Bellon’s Kharitonov to Speak in Finnish Parliament

Fra februar til august 1996 økte lekasjene ved LNPPs lagringsanlegg fra 12 til 144 liter per dag. Lekasjene ble målt ved hjelp av et vanlig drikkeglass (se bildet).
Foto: Sergei Kharitonov/Bellona

Publish date: January 26, 2004

Bellona nuclear whistle–blower Sergei Kharitonov will Tuesday present in Finland's parliament a report he authored that already has the Finnish federal nuclear monitoring agency hot under the collar about what the report asserts is a series of oversights about safety issues and corruption.

The agency, known by its Finnish acronym STUK, has for several years offered assistance to—and positive safety assessments of—the running of the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant, or LNPP, and STUK’s director, Jukka Laaksonen, has already reacted strongly in interviews to the report Kharitonov will present in Finland’s parliamentTuesday. Bellona publicized the report at a press conference in St Petersburg last Wednesday.

Kharitonov, a 27-year-veteran of the LNPP who worked as chief of its spent nuclear fuel storage facility from 1973 to 2000, was eventually sacked by the plant’s administration, who had grown weary of his tireless efforts to bring the unpleasant truth about the nuclear station to light.

STUK, said Laaksonen in an interview with the English-language St Petersburg Times, has invested up to 7 million euros in work and safety equipment for the station since it started cooperating closely with the plant in 1992. STUK has never given cash to the station management, he told the paper, but had spent about 500,000 euros annually to buy and install various types of safety equipment at the station.

"I don’t understand why Kharitonov is criticizing us," Laaksonen told the paper. "We have never been involved in any matters relating to the LNPP’s operating license and we have never taken a position on the safety of the plant itself."

"Our interest is to influence the improvement of safety, to cooperate with the plant on certain technical topics the plant’s managers think we can support them with and that’s all," he said in his interview with the St Petersburg Times. "And we are very satisfied that safety in general is improving, mostly thanks to measures taken by the plant itself—I don’t know why he’s blaming us.

"We have always refused to take any position on whether to operate the plant or not to operate the plant and for how long. It is completely the matter of the Russian safety authorities," Laaksonen added, according to the paper.


A short history of the LNPP’s recent difficulties
The LNPP’s No 1 reactor bloc was shut down in May 2000—a piece of rubber had been left behind in the fuel canal during earlier repairs.

In October 2000, a leakage was discovered in a wall of the storage facility. Irradiated water was running out through the leak at the rate 48 litres per day. The leaking wall was facing the Finnish Gulf, and its radioactive composition was the same as that found in the loading pond. This allows one to surmise that the water was coming from the loading pond. An official document from the Russian State Sanitary Epidemic Regulatory Agency says the leakage stopped spontaneously three days after it had been detected.

"But there is no pssoibly way to verify the information about the spontaneous stop of the leakage," said Kharitonov.

In August 2002, the LNPP shut down reactor bloc No 3 after it was discovered that 241 aged circulators that regulate the water supply to the reactor had been installed.

The reactor had just been repaired and was about to be reactivated. To conceal the age of the circulators, employees cleaned up the radiation in the circulators in a chemical section of the plant, a process which made them unusable. On August 5th, when the reactor was switched on, the circulators started failing one after the other.

It turned out that the new circulators meant for the reactor had been stolen and sold to a different nuclear power plant. The police opened an investigation.

In late 2003, conversation turned to the LNPP’s inexplicable commercial schemes of buying reactor equipment. In a late 2003 case, the concerned equipment were so-called servo motor units purchased though a middleman at prices inflated to five times their market value. These same servo units were later stolen from the plant.

The Scale of Finnish Financing
The cooperative programme for upgrading the safety of the LNPP has been financed in whole since 1992 by the Finnish federal budget.

In 2000 alone, STUK delivered on more than $150,000 worth of material and equipment at the LNPP. As a whole, international organisations donated $1.6m in equipment for the LNPP that year, with Finland’s contribution making up a total of nine percent of all donations.

For the first eight months of 2001, STUK provided $75,000 worth of material help to the LNPP—six percent of the total $1.6 it received in foreign aid.

Rashid Alimov reported from St Petersburg and Charles Digges from Oslo