Rumyantsev sacked as Rosatom head and replaced by Presidential envoy Sergei Kiriyenko

Publish date: November 15, 2005

Written by: Charles Digges

ST. PETERSBURG—In an unexpected governmental shake-up, former Russian Prime Minister and presidential envoy to the to Volga federal District, Sergei Kiriyenko, has been named as the new head of the Russian Agency for Atomic Energy, (Rosatom), replacing Alexander Rumyantsev, who had served at the post for four years.

No immediate comment was available from the government as to why Rumyantsev, 60, had been replaced. But a spokesman for Sergei Naryshkin, chief of staff of the Russian government, confirmed that the younger Kiriyenko—who has no previous experience in Russia’s nuclear industry— will now be taking the reigns at Rosatom as of Tuesday. Naryskhin’s spokesman said Rumyantsev will be transferred to another post.

“I cannot say where Alexander Rumyantsev will be transferred, he has been relieved of his duties in connection with transfer to other work,” Naryshkin’s spokesman said.

Environmentalists hailed the news with a lukewarm response, and urged Kiriyenko to develop a genuine dialogue with the environmental community—a dialogue that was erratic during the tenure of Rumyantsev and non-existent while his predecessor Yevgeny Adamov was in power.

Total surprise at Rosatom

The news came as a shock to Rosatom employees, and even a highly placed official said he had heard about the leadership swap only minutes before he was phoned by Bellona Web.

“I just heard it on radio Mayak ten minutes ago,” said Vitaly Nasonov, deputy information officer for Rosatom, referring to a national state controlled radio station. “I don’t know what to say and have heard nothing as to the reason why Rumyantsev was replaced.”

Rumors of Rumyantsev’s ousting began to surface late yesterday on many Russian news sites. But nothing was confirmed until today when the state controlled PRIME-TASS news agency published a brief announcement of the swap.

In the terse announcement, PRIME-TASS said that Fradkov had signed an order to install Kiriyenko as Rosatom’s new chief as of Monday, and that his role as the Volga presidential envoy would be assumed by Alexander Konovalov, the prosecutor for the southerly Bashkiriya Region of Russia.

Rostatom’s official web site, was not carrying any information on Rumyantsev’s replacement as of Tuesday.

“No power change is a good thing here,” said Nasonov.

“Immediately, people start asking ‘will I have a job’ and ‘what will happen next.’ It’s chaotic. But they hand down decisions from above and we don’t always know what they mean—we’ll just wait and see.”

Environmentalists cautiously optimistic

For the environmental sector, Kiriyenko’s appointment represents a possible turn in the right direction.

“Rumyantsev, being a product of the atomic industry, could not reform the atomic field or make it economically effective,” said Oslo-based Bellona researcher Igor Kudrik.

“As we showed in our last report ‘The Russian Nuclear Industry—The Need for Reform,’ reforms in the industry are necessary not only to achieve economic sense for the industry’s existence, but for effective decision making on ecological problems that built up over the years of the Cold War and which continue today as a result of the working of this very industry.”

Kudrik added that: “Russia needs real, independent nuclear oversight. All projects in nuclear and radiation safety must be entirely transparent. Independent, non-governmental experts must be invited into the discussion of these projects and consulted on the strategies of their fulfillment. We count on Rosatom’s new management to take into account the mistakes of its predecessors.”

But both Kudrik and Alexander Nikitin, head of Bellona’s Environmental Rights Center in St. Petersburg were in agreement that it was far too early to tell where Kiriyenko will steer Rosatom, and whether he would be capable of breaking some of its poor habits geared toward raising money in the nuclear industry.

“According to the new appointment, Rosatom is not making any policy. It will be occupied with the economy,” said Nikitin. “Kiriyenko is hardly going to the strategy of spent nuclear fuel imports, the extension of operational life-spans of aged reactors, and won’t contradict the military—who constantly demand new nuclear upgades—anytime in the near future.”

Nikitin added that sooner or later these politics will have to change. Maintaining the safety of the nuclear industry, he said, has always been an expensive undertaking, and Kiriyenko’s goals, as a former manager, would be to improve economical indicators within the industry and and trim expenses.

“This trimming of expenses is what concerns us,” said Nikitin and Kudrik.

Kiriyenko’s governance of the state commission on chemical weapons can led one to assume that ecological problems are a priority for him.

Bellona has long been concerned that, while domestically and internationally funded nuclear projects are underway, no environmental impact studies of these projects are performed.

“This problem became completely apparent after the 2003 sinking of the K-159 submarine, which went down in stormy weather while being towed to a decommissioning point,” said Kudrik.

Kiriyenko’s governmental history

Kiriyenko has a long but somewhat hard to pin down connection to the Russian government. Prior to serving the shortest period as Prime Minister—six months— in post Soviet history in 1998 and presiding over the crash of the rouble, Kiriyenko worked prominently in management. After his replacement as Prime Minister, when he was succeeded by former foreign affairs minister, Yevgeny Primakov.

Afterward, Kiriyenko served as governor of the Nizhny-Novogorod region until he was appointed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2001 to serve as presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District.

“We assume that with the coming of Kiriyenko, the industry should expect a honing down and further reforms,” said Kudrik. “Primarily, this process should devote its attention to the most pressing attention to questions of safety and ecology.”

Yet the real reform of the industry is possible only if there is political will in the government to create working oversight bodies, said Nikitin and Kudrik.

Rumyantsev, a former head of the Kurchatov Institute, was appointed the head of the Ministry of Atomic Energy, or Minatom—which, after a government reshuffle in summer 2003 was renamed Rosatom—in 2001 following the turbulent reign of Adamov. Adamov is awainting extradition to the United States in a jail in Bern, Switzerland for allegedly defrauding the United States of $9m in nuclear safety funding.

Charles Digges reported from Oslo and Rashid Alimov reported from St.Petersburg.