Weapons of Mass Destruction:

Effort to Reduce Russian Arsenals May Cost More, Achieve Less Than Planned

NSIAD-99-76: Published: Apr 13, 1999. Publicly Released: May 5, 1999.

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Harold J. Johnson, Jr
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the cost and realization of national security objectives at Russia's Mayak nuclear complex and Shchuch'ye chemical weapons storage depot, focusing on whether the: (1) Mayak project will be completed on schedule and within past Department of Defense (DOD) estimates of its total cost to the United States; (2) United States has made progress in ensuring that the completed Mayak facility would achieve U.S. national security objectives by safely and securely storing retired materials taken only from dismantled nuclear weapons; (3) Shchuch'ye project will be completed on schedule and the status of DOD efforts to estimate its total cost to the United States; and (4) completed Shchuch'ye facility will achieve U.S. national security objectives by helping Russia destroy the Shchuch'ye depot's stocks and accelerate 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.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to the report's matter for congressional consideration, the House Armed Services Committee inserted a provision in the FY2000 National Security Authorization bill to bar all funding in current and future years for the Shchuch'ye project (roughly $600 million). The House Armed Services Committee language was included in the version of the bill that was approved by the House-Senate conference. The conference-approved bill was signed by the President on October 5, 1999.

    Matter: Since substantial international assistance is essential for achieving the Shchuch'ye project's broader objectives, Congress may wish to direct the Secretary of Defense to report to it regarding the specific sources of funding for the four additional facilities needed to eliminate Russia's nerve agent stockpile. If the Secretary of Defense cannot identify these likely sources with specificity, Congress may wish to consider seeking further justification for the project from the DOD.


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