The National Research Council of the US National Academy of Sciences has recommended that the Department of Energy continue funding of $154 million every year over the next five years to maintain nuclear security in Russia. It said in a new study that the risk of radioactive substances being stolen is “considerably greater” than estimated three years ago.

The economic crisis has already prompted the DoE to offer Russia immediate aid of $600 000, but Energy Department officials were “clearly unrealistic” in thinking they could reduce US involvement after 1998. It would only take a few kilograms of plutonium or HEU to make a nuclear weapon, yet Russia has 75 t of plutonium and 600 t of HEU in 400 storage facilities.

Russia has rejected suggestions that its nuclear materials are poorly guarded, asserting that security measures exceed international standards. MINATOM says American experts who have visited Russian nuclear facilities were satisfied with safety. Claims that plutonium and HEU could be stolen by terrorists were “an attempt to deprive Russia of its nuclear power status,” according to ministry spokesman Yuri Bespalko.

Russia’s legislature has passed a law aimed at making the maintenance and disposal of nuclear weapons safer. The law establishes more definite legal accountability for nuclear accidents and requires that all nuclear weapons facilities be under federal control.

The Council study said nuclear materials were stored at more locations in Russia than were originally identified in a joint US-Russian review in 1997. Moreover, some Russian institutions lack the money to pay salaries or to insure that proper security precautions are taken. The Council urged improvement in Russia’s accountability system, noting that security was ‘uneven’ at radioactive materials storage sites.