Report questions semi-state agency involvement in nuclear safety projects

Publish date: September 25, 2000

Written by: Igor Kudrik

A report evaluating the Norwegian plan of action for nuclear safety recommends that Norway should demand full financial transparency in Russia. Effective independent control over nuclear safety is not in place either.

The report, made by Fridtjof Nansen Institute on behalf of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, points out a range of underlying dilemmas Norway faces in its nuclear co-operation with Russia. Many projects develop slowly, and the various bureaucratic obstacles between Russian contact patterns have put some project plans in jeopardy.

The evaluation report is based on document analysis and personal interviews with officials involved in the implementation of the different projects. The authors say the role of Nuklid, a company set up by the Russian Ministry for Nuclear Energy (Minatom) to co-ordinate international assistance in the field of nuclear safety, is highly controversial in both Russia and Norway.

Nuklid is organised as a unitary state enterprise and was entitled by Minatom to implement the Federal Program on Management and Decommissioning of Radioactive Waste and Spent Nuclear Materials in 1995-2005. Not only in Norway, but also among many of the other Western parties working with nuclear safety in Russia, Nuklid is considered to be “Minatom’s business agent.”

Starting in 1995, around 343 million crones (US$ 38 million) of Norwegian aid money have been spent on both waste management and nuclear power plants safety upgrade projects in Russia. Nuklid is the major Russian counterpart in the implementation of projects related to nuclear waste handling. A considerable part of the funding has, however, also been spent on projects on the Norwegian side.

Much of the Norwegian criticism against Nuklid is based on the lack of financial transparency. Norwegian officials are not allowed to see the accounting for the projects. After the Fridtjof Nansen Institute report was released, the Norwegian General Accounting Office has demanded full insights in the projects where Nuklid has been involved.

Feud between two agencies
Other Russian agencies working in co-operation with Norwegian partners in the field of nuclear safety are even more direct in their criticism. Nuklid is, among other things, accused of neglecting the security norms and its intention is to monopolise all co-operation with foreigners.

One example is manufacturing of 40-tonns casks for naval spent nuclear fuel within the Arctic Military Environmental Co-operation (AMEC), where Nuklid did not want to involve the Russian Civilian Nuclear Regulatory, the GAN. The quarrel between the two agencies was brought up to the governmental level. In a memo addressed to Deputy Chairman of the Russian Government, Sergey Shoygu, GAN’s chairman Yury Vishnevsky writes that Minatom had no rights to transfer the functions of state agent to Nuklid to implement nuclear safety program in Russia.

It stands in the memo that the prototype of spent fuel transport/storage cask TUK-108 funded partly by AMEC was built before the design work was over, thus the casks in serial production differed from the one tested. The testing program was not agreed with GAN and no independent evaluation of the project was performed. GAN tried to withdraw the licence from Izhora plant to manufacture the casks, but Nuklid, Minatom and Russian Defence Ministry outsmarted the agency.

On June 20 this year, the Russian government approved decree no. 471 that effectively deprived GAN of the right to give licence to the projects, which have anything to do with ‘military application of nuclear energy’. The decree had an effect on the cask project – GAN was removed from it.

From the moment the decree was approved, Minatom (Nuklid) and Defence Ministry will give licences to itself or to each other, thus preventing any independent insight into the running projects.

Impartial observers
Among other questions to Nuklid is its lack of wilingness to use tenders when contracts are to be signed; it selects subcontractors to carry out the work at fixed prices. The question is obvious: how much go to the contractors and how much is ending up in the pockets of Nuklid representatives or as bribes?

On the other hand, the Western donors who have so far tried to stay away from what they call “internal interagency war” have to be more active in insisting on both more effecting use of funds provided and independent control from civilian agencies over nuclear safety projects under implementation.