Bellona envoy: Fourth International Nuclear Forum Atomtrans-2009 disappoints, but Bellona receives credit for quality expertise

Publish date: October 5, 2009

Written by: Vladislav Larin

Translated by: Maria Kaminskaya

ST. PETERSBURG – As announced by Russia’s state nuclear monopoly Rosatom, Atomtrans-2009 – a nuclear industry event hosted recently in St. Petersburg, Russia – was aimed at discussing safety issues associated with using and transporting radioactive materials and the management of nuclear and radioactive waste. The following is a short interview with ecologist and author Vladislav Larin, an expert on the Russian nuclear defence industry and Bellona’s envoy to the forum.

Vladislav, as a participant of the conference, could you comment on what the organisers said when they described this international nuclear panel as one of the most important events in the Russian atomic industry, asserting that it is a highly reputable forum for discussing strategic issues related to the development of nuclear and radiation safety technologies both in Russia and globally? What impressions did you get from visiting the event?

I only participated in the work of one section, whose subject was implementing the Federal Target Programme “Ensuring nuclear and radiation safety for 2008 and for the period up to 2015,” and I was taken aback by the low level of representation. The list of speakers included practically no specialists who I have become familiar with over the years of visiting similar events. This could either mean that there is no one who could say anything on the given subject or that the organisers failed to line up experts to participate in the conference.
Did this fact affect the quality of the presentations? Was there any important information about the [Federal Programme] that was made available by the speakers?

For me, I think, the most significant information was the statement given by Sergei Dyakov, deputy director of the state corporation Rosatom’s Department for Nuclear and Radiation Safety and Organisation of Licensing and Regulatory Operations, that a revision of the [Federal Programme] was now being prepared – reductions in funding across the board. Already in the current year 2009, budget funding is expected to be cut by RUR 1 billion (or by 8 percent of the entire annual budget). In the following years, the plan is to cut budget funds by another billion roubles each year (by two billion in 2010, by three billion in 2011, etc.). Of course, this for now only constitutes plans that it will take a long time to obtain all necessary approvals for, but the trend toward cutting expenses that we predicted earlier is evident.

Could this lead to any serious consequences?

At the very least, this will result in cutting down the scope of works undertaken, and what is also very possible, to a decline in their quality as well. For instance, already now, the winning bid in the tender for a project of construction of a dry [spent nuclear fuel] storage facility at the Krasnoyarsk Mining and Chemical Combine went to [the Far Eastern hydroelectric power plant construction specialists] Bureyagesstroi. First and foremost, because companies that specialise in building sites of nuclear hazard were charging more. It is hard to predict how this will affect the safety of the dry storage facility. At any rate, it sounds funny – hydroengineers building a dry [spent nuclear fuel] storage site…  

Were there any other interesting reports at the conference?

On the whole, out of nine items on the section’s agenda, there were just two presentations on the [Federal Programme]. I would make a special mention of a report presented by Olga Frolova of the [Russian Academy of Sciences’] Institute for Issues of Safe Development of Atomic Energy, “Approaches to inventorying [nuclear and radiation hazard facilities] Safety State: [the extent of inventory objective pursue and preliminary criteria for ranking the facilities].” In her speech, she voiced information that Bellona and independent experts never tire of repeating: Even specialists working in atomic industry research do not know anything about what the real conditions are at many nuclear sites. If a field-specific institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences has to contend with a lack of information on this problem, what can be said of non-for-profit organisations and ordinary citizens?

Apropos, an interesting fact: When our section concluded its work, its co-chairman […] Dyakov thanked Bellona for taking part in the conference and emphasised the high level of the organisation’s expertise. The official admitted he on occasion used information from [Bellona’s Russian site at] Bellona.Ru for his work. It looks like this is a telling benchmark of our work, well deserving of respect. Much as the degree of openness on the part of Sergei Vyacheslavovich.

The IV International Nuclear Forum, Safety of Nuclear Technologies: Transport of Radioactive Material – Atomtrans-2009 took place in St. Petersburg between September 29 and October 2, 2009. According to the organisers, more than 300 participants from over twelve countries took part in the event. As of the time this interview was originally published on Bellona’s Russian site on October 5, Rosatom had not made any statements on the results of the conference.