Weapons of Mass Destruction

Effort to Reduce Russian Arsenals May Cost More, Achieve Less Than Planned Gao ID: NSIAD-99-76 April 13, 1999

The Defense Department (DOD) has since the early 1990s supported the construction of two Russian facilities designed to help reduce Russian arsenals of nuclear and chemical weapons. The first, a storage facility now being built at Russia's Mayak nuclear complex, is intended to provide safe and secure storage for nuclear materials, such as plutonium, removed from these weapons. The second, a pilot chemical weapons destruction facility to be built near Russia's Shchuch'ye chemical weapons storage depot, is designed to destroy that facility's nerve agent weapons, accelerate the destruction of such weapons at other depots by providing a proven destruction technology, and help Russia comply with the Chemical Weapons Convention. This report discusses (1) whether the Mayak project will be finished on schedule and within past DOD estimates of its total cost to the United States, (2) whether the United States has made progress in ensuring that the completed Mayak facility would achieve U.S. national security objectives by safety storing retired materials taken only from dismantled nuclear weapons, (3) whether the Shchuch'ye project will be finished on schedule and the status of DOD efforts to estimate its total cost to the United States, and (4) whether the completed Shchuch'ye facility will achieve U.S. national security objectives by helping Russia destroy the depot's stocks and accelerate the elimination of all Russian chemical weapons under the Chemical Weapons Convention.

GAO noted that: (1) Russian funding shortfalls have substantially increased the Mayak facility's estimated cost to the United States while underscoring the need for substantial additional assistance if the Shchuch'ye project's broader objectives are to be attained; (2) Russian reluctance to share critical information with the United States may limit Mayak's national security benefits and has contributed to delays in the Shchuch'ye project; (3) Russia's failure to fund its share of the costs of the Mayak facility has already increased estimated U.S. costs for Mayak from $275 million to $413 million, deferred construction of one of the facility's two planned storage buildings, and delayed the facility's initial availability by about 3 years; (4) U.S. costs for Mayak could ultimately increase to almost $1.3 billion if DOD eventually opts to build the facility's originally planned second building and help Russia prepare, package, and transport plutonium for storage at Mayak; (5) notwithstanding its growing investment in the Mayak project, the United States continues to lack clear assurance that Russia will actually use the Mayak facility in a manner that will ensure the achievement of all U.S. national security objectives for the project; (6) U.S. and Russian negotiators have drafted--but have not yet concluded--an agreement that could assure DOD that weapons-grade plutonium at Mayak is securely stored and would not be used for weapons in the future; (7) the Shchuch'ye project has fallen about 18 months behind schedule since October 1997 and now is not scheduled to begin operating until 2006; (8) several factors, including Russia's failure to promptly provide needed information about the chemical weapons to be destroyed, have slowed both completion of the facility's conceptual design and DOD's efforts to refine its $750 million estimate of the pilot facility's cost to the United States; (9) the United States lacks assurance that the Shchuch'ye project will achieve its broader national security objectives of accelerating the destruction of such weapons at other depots and helping Russia comply with the Chemical Weapons Convention; (10) Russia's economic difficulties strongly suggest that it would be unwilling or unable to invest the billions of dollars needed to construct and operate destruction facilities at the four depots that store the rest of its 32,000 metric ton nerve agent stockpile; and (11) DOD is counting on large-scale assistance from other nations to fund the additional facilities needed to help Russia fully comply with the Chemical Weapons Convention and so realize the Shchuch'ye project's broader objectives.


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