Leningrad NPP builds radioactive metal melting plant without proper environment evaluation

Foto: Bellona

Publish date: February 27, 2001

Written by: Rashid Alimov

A radioactive metal melting plant built on the territory of Leningrad nuclear power plant (LNPP), 80km west of St Petersburg, passed no proper environmental impact study. Neither the public of St Petersburg nor the neighbouring countries were informed about this facility.

Commission of the Ministry for Nuclear Energy, or Minatom, has approved commissioning of the radioactive waste metal melting plant, built on the premises of the LNPP liquid radioactive waste storage, on February 21st. This installation for radioactive metal waste processing has been built by a private joint stock company ECOMET-S without getting required state environmental evaluation. The plant will melt up to 5,000 tons of scrap metal per year. The metal is contaminated by such radionuclides as Mn-54, Co-60, Zn-65, Ru-106, Cs-134, Cs-137, Ce-144, Sr-90. The further commissioning of the plant assumes environmental and construction evaluations, Natalia Malevannaya, a member of Minatom’s commission, says.

The building of the plant can be considered as just another infringement of the legislation of the Russian Federation on the territory of a nuclear hazardous object – LNPP. In this case, clause 3 of the Federal Law on the Environmental Evaluation (July 19, 1995), requiring “the obligatory realisation of the state environmental evaluation” before the actual works on site can be launched, is broken.

LNPP generates up to 2,000 tons of radioactive waste metal per year. According to ECOMET-S representatives, the stored volume will feed the processing plant for at least five years. Shipments of waste metal from other regions are not reportedly planned in the near feature, but the opportunity is open.

ECOMET-S owners try to assure that after being melted the radioactive metal would be clean enough to be used by industry without any restrictions, even sold to other countries. The results of the required environmental impact study say there will be no danger from the melting plant to the population and the environment outside the so-called sanitary-protection zone of the LNPP. But according to envirogroup Green World, based in Sosnovy Bor, the city near LNPP, the presented environmental study contradicts to the reality.

The radioactive waste melting plant was built only few hundred meters away from the Baltic Sea, 4km from Sosnovy Bor with population of 60,000 inhabitants, 13km from the swan nature reserve, Lebiazhie, protected by the International (Ramsar) Convention on Wetlands, 80km from St Petersburg, 70km from Estonia, and 100km from Finland.

Similar plants to be built in other Russian cities
By the decree of the former Victor Chernomyrdin’s government and thanks to his personal engagement (Order No. 1197 of 1.09.1995), the private company ECOMET-S was entrusted with executing the state target program Radioactive Scrap Metal Processing and Decommissioning. The program stipulates melting of ca. 600,000 tons of such waste accumulated in Russia. Sosnovy Bor was assigned the role of the waste business pioneer. Later on, similar plants are to be launched in other Russian cities. Their total capacity is estimated to be as high as 150,000 tons a year.

The state target program mentioned above has not passed state environmental evaluation.

The director of LNPP, Valery Lebedev, approves the idea of creation a unified state enterprise on processing radioactive waste, because "there are not only technical and environmental interests, but also commercial." (Vestnik Leningradskoy AES, February 23d 2001).

Hearings present environmental groups with faits accomplis
On February 9, the mayor of Sosnovy Bor, Mr Nekrasov, commenced public hearings on the construction of the plant. In consent with Russian laws, public hearings must be held at the pre-planning stage of such projects. In this case, the project is almost accomplished. Thus, according to Green World, ECOMET-S has forged the necessary procedure – public hearings – in attempt to show it abides the laws.

During the hearings, Mr Zabelin, adviser of the Civil Defence and Emergency Situations Board, was unhappy with the fact that the design documentation for the plant was not provided in time to the local boards of Ministry for Emergency Situations. A concern was voiced, that the presence of an external organization on the territory of LNPP could increase the risk of terrorism.

The public hearings presented the five million inhabitants of St Petersburg and 60,000 inhabitants of Sosnovy Bor with a faits accomplis of the new potentially dangerous plant. ECOMET-S representatives also said they had no plans to inform the bordering countries – Finland and Estonia – about the plant. The information exchange is required in such cases by the Convention on Evaluation of Environmental Impact in the UN trans-limitary context – the ESPO convention of February 25th 1991.