aims to integrate the four-stage atomic fuel chain at the guarded industrial complex just as Rockefeller once controlled crude oil from wellhead to gasoline tank.

If successful, Kazatomprom would consolidate the market for its 983 million pounds of recoverable uranium deposits, second only to Australia’s, and become less reliant on the raw ore’s spot-market price by supplying higher-value products needed to fuel the next generation of reactors.

Mr Dzhakishev’s plan puts Kazatomprom in direct competition with some of the state enterprise’s largest customers and partners, including Areva SA of Paris and OAO Techsnabexport of Moscow, a state-owned nuclear fuel trading company.

Ux Consulting Co of Roswell, Georgia, projects that global nuclear fuel demand will grow 29% to $26.3 billion by 2020. Mr Dzhakishev says he wants a third of that.

”I’m optimistic about Kazatomprom meeting the objectives,” says Ux Consulting analyst Masha Katsva, who conducted an inspection tour of the state company’s mines in April.

Critics say Kazatomprom’s nuclear ambitions heighten the dangers posed by the proliferation of bomb-making technology.

Success would also enrich the regime of Mr Dzhakishev’s boss, President Nursultan Nazarbayev, a US ally whose government the State Department criticised for ”pervasive corruption,” restrictions on free speech, prisoner abuse and violence against women in a report on Kazakhstan’s human rights released in March.

Mr Dzhakishev already has helped a former college roommate, Mukhtar Ablyazov, profit from growing demand for the country’s ore.

In 2005, Mr Ablyazov, 44, a former opposition leader who was imprisoned on corruption charges in 2002 and pardoned by Nazarbayev the following year, obtained title to state-owned uranium deposits by assuming about $1.7 million in debt on the properties, interviews and a Canadian securities filing show.

Later that year, Mr Ablyazov resold the deposits for $350 million to an investment group led by Canadian mining financier Frank Giustra, according to the filings.

Mr Ablyazov, the chairman of the country’s second-largest bank, JSC Bank TuranAlem, declined to comment. Mr Dzhakishev confirmed the details of the agreement in an interview and said the central government, not Kazatomprom, deeded the mines.

Kazatomprom has mastered two phases of Mr Dzhakishev’s strategic plan: uranium extraction, which accounts for about 46% of the cost of nuclear fuel, according to Ux Consulting, and the production of uranium dioxide fuel pellets, an interim step. Completing his integration strategy would almost double the value of the company’s uranium products.

Mr Dzhakishev needs to add conversion, the chemical transformation of uranium to gas, which contributes about 4% of finished nuclear fuel’s value. The third stage, enrichment, or conversion of the gas into a radioactive compound suitable for civilian fuel production or nuclear weapons, represents about 30%.

To deflect nuclear proliferation concerns, Mr Dzhakishev says Kazakhstan won’t perform enrichment and instead will contract the step to Russia, Mr Dzhakishev says. (About 10% of nuclear fuel’s costs are tied up in transport and waste handling.)

Mr Dzhakishev says he plans for the Ulba plant to develop the capacity to manufacture the fuel-rod assemblies that are inserted in a reactor’s core, contributing 10% more to the fuel’s value. These zircaloy rods, packed with the capsules baked in the hydrogen furnace, unleash atomic reactions that produce heat, create steam and generate electricity.

Last July, Kazatomprom paid $540 million for a 10% stake in Toshiba Corp’s Westinghouse Electric Co unit in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, the world’s largest provider of nuclear plants and atomic fuel. Mr Dzhakishev says access to Westinghouse technology will help him reach his goal.

Greenpeace International of Amsterdam and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service in Takoma Park, Maryland, criticised the deal in a letter to the US government.

”The sale will undermine efforts to limit nuclear proliferation, and will give sensitive nuclear technology to a brutal, repressive and undemocratic regime,” the groups wrote.

The US Treasury, which oversees foreign investments, declined to intervene and had no comment for this story.

”Whatever its human rights and corruption record may be, Kazakhstan so far has been practically a model non-proliferation citizen in the international community,” says Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova, a research associate at the James Martin Centre for Non-proliferation Studies in Monterey, California.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Mr Dzhakishev had just finished a Ph.D. in law at the Moscow Physics Engineering Institute and was weighing an offer to lead a police academy back home. Instead, he and friends launched an import sales company.

With no sales training beyond the Russian-language memoirs of former US automobile executive Lee Iacocca and Sony Corp founder Akio Morita, the young men set up a showroom in the windowless basement of a movie theatre in Almaty.

Customers complained that one of their first imports, German shoes, crumbled in their hands. The products were cardboard props used in funeral homes to sheath cadavers’ feet.”We had all these paper shoes and threw them away,” Mr Dzhakishev says with a laugh. The young entrepreneur and his colleagues went on to profit from importing French cognac and cosmetics, Japanese televisions and German BMWs, he says.

In 1998, Mr Dzhakishev says he attended the 35th birthday party of President Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter, Dariga.

”What are you doing now?” Mr Dzhakishev says the president asked him. He had left the trading company to run a liquefied petroleum gas utility. An aide to Mr Nazarbayev called him a few days later, and Mr Dzhakishev found himself running Kazatomprom.

The company owed the government $20 million in taxes and $11.9 million in back wages, and was paying 29% interest on $44 million in bank debt, Mr Dzhakishev says.

The new uranium czar immediately refinanced the borrowings in Europe. In July 1999, he won a lawsuit before the US International Trade Commission, overturning post-Soviet restrictions to gain access to the American market, the world’s largest. And he prodded his managers by offering to pay them 30% of any cost savings they achieved.

Uranium’s price runup to a peak of $138 a pound in June 2007, from a low of $6.75 in March 2001, has since put the Silk Road country at the front line of the nuclear renaissance. Even after the ore’s drop to $69 in May, Kazakhstan has a competitive advantage because its extraction costs are among the world’s lowest, about 15% of today’s price.

Mr Dzhakishev says global demand for uranium will grow as nuclear powers build new plants. The World Nuclear Association in London says work is under way on at least 63 reactors outside North America and Europe, including 10 in Russia and 17 in China.

Kazatomprom’s East Mynkuduk mining site, 1,180 kilometres west of Almaty, demonstrates the mass production that Mr Dzhakishev seeks to achieve.

Workers in bright blue overalls flush uranium from beneath the semi-desert, where camels graze and temperatures range from minus 30 degrees Celsius in winter to 60 degrees Celsius in summer.

”The mining industry has migrated to these places because that’s where the opportunities exist,” says Edward Flood, managing director of investment banking at Haywood Securities Ltd in London.

Open pits, once characteristic of uranium mines, aren’t in use. Instead, injection wells dot the steppe, forcing sulfuric acid into subterranean deposits surrounded by groundwater. The ore dissolves into slurry that is pumped into surface-level tanks. Resin beads absorb the uranium and the remainder is returned to the ground. Later, industrial presses squeeze fine, powdery yellowcake from the resin.

East Mynkuduk, which began production in 2002 and reached peak output last year, will generate at least 2.2 million pounds of yellowcake annually for 15 years, 15% of the country’s current total, says Aleksandr Chernykh the mine’s chief engineer.

The production would be worth $152 million a year at today’s prices. Kazakhstan is the ore’s third-largest marketer behind Canada and Australia, and says it plans to surpass both by 2010.

Oskemen, about 900 kilometres northeast of Almaty, didn’t appear on maps in Soviet times. One reason was the Ulba compound. In 1994, on a secret mission approved by Kazakhstan’s government, US planes ferried out enough weapons-grade uranium from the plant to produce 20 nuclear weapons, according to a Defence Department statement at the time.

Mr Dzhakishev says he is now adapting the plant’s machinery to supply Westinghouse and other Western reactors.

Beginning in 2009, Kansai Electric Power Co, Japan’s second-biggest power generator, in Osaka, and China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group Co, the country’s second-largest nuclear utility, based in Shenzhen, will be the first to buy the modified fuel products, according to press releases by the companies.

Both customers also own mining stakes in Kazakhstan.

”If I didn’t have fuel-pellet production, I would think three times before making a vertically integrated company,” Mr Dzhakishev says. ”But since I already have it, I would be a very bad manager not to do this.”

Kazatomprom doesn’t yet have the ability to convert yellowcake to uranium hexafluoride gas, or UF6, the second part of the four-stage atomic fuel cycle.

Mr Dzhakishev says his company and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based Cameco Corp, the world’s largest uranium marketer by capitalisation, are negotiating to build a $100-million conversion unit adjacent to the existing pellet plant. Cameco spokesman Lyle Krahn confirms the talks.

The final step, production of machined nuclear fuel rods, is contingent on the outcome of the sales and diplomacy efforts that occupy Mr Dzhakishev now as he seeks to win customer orders.

Jack Fuller, chief executive of Global Nuclear Fuel Llc, a joint venture of Toshiba and GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy Inc, in Wilmington, North Carolina, is another customer of the Ulba plant. His company buys enriched uranium powder from Kazatomprom to make its own fuel pellets.

While GE-Hitachi declined to comment on Kazatomprom as a competitor, Mr Fuller says he admires Dzhakishev’s ambition.

”He’s got this real vision he wants to go to,” Mr Fuller says. ”How he gets there, and how effective he is, we’ll have to wait and see. But he’s making some real neat moves right now.”