Lawmakers revive proposed NPP in Kostroma Region, overriding a referendum against it

Igor Kudrik/Bellona

Publish date: March 13, 2007

Written by: Rashid Alimov

ST. PETERSBURG - Deputies in Russia’s Kostroma Region held a secret vote to approve the construction of a nuclear power plant (NPP) in the region that local residents had voted against in 1996 in Russia’s first environmental referendum ever.

This time, apparently, authorities were not interested in public opinion.

The Regional Duma of Kostroma – 300 kilometres east of Moscow – voted earlier this month to repeal the July 2000 statute that halted construction of the Kostroma NPP.

By overriding the statute and voting on March 1st to allow construction of the NPP, Kostroma Duma deputies went against the will of local residents, who voted overwhelmingly against the constructing of the NPP in 1996, with 87 percent of the 58 percent of registered voters who turned out.

Environmentalists from Kostroma’s In the Name of Life movement this week collected 1,200 signatures protesting construction of the NPP, and are continuing to canvas opinion.

“The issue of [whether or not to] revive construction of the NPP was not discussed in public,” said Tamara Dobretsova, co-chairman of In the Name of Life. “Everything took place behind closed doors. We are demanding parliamentary hearings and a re-run of the vote.”

For this to happen, however, an official body such as the city Duma needs to forward the initiative to have a re-do of the 1996 referrendum. What is happening now, Dobretsova explained in an interview with Bellona Web, is precisely what happened in 1994, when authorities tried to scuttle a referendum on the plant, but environmentalists forced the point.

“We will demand that city lawmakers defend Kostroma’s land this time as well,” Dobretsova added.

Kostroma environmentalists also plan to launch a Russia-wide and international campaign against construction of the plant.

Lawmakers vote for the NPP
In the Name of Life told Bellona Web that 23 deputies voted to revive construction of the NPP. Four voted against, and there were two abstentions.

The elected deputies voted in secret, ignoring recommendations that the vote be made public.

On the same day, a protest took place that attracted almost 1000 people. The activists demanded that the authorities ban work from resuming on the NPP. Protest letters were also sent to the Duma by NGOs, including the International Socio-Environmental Union and Greenpeace Russia.

The motion to scrap the 1996 resolution that halted nuclear projects in the region was proposed by lawmakers from the Buisk region, where the future builders of the Chistiye Bory NPP live.

This village was constructed in the 1980s especially for workers on the Kostroma NPP that was then being planned.

After the referendum that banned construction of the NPP in 1996, no major production facilities have been built on the site in place of the NPP.

According to the Kostroma NPP’s backers, resuming construction was made more urgent by Russia’s Federal Atomic Energy Agency Rosatom’s desire to build a new NPP in central Russia, for which there are three competing sites.

In an interview with local television, Kostroma NPP director Vladimir Yakovlev said that RAO UES – Russia’s electricity monopoly – had proposed building the NPP in the nearby Yaroslavl or Nizhny Novgorod Regions. Yakovlev’s however said that the other cities had no reserves for the project.

“At the (Duma) session on March 1st, one argument advanced for the need to build an NPP by members of the economics committee was that Yaroslavl would otherwise take the initative,” Dobretsova told Bellona Web, negating Yakovlev’s assertion.

The environmentalists’ position
The greens are convinced that a nuclear power station would be too dangerous a facility because it would generate nuclear waste, and that there is no demand in the Kostroma Region for another electricity generating facility. According to In the Name of Life, the region actually sells electricity to neighbouring areas.

Kostroma Officials confirmed this. At a round table in the regional Duma held last November, officials said the region is not experiencing a deficit of electricity. Yet plans include construction of major industrial facilities, among them a pulp and paper facility, a timber-processing plant, and cement factories.

Environmentalists say that the site for the NPP was a poor choice, with a knot of deep geological fault lines running under the surface. In addition, the site is located next in the Volga River basin, where substrates are mainly sandy. In other words, even small leaks of radioactive water will get into the Volga basin, and eventually into the Volga itself.

Environmentalists say that, in choosing the site, the project planners breached Point 3 of Article 48 of the federal law on the environment. No state environmental expert assessment was ever carried out, breaching Articles 36 and 37 of the same law.

The history of the Kostroma NPP
Construction of the Kostroma NPP started in 1980, when the village of Chistye Bory was built for the site’s construction workers. In 1990, authorities ceased work on the project due to lack of funding.

On July 20th 1994, the Regional Duma adopted a resolution on constructing a new Kostroma NPP using a VPBER-600 reactor block.

Later, the builders in Christye Bory challenged the legality of the referendum, saying the decision to halt construction breached their human rights – the right to labor, and to the dignified life that the Ministry of Atomic Energy (Minatom) – the precursor to Rosatom – had promised when it took them on.

In January 1999, Kostroma regional court found for the workers, and ruled that the local Duma resolution on holding a referendum was illegal.

On April 26th 1999, on Chernobyl victims remembrance day, the case for constructing the Kostroma NPP was examined in the Russian Supreme Court. The court upheld the rulings of the Kostroma court, and annulled the referendum. Residents of Kostroma Region appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, but were denied a hearing on a technicality.

Yet, construction of the NPP was still halted. On July 20th 2000, the Kostroma Regional Duma adopted a resolution annulling its resolution of 1994 to build the NPP. Deputies also resolved to ask the government to dissolve the management body that was building the NPP. The resolution, however, was not carried out in full.

On March 1st, a protest by Kostroma environmentalists was one component of Russia-wide protests against Rosatom plans to build new NPPs across the country. Activists from 18 major cities took part.

At present, Rosatom’s “road map” for NPPs envisages construction of 13 nuclear plants over the next 10 years: the Kola-2, Leningrad-2, Kaliningrad, South Urals, Northern, Far Eastern and Primorsk NPPs, as well as new reactors at the Kalinin, Kursk, Novovoronezh, Volgodonsk, Balakov and Beloyarsk plants.

The list of plants could increase – Rosatom is currently in negotiations with regional leaders. The final list will be examined by the government on April 17th, just days ahead of another Chernobyl anniversary.