Russian military and nuclear power plant computers will not be repaired in time to avoid serious Y2K problems, warn two U.S. senators.
“Given the existing time frame, it is too late to fix every Russian system,” said Sen. Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind., addressing the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem recently. “Our efforts must continue to concentrate on reactor safety systems, contingency planning and engagement with the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy on these subjects.”
Lugar stressed that the U.S. “must make every effort to warn Americans abroad, living or working near these reactors, of the problems they may face as a result of Y2K.”
If Lugar is concerned about nuclear plant safety, Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, and chairman of the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem, is worried about Russia’s nuclear arsenal. Although he doesn’t believe Russia presents an intentional military threat to the U.S., he is concerned about the possibility of an accidental nuclear threat.
“As Russia slips down to Third World status by virtue of their economic meltdown,” said Bennett, “(with) people living in terrible poverty, there is a cultural mourning for their former superpower status, and that translates into a conviction on the part of the Russian leaders that they must maintain their nuclear arsenal.”
Yet, he said, the Russian economy is so very bad that there has not been sufficient funding to maintain the nuclear arsenal — and very little to effect Y2K repairs.
Russia’s twin nuclear problems — reactors and weapons — are expected to impact many other countries, the senators warn.
There are a total of 65 nuclear reactors in Russia and nine former Warsaw Pact countries. One site is only 130 miles from Alaska. Each reactor poses a significant safety risk, according to Lugar, who said local and national government agencies are exerting significant pressure to keep the reactors on line in December and January. The move may be a bad one, he said.
“Political pressure, in addition to monitoring failures and a loss of off-site power, may contribute to failures in judgment, which could lead to accidents,” warned Lugar.
Russian nuclear reactors are notorious for their many problems, including highly inefficient and underpaid staff, as well as inadequate safety systems. Even though many of the reactors are old and were constructed with analog rather than digital systems, many have had digital upgrades installed over the years and are therefore susceptible to Y2K failure.
As for the military side of Russia’s nuclear problem, Bennett expressed serious concern about the possible effect of the Y2K bug on the nuclear weapons controlled by Russia. He said the Russians refuse to consider shutting down their nuclear arsenal, even though they acknowledge very little has been done to repair the Y2K bug.
“I have had Russian leaders say to me when I have been in Russia, ‘The only reason you are over here is because we have nuclear weapons. If we didn’t have nuclear weapons you would ignore us. We wouldn’t matter.’ It’s very important to them and in their collective national psyche that they matter. And of course, we can’t convince them that the best thing in the world for them would be to abandon their nuclear weapons,” Bennett told WorldNetDaily.
A Center for Y2K Strategic Stability has been established on the second floor of Building 1840 at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo. During the last few weeks of 1999, and for as long as needed into 2000, U.S. and Russian military officers will meet in an effort to monitor each other’s nuclear missiles and prevent an accidental launch.
In the event of an emergency — Y2K-related or otherwise — at a Russian nuclear launch facility or storage area, emergency teams will need to be able to respond quickly to prevent problems. The Russians are poorly prepared to deal with such threats, so the U.S. Department of Defense is attempting to assist them.
The American Chamber of Commerce in Russia told member businesses to expect significant trouble because of Y2K. They pointed to reports that predict a 60 percent loss of power, 80 percent disruption of transportation and at least 50 percent loss of communications. They also pointed out the many other problems likely to occur at the beginning of the new year.
Despite their agreement on the severity of the problem in Russia, Lugar and Bennett both said they are not ready to push the panic button.
“In my visits to Russia, and in briefings and conversations with experts on these subjects, I have been convinced that the chances of an accidental missile launch as a result of a Y2K problem are almost non-existent. But Y2K may cause other problems in Russian strategic systems,” said Lugar.