Today: July 06, 2001 at 10:26:26 PDT
Russian envoy hears nuke concerns
By Mary Manning

Russian Ambassador Yuri Ushakov listened as Nevada scientists explained how they plan to remove radioactive material that remains from nuclear testing in Southern Nevada.

Ushakov, who is scheduled today to visit the Nevada Test Site, where more than 1,000 nuclear warheads exploded above and below ground 1951 through 1992, portrayed the similarities between the remote site 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas with one in Semipalatinsk, Russia.

Nevada Sen. Harry Reid met with the ambassador after the opening of a resource center for Nevada Test Site Workers in Las Vegas, where those exposed to radiation, dust and beryllium can apply for up to $150,000 in benefits.

The ambassador acknowledged Russia's nuclear workers are also suffering, and an environmental cleanup would be a massive undertaking.

In 1998 scientists from the United States and the former Soviet Union also exchanged visits to test sites and viewed parallel underground nuclear weapons tests.

Since then, the Test Site has opened its gates to environmental research, and subcritical tests -- where weapons materials undergo experiments without sustaining a chain reaction. The government is also welcoming university scientists to areas that were once top-secret.

Despite the fact that Russia signed a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty that the U.S. Senate rejected on Oct. 13, 1999, Ushakov said the existence of roughly 12,000 nuclear weapons still poses a major problem for the United States and Russia, the heart of the former Soviet Union.

"We have to do everything we can to make our nuclear arsenals safer," Ushakov told Reid, as well as scientists from UNLV, the University of Nevada, Reno and the Desert Research Institute.

The most important task for both nations in the 21st century is to cooperate, Ushakov said.

Reid said that the Russian Parliament did a better job seeking nuclear disarmament than U.S. lawmakers.

"I was terribly embarrassed," the senator said of the 1999 Senate vote. "The Russians approved it and we didn't. They set an example and we should follow. In my opinion, there is not nearly enough being done."