US, Russia set up Y2K video conferencing

The US Department of Energy (DoE) and Russia's atomic energy ministry have set up a video conference link that will provide a key part of the communications infrastructure between two countries' energy departments during the year 2000 rollover.

US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson and Russia's Minister of Atomic Energy Yevgeniy Adamov demonstrated the video conferencing equipment yesterday, linking the Department of Energy's Emergency Operations Center in Washington to a MinAtom Situation and Crisis Center that opened October 2 in Moscow, an Energy Department spokesman said today.

The video conferencing system uses a dedicated T-1 line, off-the-shelf Cisco switches, codecs (compression/decompression) devices and LCD video projectors, the DoE spokesman said. No video conferencing software package is needed, but some routing software developed by the Department of Energy based on an unspecified flavour of the Unix operating system is used for the internal routing of video signals, the spokesman added.

Russia and the US will also exchange personnel on December 31. Russian experts will be in the Department of Energy's emergency centre and US experts will be in the MinAtom centre to monitor and provide advice on any year 2000-related problems that may occur in Russia's electricity grid and nuclear power plants, the DoE spokesman said.

US experts will also be stationed in the Ukraine, the site of the 1986 explosion and fire at the Chernobyl nuclear power station, to monitor the situation there.

The DoE began working on the video conferencing link in March after Richardson and Adamov signed a report prepared by the nuclear committee of the US-Russian Joint Commission on Economic and Technological Cooperation.

The two sides agreed to establish a working relationship within their respective emergency centres, and the Department of Energy agreed to provide MinAtom with emergency management training and exercise assistance. The Department of Energy also agreed to provide future assistance for technology and engineering at the Situation Crisis Center.

Tests of Russian nuclear reactors thus far indicate that the primary safety systems will function normally, according to the Department of Energy. These systems, which are designed to shut reactor plants down automatically in an emergency, do not contain the type of digital systems susceptible to the year 2000 date problem.

Other systems such as computers that monitor plant conditions, however, could potentially fail, leading to a reactor shutdown that could jeopardise the lives of millions of people by making it impossible for them to heat their homes.

The US Department of Energy officials observed two Russian nuclear power plant exercises last month and both exercises demonstrated the plants are ready for the date change. US energy officials will observe another exercise December 8 at the Leningrad nuclear power plant.

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