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Y2K and Nuclear Issues


US Might Give Direct Y2K Russian Reactor Aid

WASHINGTON, Apr. 22, 1999 -- (Reuters) The United States might provide batteries and generators to Russian-designed nuclear power plants to ensure they have sufficient electricity to shut down safely in an emergency related to the Year 2000 computer bug, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday.

John Koskinen, chairman of President Bill Clinton's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, said there was little direct risk to Russian-designed nuclear plants from the millennium bug, but if the computer glitch took out the power distribution system it could be a problem.

"The preliminary information we have is that, within the perimeter as they say, those plants cannot have a significant Y2K risk," Koskinen said.

"The Year 2000 risk is in the grid," he told reporters. "It's not inconceivable that what we are going to do by late summer or early fall is look at whether we shouldn't provide direct aid in terms of backups such as batteries and generators."

Koskinen said the plants needed a continued source of electrical power to safely shut down.

There were 65 Russian-designed plants running in nine countries and a further assessment of the problem was due to be released in Kiev on Friday, Koskinen said.

The Year 2000 computer problem, known as Y2K for short, arises because many older computers and software allocated only two digits for the year in the date. Unless computers are repaired or replaced, the year 2000 may be read as 1900, causing computers to crash or make mistakes. ( (c) 1999 Reuters)


Jerusalem POST (Jan. 17).

Brig.-Gen. Nissim Alfiya, head of the IDF's computerization division, paints a nightmarish picture of the havoc that could reign during the coming year as the millennium bug threatens to strike. His department has designated 21 dates on which critical failures may occur. . . .

In Israel, the likely scenario is that public utilities may fail, leaving the country without electricity, water and communications.

The IDF has spent the past three years increasing awareness of the bug's potential to do damage and trying to remedy the problem. Alfiya, whose official title is chief army directorate of information technology, has been overseeing the effort.

"We are OK," Alfiya said, confidently. But even so, the army is leaving nothing to chance. It is stocking up on fuel and other essentials and making sure its logistics are completely independent of the national infrastructure - just in case, Alfiya said.

"There are optimists who say that nothing will happen, and there are pessimists who warn of dire dangers. I say it doesn't matter. As an army we can't take the risks," Alfiya told The Jerusalem Post. . . .

He said initial skepticism among military commanders about the potential threat of the bug had long given way to concern. "Today the awareness is great in the IDF," Alfiya said. . . .

The IDF became aware of the problem in the early 1990s, but it wasn't until 1996 that it moved into high gear.

The Y2K problem then received top priority over all other computer projects, a move which Alfiya admits may have set back Israel's technological edge. . . .

"For some reason in the early 1980s when they made the GPS they programmed it to operate for 1,024 weeks. Well time's up in August. And we are working on the assumption that the GPS used in the IDF could fail. That's our approach," he says.

The IDF has become extremely dependent on the GPS, which gives a user his precise location. The system is used for everything from sighting artillery and navigating, on the ground and in the air. Most precision-guided weapons use GPS for accuracy.

Another problematic date is February 29, 2000. Alfiya said that in early tests when this date was entered into the computer the computer rejected it, saying the day doesn't exist.

The army has issued regulations to manually change the dates on computers when December 31, 1999 is over. . . .


Nov. 13, 1998

2000 Glitch Poses Nuclear Threat


Western intelligence is warning of possible nuclear "meltdown" in the former Soviet bloc as a result of the so-called millennium bug, The Times of London reported on Sunday. The millennium bug is a glitch in many of the world's computers that is expected to cripple them worldwide at midnight on December 31, 1999.

Intelligence sources say some of the 65 Soviet-made civilian nuclear power plants scattered across Russia and the former Warsaw Pact countries could malfunction as their computers fall victim to the "Y2K" (year 2000) glitch, which makes them interpret the 00 date as 1900 instead of 2000, The Times reported. "America, Britain and France have been quick to see the dangers. But anxieties about Russian nuclear safety, branded on global memory by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, have not been diminished by Moscow's assurances that the problem is 'under control,'" the paper reported.

An intelligence source was quoted by The Times as saying, "Russia's nuclear industry is in desperate straits. Throw in Y2K and you could have a giant Chernobyl on your hands." It emerged last week that William Daley, the U.S. commerce secretary, is to host an international millennium bug conference this year, indicating the seriousness with which the U.S. White House views the problem, the paper said. "Nuclear safety is bound to be an important item on the agenda," The Times reported, adding, "Al Gore, the [U.S.] vice president, also raised Y2K at a recent meeting with Viktor Chernomyrdin, the former Russian prime minister." In a recent circular to all American power plants, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission warned that "control room display systems, radiation monitoring and emergency response" are particularly at risk, The Times reported. "The Y2K problem is urgent because it has a fixed, non-negotiable deadline," that circular concluded. "This matter requires priority attention because of the limited time remaining to assess the magnitude of the problem."

Even if the Russian government heeds such warnings, it may not have enough computer experts to go round, The Times reported. Former Soviet bloc countries have 36 Soviet-made civilian nuclear reactors, while Russia itself has 29. Of Russia's, 11 are models similar to the one that exploded at Chernobyl, in Ukraine, releasing 200 times as much radioactivity as the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The oldest Chernobyl-style nuclear power plant is the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant, or LAES, an accident-prone power station just 80 kilometers west of St. Petersburg. LAES's reactors were actually the prototype for Chernobyl's. Russian officials say the LAES reactors have been upgraded since the Chernobyl accident revealed vulnerabilities in them. LAES has been plagued with problems - ranging from a hunger strike last year by unpaid engineers, who continued to work monitoring the reactor's safety despite dizziness and fainting spells, to an overburdened nuclear waste storage facility. In 1992, an accident at LAES released radiation outside the plant. Last week saw conflicting reports that another accident in March had again released a minor amount of radiation outside the plant.


ITEM #2 To: X-Sender: (Unverified) Date: Wed, 18 Nov. 1998 00:32:55 +0000 To: Bob Olsen <> From: Paul Swann <>

Subject: The Bug in the Bomb


BASIC have given me permission to circulate the Executive Summary of their report on the internet. The full version should now be on their website. Paul......


The Bug in the Bomb: The Impact of the Year 2000 Problem on Nuclear Weapons

Executive Summary

This report is a first step towards assessing the impact of the Year 2000 computer date change - otherwise known as the "Y2K problem" or the "Millennium Bug" - on both nuclear weapons arsenals and national security structures. Although primary emphasis is placed on the recent experiences of the United States Department of Defense, a comprehensive analysis of the issue will require examination of the entire nuclear weapons cycle for all nuclear powers, from production of weapons to deployment to dismantlement.

Initial research findings by a number of different agencies and teams of experts, both inside and outside the Department of Defense (DoD), have resulted in "no confidence" that the Pentagon's present program will meet the Year 2000 challenge. The DoD weapons and communication systems utilize millions of "embedded systems" in the form of microchips and microprocessors. These semi-independent systems- within-systems are hard to locate and difficult to fix, and the ultimate effects of multiple breakdowns in embedded systems are poorly understood. There is no general theory or methodology for assessing the "Y2K compliance" of software, chips, or microprocessors on a mass basis; suspected systems must be inspected line-by-line and chip-by-chip. Moreover, December 31, 1999 and January 1, 2000 are not the only dates that present problems; many such "bugs" exist for dates that occur prior to, or months and years later than, the year 2000. Finally, even if a particular system is made completely free of Y2K computing errors, interfaces or connections to other "infected" systems could introduce bad data, causing the "fixed" system to produce erroneous information or even shut down completely. Because of these subtle, yet insidious inter-system effects, Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre has admitted that "Everything is so interconnected, it's very hard to know with any precision that we've got it fixed."

Nuclear systems are not exempt from Y2K-related problems. A recent Memorandum from Secretary of Defense William Cohen mandated that US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) give a detailed report on the status of Y2K repairs for all nuclear command and control systems. Although it was produced in mid-September 1998 as an unclassified document, it has not been released to the general public. Congressional access has also been extremely limited. This reluctance to provide information raises deep concerns about the ability of STRATCOM and the armed services to fix both the weapons themselves and the all-important support systems such as launch platforms, communications networks, logistics channels, and safety systems. According to one congressional source, "These decisions constitute a concerted effort to censor information on Y2K progress. If there's anything bad, the immediate response is to cover it up, rather than taking care of the problem."

In fact, there are severe and recurring problems across the entire DoD Y2K remediation program, including ill-defined concepts and operating procedures, ad-hoc funding and spotty estimates for final costs, lax management, insufficient standards for declaring systems "Y2K compliant", insufficient contingency planning in case of Y2K-related failures, and poor inter-departmental communications. There is no credible and concise evidence that all mission-critical systems will be repaired and tested on time. Moreover, February 1998 saw a mass exodus of qualified civilian managers from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence (OASD/C3I), the branch of the OSD responsible for monitoring and guiding Y2K remediation efforts. This exodus included many experts on Information Technology (IT), leaving the entire program rudderless for several months. It is still not clear that recent organizational restructuring and new civilian appointments have adequately addressed the need for rational and consistent central management. According to one congressional staff person who has been monitoring the DoD's progress, "The ongoing response to the Y2K bug is symptomatic of catastrophic mismanagement throughout the DoD."

This state of affairs has been exacerbated by a lack of Congressional attention to defense matters and Y2K. The majority of Y2K committee hearings and bills have been initiated largely through the concerns of domestic lobbies. The dearth of external oversight of Y2K and defense systems extends to Congressional support agencies as well: the Congressional Research Service (CRS) is monitoring the problem at only the broadest levels; the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) believes that the issue is outside its mandate; and the General Accounting Office (GAO) has thus far reported only on general DoD procedures and management, rather than on specific nuclear systems. The GAO will not consider the results for individual systems until the DoD completes all "verification" activities by mid- to late-1999. This leaves little time for the formulation of alternative international policies to avert a crisis caused by major malfunctions in components of the nuclear arsenal.

The Pentagon has already announced the existence of "high risk" systems that may not be repaired or tested in time, and for which repairs may ultimately be impossible. Problems may not be eliminated by 2000 no matter what resources and money are devoted to them.

Finally, Russia's decaying nuclear systems are also in danger of Y2K failures, and US decision-makers are currently planning to share early-warning information (and even exchange key military and civilian personnel) to guard against a purposeful launch based on faulty surveillance data. However, this assumes that US systems will be fixed and verified on time.

The dangers of a Y2K meltdown, even if restricted to a few key systems, are intensified by the Russian and American policy of "launch on warning." This policy calls for nuclear retaliation after detection of another country's launch of missiles, but before the adversary's warheads impact. If Y2K breakdowns were to produce inaccurate early-warning data, or if communications and command channels were to be compromised, the combination of hair-trigger force postures and Y2K failures could be disastrous.

For all of these reasons, there should be a "safety first" approach to Y2K and nuclear arsenals. All the nuclear weapons states should stand-down nuclear operations. This approach should include taking nuclear weapons off alert status or de-coupling nuclear warheads from delivery vehicles. Whatever option is chosen, policymakers must be given as much time and latitude as possible for making important decisions in an environment beset with Y2K difficulties and uncertainties. By verifiably taking forces off alert on a multinational basis, leaders could be highly confident that there is no danger of a preemptive attack, thereby lessening the importance of reliance on C3I systems that might succumb to Y2K failures. This necessitates that Clinton Administration and Congress abandon the current "wait and see" approach, which relies on the timely completion of the Pentagon's Y2K program. Because there is no guarantee of success, US decision-makers must take steps now to preclude disaster should the Pentagon fail.

Serious attention is also warranted for all nuclear activities under the Department of Energy (DoE), including warhead testing and modernization facilities at Sandia National Laboratories and other sites. The Y2K problem can affect every aspect of the DoE's "cradle to grave" nuclear program. More information is also needed about the Y2K-related activities of other nuclear-weapons states. The Clinton Administration should work with other countries to improve Y2K compatibility and to provide information on overall progress.

British American Security Information Council 1900 L St., NW, Washington, DC 20036 Tel. +1 (202) 785 1266 Fax +1 (202) 387 6298

Carrara House, 20 Embankment Place, London WC2N 6NN Tel. +44 (171) 925 0862 Fax +44 (171) 925 0861

Full report should be available at on Friday 13th November.

For more information or for a copy of the report please call Thomas Neve at +44 (0)171-925-0862


THE STRAITS TIMES AUG 10 1998 (Singapore newspaper) Y2K bug may cause war


YOU have heard the scary stories about how computer failure at the dawn of the millennium will cause serious economic damage, but what happens to the military when the millennium arrives?

Astoundingly, for institutions geared to fretting about worst cases, defence ministries have barely begun to ask themselves that question. With military heads buried so firmly in the sands of time, the risks are becoming ever more disturbing. Could the result be a Millennium War?

Even though we live in an age of increasingly high technology warfare, there is a depressingly simple and stupid mistake at the heart of our "smart weapons".

Military computer systems, like their civilian counterparts, were designed with a two-digit date -- for example, 88 instead of 1988 -- but when the clock ticks to the year 2000, many systems will think it will be 1900 and malfunction or seize up entirely.

Welcome to the so-called "Millennium Bug" or "Y2K problem".

The motto of defence planners who are beginning to move past the first stage of denying there is a real problem is drawn from the 1980's sci-fi classic, "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" -- "Don't Panic!"

But as they turn their clocks forward to hunt bugs, even the most energetic hunters are resigned to missing some. In the British Ministry of Defence, there are some 700 staff who expect to spend 200 million (S$554 million) to find the answers in the 500-or-so days to the millennium.

The US Department of Defence says it has already spent US$1.9 billion (S$3.23 billion) on millennium-related problems. The task is not simple when you recall that worldwide, there are estimated to be 15 billion microchips and a modern car has 100 of its own.

A US submarine or fighter aircraft depends on hundreds of thousands of chips, and the systems that command such weapons use more than a million.

Complex systems are a bug hunter's nightmare. Israel has just realised that it will have no effective air defence on Jan 1, 2000, unless the native computer talent is mobilised rapidly.

In one of the great post-Cold War ironies, the US is spending millions of dollars to help Russia ensure it has a working air defence system. There is already plenty of evidence after the end of the Cold War on how Russia's decaying defence establishment may result in the launch of even its nuclear arsenal, because of mistakes in its air defence and command and control systems.

The US and Britain are beginning to fret that by having to make rapid adjustments and by using foreign computer programmers such as in India to repair these problems, the result may be seriously-compromised reliability and security of weapons systems. And as the modern armed forces of the US and Britain "war game" the Y2K problem, they are growing more worried about military contingencies that result from economic collapse.

East Asia's economic meltdown reminded them that riots, as we saw on the streets of Jakarta, can get out of control quickly when panicked people think their money is worthless.

There are also serious concerns about how the collapse of vulnerable public utilities may cause emergencies that require military assistance. The collapse of Quebec's power grid in ice storms this winter or the failure of a US communication satellite controlling pagers helped defence planners worry about what happens when the computers controlling other public services, such as water supplies or power plants, begin to fail.

A particular bad dream in NATO is their weaknesses, derived from the failure of their allies in modern integrated warfare to take the issue seriously. Canada, Australia, and more recently, the Netherlands and Italy, are beginning to take action.

But American and British officials are now worried about how Japan, Germany and especially France see Y2K as an "Anglo-Saxon obsession".

The most cynical NATO governments (but not their major multinational corporations) see the issue as an attempt to distract Europe from meeting the computer modernisation challenge involved in the conversion to the new single European currency.

Western allies further afield have other reasons for myopia. Some Arab countries, whose calendars may not be about to turn to 2000, still have vulnerable chips and software in their weapons systems that they bought from Western countries.

When Western governments briefed military attaches from developing countries recently about the Y2K problem, some thought this was another ruse for Western companies to sell yet more equipment in high prices.

Given the late and patchy response to the Y2K problem, it is hard to be sure whether we will "merely" have a large number of civil emergencies or the real risk of major war. Consider the most likely first major hotspot of the millennium -- the Taiwan Strait.

In March 2000, Taiwan will hold a presidential election in which a candidate of the pro-independence party may well be the front-runner. The Y2K problem could complicate everyone's calculation. Taiwan's economy may be in a mess with riots on the streets because banks are closed, air traffic control is frozen, nuclear power plants have shut down and water supplies are contaminated.

China's "information warriors" who hack into Taiwan's computer networks may have caused some of this chaos.

If the poorer and less technologically dependent Chinese military is less affected, it might feel now is the time for a military strike.

But will China's missiles fire accurately? China's already dodgy command and control systems are likely to be seriously degraded. And of course, how will the high-tech US navy shape up? Will communication be unreliable, will Australian and Japanese allies be paralysed technologically, as well as politically?

For East Asians who might just be emerging from the worst of their economic crisis, it may be hard to remember "Don't Panic".

[The writer is the Director of Studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. He contributed this article to The Straits Times.]


constructive things to do about Y2K the Year 2000 global computer crash -- Utne Reader's Y2K Citizen's Action Guide -- Awakening: the upside of Y2K -- Y2K Wake Up (excellent wall poster of problems and transformative potentials) -- individual & community preparedness, public health concerns, links to Y2K citizen action groups store food, water, cash (but only for a week of disruptions) -- feds want everyone to prepare -- Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office (feds have a sense of humor -- CIAO "goodbye") -- U.S. National Communications System learn about power grid & military emergency communications Y2K and the Danger of Accidental Nuclear War The Bug in the Bomb: The Impact of the Year 2000 Problem on Nuclear Weapons -- scenarios, psychology (very progressive & visionary) -- Cory Hamasaki's Y2K weather reports (technical expertise, sarcastic, not for the faint-hearted)

Y2K and environmentalism -- strategic analysis from Wall Street See "Year 2000 Energy Crisis" (oil company problems) (middle east oil & Y2K) -- cities need to store extra food The Y2K Survival Guide and Cookbook -- learn about electric utility problems (the duration of power failures is probably the single most important factor in the severity of Y2K, apart from terrorist attacks, martial law and accidental nuclear war) utilities, banks, and more -- nuclear information and resource service petitions to nuclear regulatory commission -- very important!!! -- "brain food" about the end of the petroleum age "Y2KO - Knock Out for Industrial Civilization or merely a global depression?" environmental impacts, practical suggestions for mitigating "01-01-00" and envisioning a sustainable society during the recovery on the other side of the century roll-over


"There can't be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full." -- Henry Kissinger

"What's going to happen when whole countries drop off the radar screen with no infrastructure remaining?" -- Senator Robert Bennett (R-Utah), Chair of the Senate Y2k Committee, addressing the first White House Y2K Council Summit, December 3, 1998

"The Titanic sank in an ocean that was 99% free of icebergs." -- Y2K embedded systems expert Mark Frautschi

"If civilization is in danger today, if it is fated to decline and perish, it will do so with the enthusiastic assistance of credulous people. They seem to me more dangerous than the most brazen leaders, because everything is done with their cooperation." -- A. Anatoli Kuznetsov, "Babi Yar" (Russian novel about World War II)