Congress has slashed a planned expansion of an effort to produce 20,000 civilian jobs for weapons scientists and engineers in 10 closed cities in Russia. But while the Department of Energy (DOE) is reeling from the blow to its 1-year-old Nuclear Cities Initiative (NCI), European countries hope to start their own program next year to keep nuclear scientists employed--and perhaps avert a brain drain to rogue countries.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union set up a secret network of cities to build the country's nuclear arsenal. Soon after the superpower fissioned in 1991, Russia and the United States began allowing their nuclear scientists to strike up collaborations. The pace picked up last year, after Russia's Ministry of Atomic Energy announced that as many as 50,000 workers in the nuclear cities would need new jobs in the next several years. To stimulate job creation, DOE launched NCI last fall with $15 million.
In February, however, the General Accounting Office reported that a related DOE program with similar goals, begun in 1994, was spending only 37% of its funds on former Soviet institutes and pouring the majority into the U.S.-based collaborators. More damning, the report charged that the $25 million program "has not achieved its broader nonproliferation goal of long-term employment" for weapons scientists. Such doubts spelled trouble for NCI, which had hoped to see its budget double, to $30 million. Instead, spending levels will be cut in half for 2000, to $7.5 million. The funding cuts mean that DOE will have to postpone plans to expand NCI beyond its three current sites.
In the meantime, Europeans have their own plans for a $10 million or more initiative. At a meeting later this month in The Hague, Netherlands, they will join with U.S. and Japanese representatives to identify potential projects in the nuclear cities. If the European effort gets off the ground, it could play a vital role in supporting the Russian weapons scientists until NCI recovers. "It's a daunting agenda," says Jack Segal, director for nonproliferation and export controls at the U.S. National Security Council, "but one for which we'll never be forgiven if we fail."