As ‘public’ hearings draw near Kaliningrad turns out against construction of Baltic Nuclear Power Plant

Galina Raguzina/Ecodefence

Publish date: July 20, 2009

Written by: Galina Raguzina

KALININGRAD – Protestors gathered some 500 signatures in the first public drive to stop the building of the Baltic Nuclear Power Plant that Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear corporation plants to build in the Russian enclave’s Neman Region, some 15 kilometers from European Union territory.

Participants in the protest also had the opportunity to sign individual postcards to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev appealing to him not to build the Baltic Nuclear Power Plant. Over the past two weeks, some 2000 residents of Kaliningrad have signed these postcards.

Kalingrad’s unique position as a part of Russia separated from the country’s mainland, wedged between the Baltics and Poland, have given debate over building the plant special prominence as the proposed nuclear power plant is so close to borders of other nation. The process of building it is testing Russia’s adherence to the Espoo convention.

Espoo binds countries to informing and accepting environmental input and analysis from neighbouring countries when nations build structures that could have a  trans-border environmental impact. Russia in 1991 signed the convention but has yet to ratify it.

In Lithuania, officials have disseminated project outlines to Russia and other Baltic nations about its plans to build the Visaginas Nuclear Power plan – but it remains unclear whether Russia will do the same.

The Baltic Nuclear Power plant has also been a lightning rod for dark ridicule from the environmental sector, as the Russian government has long been unable to account for were funding to build the plant will come from.

The announcement of the plans to build the plant also came in contradiction of Sergei Kiriyenko, chief of Russia’s state nuclear corporation announcements not to build plants where there is clear public opposition to them. Vladimir Slivyak, co-chair of the Russia environmental group Ecodefence wrote in an article for Bellona Web on the subject.  

Slivyak also pointed out that the Rusian government, which is required to give the final green light to the building of nuclear power plants, had not done so for the Baltic Nuclear Power Plant, but the overwhelming enthusiasm of Grigory Boos, Kaliningrad’s Governor, for nuclear power seemed to have provided the momentum needed to shed that bit of government oversight altogether.

Boos and Rosatom has listed a number of foreign companies that would be pushing investment into the project, but no spokespeople for any of names that had been batted about in the Russian press – from the Czech Republic’s CEZ, to Germany’s Seimen’s and Eon, Finland’s Fortum, and Italy-based Enel – said their firms had any plans to invest in the Baltic Nuclear Power Plant, wrote Slivyak.  

Ecodefence continues to keep up a steady drumbeat of pickets and other actions in the run up to the public’s designated day to react to the government’s decision on whether to go ahead the Baltic Nuclear Power Plant project, which, as scheduled by the local legislative assembly in Sovietsk, a neighbouring district to the Neman region, will occur on August 19th.

Such hearings are designed for the public to express their opinions about large-scale projects, but in recent Russian history have made little difference in whether the state moves forward or not, and routinely turn into pep rallies hosted by Russia’s nuclear industry.

The steering committee in charge of organising the public hearings has preliminary materials on an environmental impact study for the Baltic Nuclear Power Plant, and the committee itself is comprised of local legislative assembly deputies, local administration officials and public organisations.

Rosatom has thus far extremely marginalised any public input into the procedure. The single copy of the environmental impact study that is available for public viewing is house the Neman village House of Culture.  Rosatom has scheduled a hearing for public input on the project there on July 24 in the middle of a working day.
Sovietk residents are sure of their right to speak out about the nuclear power plant project as do residents of Neman, where the plant has been slated to be built, and are actively protesting their future potential radiologically hazardous neighbour.

Radio Massive, a local radio station has been running a strident public service announcement encouraging people to take part in the public hearings.

“Don’t believe it if you hear everything has been decided for you – you can have an influence on the course of events. Come to the public hearings and take advantage of your chance to save the health of our children in safety and say a legitimate ‘No’ to the the Baltic Nuclear Power Plant,” says the message the radio station is playing.

The actions of the public hearing steering committee have not passed unnoticed: As soon as Sovietsk legislative assembly deputies adopted the decision to hold the hearings, Rosatom suggested to activists that they take an informational trip to one of Russia’s functioning nuclear power plants.

However, members of the initiative group would prefer that a dialogue with the public – of the ilk that Rosatom loves to expound upon – would take place in accord with the demands of the public and within a legislative framework, including an international framework, and recommend that Rosatom spend the needed funding to organise a true public discussion of the Baltic Nuclear Power Plant project.  

Galina Raguzina of Ecodefence, and a regular contributor to Bellona Web, wrote and reported from Kaliningrad. Charles Digges also wrote and reported for this article.

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