Russia gathers for nationwide protest against ‘new Chernobyls’


Publish date: April 25, 2008

Written by: Rashid Alimov

ST. PETERSBURG - An environmental protest marking the 22nd anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 planned for Saturday in St. Petersburg is shaping up to be a lighting rod for a wide range of anti-nuclear grievances the Russia public has against its government.

Occasioned by the grim birthday of deep skepticism in the Russian nuclear power industry and nuclear power as a whole worldwide, the protest will take place on Saturday April 26th at 11:30 on Malaya Konyushennaya street.

But new challenges relative to change have cause an international knee-jerk reaction to invigorating nuclear power, which produces no greenhouse gasses. However, studies have shown that a massive international nuclear build would decrees emissions by only 4 percent – and no country yet knows how to dispose of nuclear waste.

The exigencies of coping with climate change have therefore created a convenient smoke screen for nuclear profiteers and merchant states to justify enormous plans for a nuclear renaissance as an effective means of combating greenhouse gasses. But industry science and safety have not made significant improvements since the world’s worst nuclear accident.

“After Chernobyl, it became evident that the confidence of nuclear works in the nuclear industry’s safety and economic effectiveness in the absence of government subsidization did not correspond with reality,” said Rashid Alimov, editor of Bellona Web’s Russian pages and one of the organisers of the protest.

“In 60 years, no system for safely storing radioactive waste has been worked out, and a totally safe reactor has no been invented.”

The anniversary of the disaster, therefore, provides an occasion for reflection on how far nuclear power has advanced both as an industry and a science, and provided an opportunity to weigh the catastrophic consequences of an accident against the possibilities of using cheaper and more readily available renewable energy source to make up for the power gap the new nuclear renaissance is meant to close.

In the last two years alone, four major countries – the United Kingdom, France, the United States and Russia – have seen enormous spikes domestic interest in building more reactors and exporting their technology to the highest bidder. By January, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Agency had cleared more applications for entirely new reactors than they have received in all the years since Chernobyl rocked the industry to a standstill.

Russian environmentalists are bringing more baggage to the protest than just the selective amnesia of their own government toward the Chernobyl catastrophe.

Environmentalists say that the construction the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant 2 (LNPP -2) to augment the already dangerous and overburdened existing LNPP, was begun in spite of promises from Russia’s state nuclear corporation, Rosatom, that the plant would be built should the local population speak out against it – which they did vociferously.

Moreover, Ecologists are already deeply concerned about the state of the current LNPP, which operated the same fatally flawed RBMK style reactor that were at Chernobyl and whose spent nuclear fuel ponds are backed beyond capacity and leaking. The LNPP’s second reactor unit has furthermore surpassed its engineered lifespan and is operating on a government granted extension – which is being done in violation as the decision to give it a new lease on life was take without a state environmental impact assessment.

Ecologists from The Environmental Rights Centre, Bellona (ERC Bellona), the foundation’s St. Petersburg have made official government inquires demanding that information on a 1975 accident at the LNPP, which was analogous to the Chernobyl disaster, be declassified, but have receive only negative answers return. The information has remained secret for more than three decades.

During Tomorrow’s planned protest, participants will receive a comprehensive scientific overview of what caused the Chernobyl accident written by Russia’s leading Environmentalist, Alexei Yablokov which was published last year with assistance from Bellona.

The protest is tied to a week of Russia-wide demonstration by other environmental organisations marking the Chernobyl anniversary.

Within the framework of these protests, the Russian environmental group Ecodefence, a close collaborator of Bellona, will begin a petition drive against Russia’s planned construction of several new nuclear power plants. According to a national poll conducted by the Romir polling agency in 2007, 78 percent of Russians are opposed to new nuclear construction. The FOM polling agency came up with nearly identical results in 2006.

Over the next few months, environmentalists are encouraging a post card writing campaign against new nuclear power in Russia that will result in 10,000 post cards being sent to the Russian President.

The weeklong protest will be comprised of organisations from Arkangelsk, Barnaul, Voronezh, Yekatrinburg, Kaliningrad, Kostroma, Murmansk, Nizhny Novgorod and Rostov-on-Don.

“Nuclear plants are dangerous, and economically ineffective in the absence of government subsidies, and are also underdeveloped from a technological perspective. In 60 years an effective method of storing radioactive waste has not emerged, and they are storing a dangerous level of radiation over the course of thousands of years,” said Vladimir Slivyak, Ecodefence’s co-chairman.

“Energy in Russia must develop along the lines of ecologically clean, renewable sources. These sources could, at the corresponding rate of investment (that Russia is pouring in to nuclear), give Russia twice the amount of energy than could all nuclear power stations,” he said.

The Russian government issued a decree on February 22nd of this year that underscored “the general scheme of placing electrical energy installations by 2020.”

The framework of this programme envisions the construction of a minimum of 36 new nuclear energy blocks, including floating nuclear power plants. Last week alone saw the announcement of the construction of a new two-reactor nuclear power plant in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

Approximate calculations fix the cost of Russia’s new nuclear plants at EUR 80 million ($127 million).

Last year, Rosatom chief Sergei Kiriyenko reiterated in numerous public statements that no new nuclear power plants will be built in areas where more than half the population is against it. With nearly 80 percent of all Russians in opposition, Kiriyenko’s words have not been born out in deed.

In order that the nuclear industry not be allowed to ignore public opinion, Russian ecological organisations across the country arranged last spring a nation-wide day of protest at the same time Rosatom was drawing up plans for its nuclear build.

Then, on February 19th 2007, representatives of 12 regions across Russia came Moscow to protest Rosatom’s scheme, and demand the nuclear industry cease lobbying for new nuclear plants in the regions.

Russia is currently running 31 nuclear reactors at its 10 nuclear power plants. The plants combined account for at least 16 percent of Russia’s electricity needs. Some 9 million people in dozens of counties were affected by the results of the Chernobyl explosion. In Belorussia – the country hit hardest by the disaster – more than $235 billion have been spend on rehabilitation efforts.

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

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