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The ultimate in sustainability…

In Ukraine and Russia, two international centres are ‘recycling’ Cold War nuclear scientists to work on sustainability projects



It’s 1991 — the Cold War is over. Two years earlier, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down amidst cheers and tears in Germany and a collective global sigh.

East-West tensions had hung over the world like a black fog since the end of World War II. But with them finally easing under Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan in the White House (who famously exhorted Gorbachev in Berlin to “tear down this wall”), nuclear disarmament and dismantling facilities are set up by the western world in the former Soviet empire.

Soviet nuclear arms production had reached its peak, with about 45,000 weapons stockpiled, about the same time Reagan and Gorbachev were holding their first discussions.

But even with East-West relations warming, what would happen to the tens of thousands of scientists who had designed and built these weapons and ensured they were operational?

Concern in the West ran high. As the Soviet Union collapsed and the economy and population were left in shambles under Yeltsin’s “shock therapy” to instantly reform the Communist economy into a free market one, the western world feared that the scientists who had worked on the former Soviet nuclear weapons and military systems would “disappear”. They might even be lured into working for “rogue” states such as Iran, North Korea, Pakistan and Libya, for when people are hungry and can’t feed their families, they might do anything.

So in 1993, the United States, the newly formed European Union and Canada started the International Science and Technology Centre in Moscow. Later, a sister organization, the Science and Technology Centre (STCU) was set up in Kiev, Ukraine. About 50 people work in the two centres.

The goal was to harness the knowledge and expertise of these scientists — 70,000 of them in Russia and 20,000 in Ukraine — by working through the large network of approximately 1,000 scientific institutions in the former USSR and linking them to productive, high-tech, civilian-based projects in the West.


The concept of moving from Cold War weaponry to sustainability landed close to home in March at the GLOBE 2008 conference held in Vancouver.

If you managed to get through the throng surrounding their booth at the GLOBE trade fair, you could have shaken hands with one of the 16 scientists from the STCU in Kiev. If you had a sustainable project you needed some help developing — cleaning up oil-polluted soils, perhaps, or developing synthetic diesel from organic waste — you likely would have gotten into a long conversation and exchanged business cards.

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