The United States and Russia have found potential Year 2000 glitches in all but one of seven Cold War-era "hot lines" and are rushing to correct them, a top Pentagon official told Congress yesterday.
Assistant Defense Secretary Edward Warner, with colleagues from the Energy and State departments, outlined a U.S. drive to help Russia cope with Y2K-related disruptions. In testimony to the Senate Special Committee on Y2K, Warner said the Clinton administration is giving Moscow Y2K-compliant software and computers to correct "program deficiencies in outage reporting, monitoring and channel reroute operations."
Citing safety concerns about the 68 Soviet-designed nuclear power reactors in Russia and eight other former Soviet Bloc states, Ken Baker, deputy assistant energy secretary, said: "The worst enemy is time right now."
He said DOE experts are working bilaterally and with groups, such as the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, to fix Y2K vulnerabilities in Russian and Eastern European nuclear reactors.
The Y2K glitch stems from the use of two digits to represent years. Unless fixed, computers may read 00 as 1900 instead of 2000. This could trip critical systems, including power grids, and cause nuclear plants to shut down if they lose "off-site" backup power.
The U.S. government has deemed enhancing the safety of Soviet-era nuclear reactors "a vital national security interest," Baker testified.
State Department officer John Beyrle said Russia, pinched for cash, may experience Y2K-related problems for "months" into 2000.
Committee Chairman Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah) and Vice Chairman Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) urged the administration to waste no time in crafting responses to Russia's possible post-Y2K travails.
To avoid misunderstandings during the date change, the United States and Russia agreed to set up a joint Center for Y2K Strategic Stability at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.