Vol. 2, Issue 12, March 23, 2004
Russia's Nuclear Fleet Not So Nuclear, Says Admiral
Russia's navy chief startled the world by saying his flagship nuclear cruiser is not in fact nuclear at all - strange comments that some attributed to byzantine infighting in the troubled military.
"There's no nuclear reactor on this ship," said Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov. "It's a diesel engine with a green light bulb in the engine housing to give it a nuclear-type glow. We tell visiting dignitaries not to get too near. 'Ooo! Radiation! Don't get too close!' So they don't look."
The "nuclear-powered" cruiser Peter the Great has been at sea for seven years and remains the focus of the most vital Russian operations in the northern seas. It has been toured on festive military occasions by Russian President Vladimir Putin, but has not actually participated in any military activities during its brief tenure.
"This is of course a huge misunderstanding," Putin told reporters later that day. "It is as nuclear as anything the Americans have. Trust me. And our missiles are plenty nuclear as well. We are virtually bursting with nuclear hardware, so don't try anything. Hear me? I'm talking to you, China."
The shocking admission comes on the heels of increasingly widespread suspicion that Russia's declared military capabilities have been exaggerated by the Russian media. While few expect an accurate tally of Russia's forces to be made public, its constant one-upmanship of the United States has become more implausible in recent years.
"It was the Russian 'Petroski' unmanned drone that gave us pause," said Secretary of State Colin Powell. "Moscow announced that this was a nuclear version of the American Predator drone. Now, there's no reason to put a nuclear reactor in a small unmanned reconnaissance drone. For one thing, it would weigh at least 4 tons, which is a bit more than a tiny unmanned propeller-driven craft can carry."
The United States has also found that much of the plutonium 238 purchased from Russia under the Voinoi agreement in the past several years, part of an effort to encourage disarmament of the former USSR's nuclear arsenal, is in fact lead covered with fluorescent green paint.
"I am disappointed," said President Bush in a statement released this afternoon. "I guess it's not just the liberal American media that makes stuff up all the time."
Environmental watchdogs who monitor Russia's nuclear arsenal were reluctant to admit that Kuroyedov's comments seemed plausible, although they admitted with some embarrassment that sales of green light bulbs have indeed soared in Russia over the past five years.
"Bulbs are pretty hazardous too, you know," said Swedish environmentalist Nils Larsen defensively. "Who knows what they use to make them green. If one of those things breaks, I'd run if I were you."