Rosatom to cooperate with enviornmentalists of Russia’s North-West

Igor Konyshev, an advisor of Kirienko
Вера Пономарева

Publish date: January 6, 2007

Written by: Vera Ponomareva

The Russian Federal Nuclear Energy Agency (Rosatom) has proposed to create a working commission that will include representatives from public organizations, Rosatom and municipalities with the aim to resolve the social and ecological problems in the North-West. Environmentalists are taking Rosatom’s proposal with skepticism.

The proposal was made by Igor Konyshev, an advisor for the head of Rosatom, at a meeting with the NGO’s representatives on December 19th in St. Petersburg.

“This working commission must be structured in a way so that it can create proposals while working directly with Rosatom.” – said Konyshev. The proposed initiative will help “create a space for dialog with the public,” he added.

According to Konyshev, a competition to be held on the best social and environmental projects among the region’s NGOs will be the main task for the working commission. At a similar competition in the Chelyabinsk district in 2006, Rosatom awarded 10 million rubles.

Working Calendar
There did not turn out to be a lot time for the public organizations to think over Rosatom’s proposal: the working commission needs to be formed by next week. The working commission needs to workout its terms and run the competition on the best environmental and social projects by January 20th. On May 1st, abiding by Konyshev’s proposal, the results of the concourse will be put together and the projects’ implementation will begin in May.

‘Better than in Europe’
The plan for interaction with the public that is proposed by Konyshev is his own design for Rosatom’s new leadership. In Konyshev’s opinion, such partnership methods allow NGOs to be more independent than their counter-parts in European countries.

“I have been to Europe and studied the situation there. The work of NGOs organizations for the most part is regulated by the government. The mechanisms that Europeans use for their work with non-governmental organizations just do not work for us. We find these methods uninteresting, unproductive and ineffective. One has to re-invent the bicycle. Let us invent it together,” Konyshev stated.

The Chelyabinsk District’s Experience

A year ago, Rosatom was the first to partner with a group of environmentalists in the Chelyabinsk district – one of the most polluted regions in Russia where the industrial nuclear waste processing plant ‘Mayak’ operates. A working commission that included representatives from ‘Mayak,’ Rosatom and environmental organizations was created at Rosatom’s initiative at the end of 2005. The working commission’s participants, who are dealing with a number of social and environmental problems, prepared and ran the competition ‘Techa-2006.’

“We might know more about the Chelyabinsk projects than Rosatom. Therefore we have questions – we are in contact with environmentalists in Chelyabinsk and we know how the projects work there,” said Alexander Nikitin, chairman of the Environmental Human Rights Center Bellona, expressing doubt.

According to Nadezhda Kutepova, chairman of the ‘Planet of Hopes’ organization from the Chelyabinsk district, bureaucrats being available for correspondence with environmentalists and rights-defenders became a positive aspect in interactions with Rosatom. “Any public organization that has the initiative can call Konyshev and he will propose a way to get things done.” Kutepova explained.

On the other hand, Kutepova says that Rosatom has rather quickly surrounded itself with loyal organizations that do not want to get into a conflict with bureaucrats. “A ring of well subsidized and uncritical non-governmental organizations has been formed. Rosatom uses their support and often invites them to functions and meetings,” – says Kutepova. They (Rosatom) have not once forgotten to invite Kutepova herself to meetings of the working commission, of which she is a member.

“The first attempt is not guaranteed to be mistake-free. We will acknowledge these mistakes, take them into account and continue to work with Chelyabinsk according to the plan,” said Konyshev as he reassured environmentalists. However, he did not specify exactly what mistakes had been in mind.

A Gentlemen’s Agreement instead of Legislation
The creation of a working commission in the North-West of Russia was dictated by the need to establish contact with public organizations in every region where Rosatom is planning to build two new nuclear power plants. The two new headline additions are the Leningrad NPP located in Sosnovy Bor and the Kola NPP in Murmansk region.

The new amendments to the city building code that will go into effect come 2007 thwart public participation in making resolutions to construct any building, including a nuclear power station. State and public environmental expertise is fading into the past along with public hearings, therefore volunteer organization experts will not be able to lawfully participate in evaluating risks for the population and the environment

“When this law takes effect on January 1st, 2007, chapter 6, page 28 of the law establishing the obligation for taking into account expert conclusions that have been conducted under the resolution on the accommodation and construction of nuclear installations, radiation resources and storage points will act in the following edition: “in accordance with land legislation, legislation on city building activities and legislation on environmental protection,” – commented Bellona lawyer Olga Krivonos.

What comes from this is a solidly formed demand for the article to be substituted for a reference to other legislation, in particular to nature preservation, which contains regulations on NGO participation. Therefore Rosatom’s cooperation with NGOs is presented on a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ level,’ and not in accordance with the law’s requirements,’ – says Krivonos.

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