May 14, 1999
Russia, Cuba seek investors to finish Cuban nuclear plant
U.S. critics say facility could pose safety threat

                  HAVANA, Cuba (CNN) -- The Cuban and Russian governments have
                  agreed to jointly seek international partners to finance completion of a
                  nuclear power plant in Cuba -- a facility which American officials say could
                  pose a safety threat to the southeastern United States.

                  The Juragua power station was begun by the Cuban and Soviet governments
                  in the early 1980s, when Cuba was in the Soviet orbit. But the project was
                  abandoned when it ran out of money after the Soviet Union collapsed.

                  Russia's Interfax news agency reported that Russia and Cuba reached
                  agreement on the new joint venture Friday. The report did not say how the
                  money needed to complete the plant -- estimated at $700 million -- would
                  be raised.

                  U.S. officials expressed skepticism that the Russians and Cubans will be
                  able to find enough investment to actually finish the reactor.

                  The plant is located on Cuba's southern coast about 175 miles (280 km)
                  from the Florida Keys. It uses Soviet technology, but is a light-water
                  reactor, rather than the graphite-cooled model built by the Soviets at
                  Chernobyl, Ukraine, the site of the world's worst nuclear accident.

                  Plant 'in a very deteriorated state'

                  "The plant is basically an empty shell that has been sitting idle since 1992 and
                  seems to be in a very deteriorated state," a State Department official told
                  Reuters, adding that the facility has been corroded by salt blowing in from
                  the Caribbean Sea.

                  For years, U.S. critics of the plant have accused the Cubans of constructing
                  a facility riddled with cracks in concrete containment vessels and
                  substandard welds in critical pipes.

                  "The technology (Cuba) uses is obsolete. The training the workers have used
                  is very shoddy," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida). "This could be a
                  real safety problem for the entire southeastern United States. In a matter of
                  hours we could be contaminated."

                  American and international atomic energy officials agree that, if built
                  properly, the plant's design would be safe. The Cuban government has
                  insisted its construction is solid -- but has so far not allowed outside
                  inspectors to validate those claims.

                  Tracking potential fallout

                  If there were radiation leaks from the plant, Caribbean winds would likely
                  blow fallout north to Florida and up the eastern seaboard up to Washington,
                  D.C., or possibly west to Texas, according to data from the National
                  Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

                  In January, scientists at Florida State University began setting up a network
                  to track potential radiation from the Juragua plant.

                  After opening up its state-run economy nearly a decade ago, the Cuban
                  government says it remains committed to encouraging international
                  investment to "complement" its recovery from the economic crisis that
                  gripped Cuba since the Soviet bloc collapsed.

                  Although official figures are unavailable, Cuba is estimated to have attracted
                  more than $2 billion in international investment this decade, mostly from
                  Canada and European Union countries. The energy sector is one area where
                  Cubans say they are seeking investment.

                   Miami Bureau Chief John Zarrella, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this