To Russia With Love and $15 Billion

Greg Palast

by Greg Palast

Here’s a hot idea: Why don’t we send 10,000 tons of high level uranium waste to Russia? You’d rather not? Not until you buy your lead suit?

OK then, how about we send 10,000 tons of radioactive garbage to Russia and throw in $15 billion for Vladimir Putin. For the cash, Putin must solemnly promise to store the potential bomb-making material safely and not let any of it slip into the hands of the Iranians or the IRA.

Just when I thought the Bush Administration had adopted every crack-brained idea that could threaten Mother Earth, along comes another. This send-uranium-to-Russia scheme is the creation of something called the Non-Proliferation Trust (NPT Inc), a Washington group which ‘grew out of extensive dialog with… the arms control community and the environmental community.’

If by ‘arms control community’ you were thinking Greenpeace, you’d be a bit wide of the mark. The Chairman of NPT Inc is Admiral Daniel Murphy, once Deputy Director of the CIA and Bush Senior’s chief of staff. The other seven listed board members and executives include the former CIA chief William Webster, two nuclear industry executives, one former Nixon administration insider, the general who commanded the US Marine Corp, one top Masonic official and, indeed, one certified greenie tree-hugger.

It may not be your typical save-the-world line up, but their idea is worth a hearing. Russia has a huge hot pile of ‘fissile material’ – bomb fixings and old nuclear plant rods – sitting in polluted Siberian towns whose very names, like Chilyabinsk 14, sound radioactive. NPT Inc’s idea is that if we send them more radioactive garbage, plus cash, Russia will then have the means and obligation to store theirs, and ours, safely.

This month, the scheme got a big boost when the Duma, pressured by Putin, abolished the Russian law which barred the nation’s importing most foreign nuclear waste.

NPT Inc’s assemblage of ex-spooks and militarists (and their lone green compatriot) control the operation through three non-profit trusts. But non-profit does not mean that no one gains.

This self-described charity will pay a British American deal-maker, Alex Copson, some unidentified percentage of the deal. NPT has been reluctant to give details of Copson’s potential gain from the success of NPT – it took several calls and pointed questions – possibly because the polo-and-sports-car afficionado with the posh accent lacks the diplomatic gloss appropriate to this sensitive enterprise. Copson once described the natives of the Marshall Islands as ‘fat, lazy, fucks’ when they nixed one of his nuke dump schemes. Copson, I’m assured, is kept well away from NPT’s Russian operations.

Contractors will also share a few billion, including German power consortium, Gellschaft fir Nuklear-Behaltg mbH (GNB). Dr. Klaus Janberg of GNB is director of NPT International.

But the real winner, should NPT succeed, would be the moribund nuclear industry, which George Bush hopes to bring back from the crypt. But there is
one huge obstacle: waste. If you think about it, the only indispensable appliance for a kitchen is a toilet; so too, one cannot build a nuclear plant without planning for the end product.

At $15 billion, dumping in Russia is a bargain. Since Russia is already a nuclear toilet, who would notice a little more hot crud?

Russia’s own environmentalists have noticed, but objections from their Ecological Union are smothered by the ringing endorsement of the nuclear issues chief of one of America’s richest environmental groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council. NRDC’s Dr Thomas Cochrane sits on NPT Inc’s MinAtom Trust board of directors painting the project with a heavy coat of green.

What on Mother Earth would drive the NRDC man to front for NPT? Bernardo Issel, director of the Washington-based Non-Profit Accountability Project, sent The Observer a copy of NPT Inc’s draft, ‘Long-term Fissile Materials Safeguards and Security Project.’ At page 18, one finds arrangements for the NRDC to administer a $200 million Russian ‘environmental reclamation fund’ for which the green group will receive a fee of up to 10% of expenditures, a cool $20 million.

NRDC’s Cochrane insists his group would have never taken that role. An NPT spokesman says the clause has been removed from a new draft contract, though they have refused our request to see that document.

It would be wrong to assume that this is another case of greens selling out for greenbacks. The NRDC’s Dr Cochrane is as straight a shooter as you’ll ever meet. The problem here is not payola, but philosophy. The NRDC represents the new wave of environmental organization enchanted with the use of market mechanisms. The group is mesmerized by can-do entrepreneurs with access to huge mounds of capital, and sold on the pleasant if naive idea that the profit motive can be bent to the public good.

The NRDC and other pro-market environmentalists are always on the hunt for what their prophet, Amory Lovins, calls ‘win-win’ cases – deals which aid the environment while making the big bucks for the corporate players. To the horror of many consumer advocates, NRDC stood with business lobbyists to push the trade in ‘pollution credits’ and promote de-regulation of electricity in California, though the group did a quick flip on deregulation when the scheme flopped.

The NPT scheme is the quintessential public-private partnership that business greens find irresistible. For Dr Cochrane, the uranium dumping scheme’s attraction is NPT Inc’s promise, which cannot be easily dismissed, to provide billions to clean up Russia’s radioactive hell-holes. And NPT also promises to toss in $250 million to a Russian Orphans Fund.

Environmental clean-up, non-proliferation and orphans. Why would Russia’s green activists turn away from this obvious win-win? The answer, in a word, is “MinAtom.”

MinAtom, Russia’s ministry of atomic industries is, of course, the agency which created the nuclear mess in the first place. Can Minatom be trusted to safely handle both the nuclear fuel and faithfully use the several billion for environmental clean-up, not to mention the orphans?

USEC – What’s a bit of bias, self-interesting and self dealing among friends?

As soon as I heard, ‘MinAtom,’ I ran to my notes of the Observer’s interview earlier this year with Dr Joseph Stiglitz, one-time chief of Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisors. During a tea break, the economist told me about an incident involving MinAtom which disturbs him to this day.

In July 1998, the Clinton Administration privatized the United States Enrichment Corporation, USEC. The privatized USEC proved inefficient at enriching uranium, but exceptionally efficient in enriching several Clinton associates. Hillary’s sidekick Susan Thomases was a USEC lobbyist. The law
firm that defended the President in one of Bill’s bimbo law suits picked up $15 million for work leading up to USEC’s flotation. A federal judge
concluded that documents USEC tried to conceal suggest the privatization decision was influenced by, “bias, self-interest and self-dealing.”

To sell privatization, Clinton’s buddies at USEC promised their corporation would buy up tons of Russia’s old warhead uranium.from MinAtom. As with NPT, the sales pitch was that private industry by taking over government enrichment operations, could reduce the amount of bomb ingredients in Russia’s hands at no cost to the US treasury. Another public-private win-win.

But Stiglitz, ever the hard-nosed economist, he could not fathom how this new profit-making corporation pay the Russians above market price for the uranium.

The answer was, USEC couldn’t. In 1996, some birdie dropped a damning document on Stiglitz’ desk. It was a memo indicating that MinAtom had
demanded USEC take about double the amount of uranium originally expected. Rather than take the costly deliveries, USEC quietly arranged a payment to MinAtom of $50 million. Stiglitz called it, “hush money.” USEC says it was a legitimate pre-payment for the hot stuff. However one describes it, MinAtom was more than happy to play along, for a price.

Yet NPT Inc tells us that MinAtom and US private enterprise can now form a trustworthy partnership to safeguard nuclear material for the next few
thousand years. At first, this puzzled me: NPT Inc’s board is led by the CIA and military men who pushed Star Wars which they sold on the premise that Russia has probably let slip nuclear material to unnamed ‘rogue states.’

But I think I’ve solved this puzzling conundrum. What we have here is the ultimate, and very green, recylcing program: NPT ships America’s uranium
to the Russians, who lose track of a bit here and there … which falls into the hands of a Rogue State … which then returns it to the USA perched atop an intercontinental ballistic missile … which is shot down by the trillion-dollar Star Wars defense system. Win-win for everyone.

At www.GregPalast.com you can read and subscribe to Greg Palast’s columns and view his report for BBC Television’s Newsnight, “Theft of the Presidency.”