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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Clinton Boosts Nuclear Cleanup Program

U. S. President Bill Clinton offered $100 million Thursday to help clean up and make safe nuclear power stations in eastern Europe, a move that could revive a project that stalled over U. S. opposition last year, a spokesman for the International Atomic Energy Association said.

Briefing reporters in Tokyo at the summit meeting of leaders from the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations Thursday, a French official said Clinton had offered $l00 million for the program and called the offer "explosive", Reuters reported.

The move represented an important reversal of U. S. policy from last year's summit attended by former President George Bush, according to David Kyd, a spokesman for the IAEA in Vienna.

"As we see it, this is designed to encourage other countries to come forward and provide money too", he said in a telephone interview.

The money would go toward a planned $700 million fund aimed at repairing, modernizing, cleaning and generally making safe the 57 Soviet-designed nuclear reactors that are still in operation in Eastern Europe.

Specialists believe many of the power plants are unsafe and run the risk of an accident such as the 1986 Chernobyl explosion in Ukraine.

Kyd explained that the so-called "sherpas" - the officials who prepare documents for the G-7 summits - had last year conducted a study of the reactors and had come up with the "minimal" $700 million package to help modernize them.

But the plan, presented to the seven leaders at their summit in Munich last July, stumbled over an American refusal to contribute substantial sums to a collective fund that would be disbursed at the discretion of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

At the time, the United States agreed to contribute only $1. 5 million. Clinton's new proposal would give $50 million to the EBRD, while the United States would disburse the remaining $50 million directly.

Kyd called the move "a big step forward" for the U. S. position, but cautioned that the fund would still be very small relative to the scale of the problems involved and is still a long way from having any effect.

The G-7 has also been sent a report, Kyd said, by the International Energy Association in Paris, offering two alternatives to revamp the East European nuclear energy sector with costs estimated at $15 billion and $24 billion, respectively.

"We see the $700 million program as absolutely minimal", Kyd said. "But if it is politically attainable, then it is a step in the right direction".

One possible way to reduce the costs of modernizing safety systems at the plants, Kyd said, would be to give the construction contracts to Russian firms. But that would be unacceptable to the donor nations, he believed, as they would want their own businesses to benefit from the fund.

Another wrinkle in the process is that Russia has no clear liability laws to govern work on nuclear plants. Kyd said that as a result many Western firms have been held back from taking contracts to work on nuclear reactors in the former Soviet Union by their legal departments.

"If a reactor is backfitted (upgraded) by a Western firm and then has a problem, causing damage to the environment or local population, it is not clear who would bear the legal liability for that", said Kyd. "The costs involved could be immense".

The environmental group Greenpeace remained unimpressed by Clinton's offer saying Thursday that leaders should work toward closing down the reactors rather than trying to clean them up and make them safe.