Don't Play Politics With Nuclear Safety

The $10 billion multinational plan to defuse the threat posed by unsafe nuclear power reactors in the former Soviet bloc seems to be a winner--and it had better be. If the U.S., Europe, and Japan can follow through and agree on funding, the deal can be formally approved at the July 6 Group of 7 summit.

Ever since Mikhail Gorbachev appeared on the scene, the West has been asked to underwrite a succession of stabilization funds, defense-conversion funds, and economic-reform programs for the former Soviet Union. All of them shared a drawback: Without corroboration, the West could never be sure whether the aid was really needed. Then, too, there was always the risk that the aid would wind up being wasted or stolen.

But this plan to ensure nuclear safety is a lot different. With Chernobyl as a precedent, nobody can doubt the seriousness of the problem or the magnitude of the potential consequences. Furthermore, because the aid will be funneled through the International Atomic Energy Agency, the European Bank for Reconstruction & Development, the World Bank, and the European Community, the West has a way to verify the dispersal of the funds.

It's obvious that the Soviet nuclear problems pose a threat to Western Europeans--who are, after all, downwind from potential Chernobyls. But what of the U.S., so far away? Doubters need look no farther than Cuba, where two Soviet-designed reactors are approaching completion. At a minimum, the plan would give Washington a better understanding of what could go wrong and would increase pressure for the Cubans to allow the West to monitor safety of the plants.

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