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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Measure Eases Nuclear Export Laws




A decree recently signed by President Vladimir Putin will ease restrictions on exports of nuclear materials and technologies, a move that some officials from an international watchdog have warned violates the spirit of the country's nuclear nonproliferation commitments.


The decree could open the way for nuclear exports to India, Cuba and Iran, even as Washington's concerns regarding Russia-Iran nuclear cooperation are placing strain on U.S. relations with Moscow.


One International Atomic Energy Agency official, who declined to be named, criticized Putin's decision because it will allow exports to countries that do not have all of their civil atomic facilities regularly inspected by his agency to ensure they are not involved in either military research or in the production of weapons-grade plutonium.


"It is against the political mainstream of nonproliferation ... it violates the spirit" of international nonproliferation accords, said the IAEA official, speaking in a phone interview Friday. He would not elaborate.


However, IAEA spokesman Hans Meyer, speaking by telephone from Vienna, said he could not comment on whether the new decree violates international non proliferation agreements because it is a "political issue."


Leading officials at both the Atomic Energy Ministry and nuclear enterprises Friday hailed the decree. The amendments will solidify "the legal basis" of the industry's aspirations to make billions of dollars through exports.


Issued last Sunday - the day of Putin's inauguration - the edict amends a 1992 presidential decree to allow companies to sell nuclear materials and technologies even to countries that do not have their civil atomic programs adequately and fully monitored by the Vienna-based IAEA.


The decree - which is available at the president's official web site (www.president.kremlin.ru) - also lifts a ban on exports to countries that do not already possess nuclear arms or have not signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.


Deputy Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeny Reshetnikov said the decree lets his agency to cooperate "more confidently" with Iran, where Russia is busy building one reactor for an atomic power plant, with an option for another three.


The country can earn more than $2 billion if it builds all four reactors at the planned power plant in Bushehr, Iran, said Ivan Safranchuk, an analyst at the Center for Policy Studies in Moscow.


The IAEA has "no objections" to Iran's civilian nuclear facilities - all of which it has been granted access to. However, Washington has said that Iran also maintains secret research centers to develop nuclear arms, and Russia should not export any nuclear materials there.


According to the IAEA official, his agency will not be able to fully guarantee that the exported materials and equipment will not be later shipped from a civil facility to a military facility, to which the agency has no access.


Both Reshetnikov and Alexander Nechayev, head of the Moscow-based ZarubezhAtomEnergoStroi nuclear construction company, denied the decree breaks any nonproliferation accords.


Nechayev, whose company is building the reactor of the Bushehr station, also said the decree will have "a positive impact" on Russia's efforts to build atomic plants for India and Cuba.


Neither Cuba nor India have signed the NPT treaty. Both countries allow the IAEA to inspect some, but not all, of their nuclear facilities.


Russia had clinched deals with India and Cuba before signing in 1992 amendments to the Nuclear Suppliers Group Guidelines. The NSG comprises some 30 countries that export nuclear materials and equipment.


The 1992 Guidelines bar exports to countries that have neither signed the NPT nor given IAEA inspectors full access to all their civil nuclear facilities.


The national atomic industry, which has seen state orders shrink dramatically in the past decade, is eager to receive the billions of dollars it would get for completing the plant it started building in Cuba - which is some 80 percent ready - and for building a new plant in India.


The new decree does lay out some reasonably stringent conditions that must be met before the federal government can authorize exports of nuclear materials, equipment and technologies.


First, such exports must not violate existing international agreements signed by the government. Also, any foreign facilities wishing to import Russian materials and equipment must have been inspected by the IAEA to ensure they are not involved in any military research.