Mikhail Piskunov, chairman of Dimitrovgrad Centre for Assistance on Citizens’ Initiatives, says that he has obtained documents, revealing governor’s plan to build in Ulyanovsk County, southern Russia, a nuclear heat plant (NHP).
One of the documents, the decree “On Creating a Working Group to Prepare a Mutual Declaration with Ministry for Nuclear Energy” (479-p dated 13.06.02), is signed by the head of the county General Vladimir Shamanov.
Mikhail Piskunov says that the Decree refers to an agreement, which had been reached by the Ministry of Nuclear Energy, or Minatom, and Ulyanovsk County administration two years ago. As strange it might be, however, this agreement was signed on the day off — on June 12th 2000 — and has not been published, though Russian legislation demands such documents to be public domain. “Laws stipulate, such questions to be solved taking into account what people think. Like in the Soviet times, county authorities and Minatom keep their plans in secret from tax-payers, whose money would be spent on this nuclear furnace.”
The draft Declaration of Intention on building the nuclear heat plant stipulates construction of two VK-300 reactors, which would cost about $310m. The document says, the reactor units are to be put in operation in 2011 and 2012.
The NHP would be located not far from Dimitrovgrad, where Nuclear Reactor Research Institute is situated. The Institute comprises seven reactors and several nuclear research subdivisions.
One of the reactors in operation – VK-50 – is the prototype of the planned VK-300.
“Design characteristics of VK reactors are rather poor”, says Yury Zagumennov, former scientist of the Nuclear Reactor Research Institute, now expert of Dimitrovgrad Centre for Assistance on Citizens’ Initiatives.
Facts confirm this assertion. In 1996, VK-50 was accounted for an emergency emission of 4.5 tonnes of radioactive gas-vapour mixture. An earlier accident resulted in 15 tonne emission of radioactive materials. Cladding failures of nuclear fuel elements has been documented several times. The reactor uses water as coolant, generating great amounts of radioactive waste, which is dumped into the underground, into water-bearing horizons.
Plans to burn plutonium
The construction of the plant, supported by Shamanov, general who fought in Chechnya, does not provide economical benefits. Energy-generating plants of the region, including heat power plants in Ulyanovsk, are not being used to their full capacity. The first-rate energy consumer in the county, Dimitrovgrad Automobile factory, refused to pay for energy, generated by VK-50 reactor, because it is too expensive. The factory preferred to receive electricity from remote Kama hydro-plant, cutting down expenses for $200 thousands monthly.
Dimitrovgrad city administration is considering an alternative project, which can meet the entire region’s energy needs in a long run. It is a new power plant based on gas turbine. Such plant can generate up to 10MW and sell the electricity at a lower price, compared to the average price tag in Ulyanovsk County. Though, nuclear lobby attempt to put obstacles for the project.
“They well understand that if they miss today’s opportunity to sell a nuclear plant, they won’t be able to do it later,” says Mikhail Piskunov.
Bogus nuclear plants taking shape
Possible building of a nuclear plant in Ulyanovsk County was stipulated in the federal program for Energy Efficient Economics for the Years 2002 to 2005 and till 2010 in the long-term planning part. According to this document, installed nuclear capacity of the Ulyanovsk plant operating on four power units, will be 4GW.
Bellona Web reported on this Program earlier and discovered that Minatom had alienated itself from it since it was written by the Ministry for Energy and was “full of inaccuracies.” It seemed that the Program would be implemented on the sly, accompanied by Minatom’s officials claims that they have nothing to do with the plans, mentioned in the Program. They would say that Program comprises the maximum of the new NPPs to be built possible, but it is not an obvious thing that all the NPPs will be actually built. In the backstage, Minatom will still be planning and building new NPPs.
In the beginning of 2002, despite the public opposition, the Governor of Saratov County and the Minister for Nuclear Energy signed a declaration if intention for design and putting into operation the fifth and the sixth power units at Balakovo NPP. A similar declaration for Ulyanovsk County is being drafted as well. Minatom sends a delegation to China to sell there a recently designed floating NPP, a prototype of which seems to be under construction in Severodvinsk — and there is a line item stipulating such construction in the Program as well. Where the program filled with inaccuracies pops up next time remains to be seen.