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Spring 2002 Vol. 2 No. 1

Table of Contents



What to Do With Russia's Nuclear Waste?

Keeping nuclear material in the former Soviet Union out of the hands of terrorists has taken on renewed importance since Sept. 11. But even before that fateful day's terrorist attacks, the National Research Council had teamed up with the Russian Academy of Sciences to look for ways to secure that country's nuclear waste. A committee of five Americans and five Russians has been formed to identify storage and disposal options that not only will prevent nuclear proliferation, but also protect the environment and human health.

As a first step, the committee will take an inventory of how much nuclear waste there is in Russia, since past counts have been inconsistent. Large amounts of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste are scattered at dozens of sites across Russia. Some of it, especially highly enriched uranium from decommissioned nuclear submarines, could be used by terrorists to build weapons of mass destruction.

The United States is in the process of immobilizing its liquid waste in glass logs that will be stored at government nuclear facilities until a permanent geological repository, such as the one proposed for Yucca Mountain, Nev., is available to accept them and the nation's spent nuclear fuel. Russia too hopes to dispose of its waste in geological repositories; however, its plans for safe and secure interim storage are not as far along as those of the United States. The committee will consider how American storage and disposal options may be applied in Russia.

The committee met this spring in Russia. While there, some members visited the infamous Mayak site in the Ural Mountains, where radioactive waste deposited in a lake has caused severe environmental contamination. A final report, in both English and Russian, is expected to be released this summer.

Meanwhile, the presidents of the U.S. National Academies and Russian Academy of Sciences issued a joint statement in February calling for greater collaboration between their two countries in preventing nuclear proliferation. They agreed to recommend to their respective governments immediate steps that should be taken to increase cooperation in this area.   -- Bill Kearney

(See listing in New Projects & Publications for more information.)

A Global Campaign to Improve Human Health

ŠPan American Health Organization

HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria claimed the lives of nearly 6 million people last year. In developing nations, diminished health from these and other infectious diseases is one of the key reasons why the poor remain impoverished, according to the World Health Organization. But with the explosion in medical knowledge and advances in health care technology in recent decades, it is possible to prevent many deaths and reduce suffering. Political will and social support often are the linchpins.

At its first meeting, the InterAcademy Medical Panel gathered in March in Paris to discuss global strategies to combat infectious diseases as well as microbial resistance to antibiotics -- a phenomenon that presents a formidable challenge to the health care and research communities. The panel, established two years ago in conjunction with the World Conference of Scientific Academies held in Tokyo, is a voluntary association of the world's medical academies and medical divisions of science academies. Its role in fighting communicable disease was a key theme at the meeting, which marked the first time that representatives from such academies gathered in one place to focus on a health issue of global importance. Joshua Lederberg, an American geneticist and microbiologist who received the 1958 Nobel Prize for his work in bacterial genetics, offered the keynote address on the international challenge of emerging infections. Other discussions centered on terrorist attacks that involve biological or chemical assaults -- a problem for which many countries have had to increase levels of national preparedness.

Using scientific know-how to improve health conditions worldwide, particularly in poor nations, is one of the panel's primary goals. It also aims to boost understanding of health issues and provide independent scientific advice on health policy to national governments and global organizations. Academies from nearly 40 countries on six continents are involved in the effort. Additional information is available on the U.S. National Academies' Web site at <>.   -- Vanee Vines

(See listing in New Projects & Publications for more information.)

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Copyright 2002 by the National Academy of Sciences