Despite their turbulent political relations, the US and Russia continue their co-operation when it comes to issues of nuclear safety and upholding nuclear nonproliferation.
One of the key joint programs of the two countries is aimed at returning highly enriched uranium intended for research reactors back to its country of origin. This is a unique project in the nuclear energy sector with the participation of highly-trained specialists from both countries that work with third countries in order to strengthen the world security.
One of the most important objectives of the Research Reactor Fuel Return Program is preventing illegal proliferation of nuclear materials and derivatives thereof. This is an attempt by both countries to make every effort to prevent spent nuclear fuel materials and highly enriched uranium from getting in the hands of terrorists.
The programme was initiated in 1999 with joint consultations between the representatives from Russia, the USA and IAEA. Following that, the IAEA Director General sent out letters to 15 countries, in which the Soviet-design research reactors were built, asking for their willingness to take part in the project that is aimed at returning highly enriched nuclear fuel back to Russia. Similar letters were also sent to the countries that have research reactors built using the American technology – in this case, the US specialists were responsible for the removal of highly enriched uranium.
Russia first took highly enriched fresh fuel from Romania. In 2002, fuel from the Vinča Institute of Nuclear Sciences, located in the suburbs of Belgrade, was brought to Russia. Spent fuel was carried out from Uzbekistan for the first time in 2006. In 2005, at a summit in Bratislava, Russian and American Presidents agreed to complete the return of all HEU of the spent nuclear fuel that at that time was outside the research reactor cores in 2010.
These obligations were totally fulfilled by the Russian party and by the end of 2010 Russia returned irradiated fuel assemblies from Uzbekistan, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Libya, Romania, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, Belarus and Serbia. The international experts recognized the shipment of 645 kilograms of highly enriched uranium from Poland asthe “most widescale initiative” within the program.
After 2010, there were sporadic spent nuclear fuel shipments from several countries in which research reactors continued to partially operate on highly enriched uranium when the fuel was discharged. So far, a few dozen successful operations of returning fresh and spent highly enriched nuclear fuel have taken place within the Russian-American partnership framework.
Altogether, by the end of 2015, more than 2,150 kilograms of nuclear fuel were returned to Russia, which could be enough to produce more than 80 nuclear warheads. During the past few years, a well-developed infrastructure for fuel loading and transporting has been created as part of the program implementation. Russia and the US seek to continue their co-operation in this field. In a few days an international summit on nuclear security will take place in Washington.– One of the key issues for discussion will be the progress of the USA’s and Russia’s efforts within the framework of the existing arrangements and intergovernmental agreements regarding the processing of highly enriched uranium.
In total, within the framework of the intergovernmental agreements, Russia committed to bringing back 2,529 kilograms of nuclear fuel from 14 countries. The US has been carrying out a similar program of returning spent nuclear fuel since 1996, committing to accepting 1,390 kilograms from 16 nations. Both the US and Russia are reducing their stockpiles of weapon-grade uranium. Russia is doing this at a bit faster pace. According to 2014 data, as a result of the fulfilled agreements, Russia processed about 500 tonnes of weapon-grade uranium, while the US , in turn, converted 143 tons into fuel for its nuclear power plants.
Furthermore, the US-Russia partnership also includes a number of important agreements related to processing of weapon-grade plutonium, a material, which, unlike uranium, has always been used by nuclear weapon states for the production of nuclear weapons. A MOX-fuel (fuel produced of processed weapon-grade plutonium) production factory began operating at the Mining and Chemical Combine in Russia’s Krasnoyarsk Region in late 2015.
Such fuel is planned to be used at BN-800, a sodium-cooled fast neutron reactor, which was also commissioned at the end of last year at the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant in the Ural region. The accomplishments of the American side are, in turn, not so significant, and are called into question by a number of American experts in the context of meeting the deadlines.
In his interview with The Washington Post Alan Wilson, South Carolina’s Attorney General, noted that the US Department of Energy should exert every effort in order to fulfill its obligations stipulated in the agreement with Russia, since the planned factory for the processing of weapon-grade plutonium has not been completed yet and suffers from a lack of financing.
Issuance of green bonds will strengthen the international role of the euro
Eurogroup ministers discussed the international role of the euro (15 February), following the publication of the European Commission's communication of (19 January), ‘The European economic and financial system: fostering strength and resilience’.
President of the Eurogroup, Paschal Donohoe said: “The aim is to reduce our dependence on other currencies, and to strengthen our autonomy in various situations. At the same time, increased international use of our currency also implies potential trade-offs, which we will continue to monitor. During the discussion, ministers emphasized the potential of green bond issuance to enhance the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate transition objective.”
The Eurogroup has discussed the issue several times in recent years since the December 2018 Euro Summit. Klaus Regling, the managing director of the European Stability Mechanism said that overreliance on the dollar contained risks, giving Latin America and the Asian crisis of the 90s as examples. He also referred obliquely to “more recent episodes” where the dollar’s dominance meant that EU companies could not continue to work with Iran in the face of US sanctions. Regling believes that the international monetary system is slowly moving towards a multi-polar system where three or four currencies will be important, including the dollar, euro and renminbi.
European Commissioner for the Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, agreed that the euro’s role could be strengthened through the issuance of green bonds enhancing the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate objectives of the Next Generation EU funds.
Ministers agreed that broad action to support the international role of the euro, encompassing progress on amongst other things, Economic and Monetary Union, Banking Union and Capital Markets Union were needed to secure the euros international role.
European human rights court backs Germany over Kunduz airstrike case
The ruling by the Strasbourg-based court rejects a complaint by Afghan citizen Abdul Hanan, who lost two sons in the attack, that Germany did not fulfil its obligation to effectively investigate the incident.
In September 2009, the German commander of NATO troops in Kunduz called in a U.S. fighter jet to strike two fuel trucks near the city which NATO believed had been hijacked by Taliban insurgents.
The Afghan government said at the time 99 people, including 30 civilians, were killed. Independent rights groups estimated between 60 and 70 civilians were killed.
The death toll shocked Germans and ultimately forced its defence minister to resign over accusations of covering up the number of civilian casualties in the run-up to Germany’s 2009 election.
Germany’s federal prosecutor general had found that the commander did not incur criminal liability, mainly because he was convinced when he ordered the airstrike that no civilians were present.
For him to be liable under international law, he would have had to be found to have acted with intent to cause excessive civilian casualties.
The European Court of Human Rights considered the effectiveness of Germany’s investigation, including whether it established a justification for lethal use of force. It did not consider the legality of the airstrike.
Of 9,600 NATO troops in Afghanistan, Germany has the second-largest contingent behind the United States.
A 2020 peace agreement between the Taliban and Washington calls for foreign troops to withdraw by May 1, but U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing the deal after a deterioration in the security situation in Afghanistan.
Germany is preparing to extend the mandate for its military mission in Afghanistan from March 31 until the end of this year, with troop levels remaining at up to 1,300, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.
Digitalization of EU justice systems: Commission launches public consultation on cross-border judicial co-operation
On 16 February, the European Commission launched a public consultation on the modernization of EU justice systems. The EU aims to support member states in their efforts to adapt their justice systems to the digital age and improve EU cross-border judicial co-operation. Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders (pictured) said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of digitalization, including in the field of justice. Judges and lawyers need digital tools to be able to work together faster and more efficiently.
At the same time, citizens and businesses need online tools for an easier and more transparent access to justice at a lower cost. The Commission strives to push this process forward and support member states in their efforts, including as regards facilitating their cooperation in cross-border judicial procedures by using digital channels.” In December 2020, the Commission adopted a communication outlining the actions and initiatives intended to advance the digitalization of justice systems across the EU.
The public consultation will gather views on the digitalization of EU cross-border civil, commercial and criminal procedures. The results of the public consultation, in which a broad range of groups and individuals can participate and which is available here until 8 May 2021, will feed into an initiative on digitalisation of cross-border judicial cooperation expected at the end of this year as announced in the 2021 Commission's Work Programme.
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