Are Murmansk’s nuclear hazards getting the short shrift on federal money earmarked to clean them up?


Publish date: April 19, 2010

Written by: Alexey Pavlov

Translated by: Charles Digges

MURMANSK – In an ironic twist, ecologists and anti-nuclear activists in this Northwest region of Russia ran into serious difficulties while preparing for the opening today of a forum hosted in St. Petersburg by Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom entitled “Atomic Energy, the Public and Safety.”

Environmentalists ran up against a brick wall when they attempted to determine what efforts have been undertaken in their area under the aegis of Moscow’s Federal Target Programme called “Guaranteeing nuclear and radioactive safety in 2008 to 2015. As it turns out, this information was for all practical purposes inaccessible.

This is especially worrisome in an area of Russia that has slowly been recovering over nearly two decades from the Cold War legacy of nuclear submarines, poor spent nuclear fuel storage, floating spent nuclear fuel storage vessels, nuclear icebreakers, nuclear powered navigation beacons and aged nuclear power plants.

In an answer to a query sent to the Murmansk Regional Administration, ecologists were told the administration would tell them nothing, and that they should direct further inquiries to Rosatom as the programme’s developer. The answer fro Murmansk authorities is odd in that a part of the federal budget had been earmarked for nuclear safety projects in the countries regions. The Regional government therefore could not possibly not know what it will be spending its portion of the federal funding on.

“If the authorities really don’t know this, then we can draw the conclusion that the local administration doesn’t wish to take part in implementing the programme for the most intensely nuclear regions of Russia,” said Andrei Ponomarenko, coordinator of nuclear programmes for Bellona-Murmansk.

The next inquiry was sent to Rosatom’s regional directorate. From there, the environmentalists were punted to the directorate of special programmes for the Regional Administration. But the director of this bureau was genuinely surprised by the inquiry and said his subdivision of the regional government had no dealings with the federal programme, and that the local government was just now deciding what branch would be responsible.

All of this more than two years after the Federal Target Programme has gotten underway.

At the same time 16 undertakings planned by the programme are to be carried out.  Some $172 million in taxpayers money has been earmarked for this. In 2008, some $10.3 million should already have been spent, and in 2009, another $24 million.

“According to the information we have, it’s impossible to understand whether the earmarked sums were sufficient, or whether they were fully spent,” said Ponomarenko. “It is known on that the fundamental part of the funding for 2008 was transferred from Moscow at the end of that year. A such financial practices usually mean that the administrators won’t have the time to spend the money and it is returned to the federal budget.”

Environmentalists want a detailed accounting of how much money has come, and on what projects it was spent. Trying to find this out on the Rosatom website – and the websites of two programme beneficiaries, Atomflot, the port for Russia’s nuclear icebreaker fleet, and the shipbuilding yard Nerpa yielded no results. It would seem, therefore, that they have something to hide.  Budget funding tends to disappear without a trace iin murky waters.

“By indirect means we were able to determine that approximately around a billion roubles ($34.3 million)  were spent on various projects at Nerpa and Atomflot,” said Ponomarenko.

During the course of the Atomic Energy, the Public and Safety forum in St. Petersburg, Ponomarenko says he hopes to get some clarification on where and how this funding is getting spent.