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Staff writer

Japan plans to provide $40 million — or roughly 5 billion yen — in aid to help Russia dismantle about 50 aging nuclear submarines that were deployed in the Far East but are now decommissioned, government sources said Wednesday.

The sources said the SSNs could pose a serious threat to the region’s environment unless they are dismantled as soon as possible. The Japanese aid money will be spent partly to expand the Zvezda dockyard — where the SSNs are to be dismantled — near Vladivostok.

The money will also be used to reinstate a rail line linking the dockyard to the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Spent nuclear fuel from the dismantled SSNs will be transported to such distant places as Mayak in western Russia, for storage and reprocessing, the sources said. The two countries began talks on the project only recently and further details have yet to be worked out, the sources said, adding that Japan hopes the project will be launched as early as the summer of 2000.

The government sources said that the United States is already assisting Russia in dismantling 14 decommissioned ballistic missile nuclear submarines, or SSBNs, at the Zvezda dockyard under the START 1 nuclear arms reduction treaty signed in 1991. Unlike SSNs, SSBNs carry submarine-launched ballistic missiles, or SLBMs.

Of the decommissioned SSBNs, two are now being dismantled at the dockyard and the other 12 are to be dismantled by the end of 2001, the sources said. But the Zvezda dockyard, which no longer builds new ships, is capable of dismantling only four nuclear submarines per year. Therefore, unless the dockyard is expanded, Russia will not be able to dismantle the estimated 50 decommissioned SSNs in the Far East, the sources said.

The planned $40 million in aid will come from a $100 million assistance package Tokyo pledged in early 1993 to help Russia and three other former Soviet republics — Ukraine, Kazakstan and Belorussia — dismantle their nuclear weapons, the sources said. Of the $100 million aid package, $70 million was earmarked for Russia.

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