The June 9 public hearing in Polyarniye Zori, a town in Murmansk Region in Russia’s far north, was convened to discuss the project of operating one of Kola Nuclear Power Plant’s reactors at increased capacity. Over 500 local residents – mostly, Kola NPP’s own employees – were in attendance. Of the 25 participants who had requested the floor, most spoke favourably of the nuclear industry and its contribution to the social sector. Thirteen questions were also asked by representatives of local environmental organisations, which hold a critical view of the experiment planned at the site.
Ecologists say that the document presented at the hearing – the official environmental impact assessment of operating Reactor 4 of Kola NPP at 107 percent of nominal capacity – was prepared in an extremely unsatisfactory way. The report contains glaring mistakes and typos – including referring, in one place, to a non-existent nuclear power plant – and, contrary to the legislation in effect in the Russian Federation, gives no space to any alternatives to the examined project, nor does it consider the so-called “zero” option (abandoning the plan altogether).
“Increasing thermal capacity of a reactor at Kola NPP will necessarily lead to reduced safety and increased [radioactivity] discharges,” Bellona’s expert, nuclear physicist Andrei Ozharovsky said at the hearing. “An increase in thermal capacity will lead to an increased stress load on the reactor vessel, the pipelines, steam generators, and fuel assemblies. This will lead to an increased risk of accidents and a growing number of fuel assemblies in the core experiencing loss of seal, as well as a significant rise in levels of radioactivity in the primary circuit and – as the materials of the [official environmental impact assessment] acknowledge – a nearly two-fold rise in the amounts of radionuclides discharged by the station through its ventilation pipes.”
Environmentalists also believe the project is inexpedient. According to Vitaly Servetnik, from Nature and Youth (Priroda i Molodyozh), Murmansk Region is oversaturated with energy, while capacities remain “locked” within the region. As a result, one or two Kola NPP reactors are always in shutdown and hydropower plants dump water past their turbines, Servetnik said. He added that a regional energy conservation and energy efficiency programme has also been adopted, while Shtokman Development AG, the company behind the gas field development project on the Shtokman shelf, stated earlier no atomic capacities were going to be engaged.
“The only explanation left [for this experiment] is the desire by [the State Nuclear Corporation] Rosatom to carry out its own programme of reactor capacity increases, but that is not enough [to justify] the implementation of such a dangerous project,” Servetnik said.
According to Ozharovsky, the plant’s current efficiency factor stands at about 30 percent; more than two thirds of the thermal energy produced by the station is simply not used at all and ends up heating up the waters of Lake Imandra instead.
“Is it really worthwhile, in such a situation, to “boost” the reactor, trying to produce an additional seven percent of energy of which two thirds will go to waste in the first place?” said Ozharovsky.
Environmentalists also urged the management of Kola NPP to subject the plant to stress-tests that would be in conformity with testing standards applied to the European Union’s nuclear power plants after the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima – an idea that was accepted by Kola NPP’s director, Vasily Omelchuk.
However, in response to a question asked by Andrei Ponomarenko, head of the ecological organisation Ecodialogue (Ekodialog), about whether Kola NPP was compliant with current Russian safety norms, the plant’s chief engineer, Alexander Ionov, admitted that the station was simply unable to meet all the standards and requirements set to the operation of NPPs in Russia, including those that deal with safety.
“There are so many federal rules and norms that it is practically impossible to bring an operating reactor unit into compliance with them,” Ionov concluded.
Nature and Youth’s Servetnik insists that “in this case, not just all experiments at Kola NPP, but the very operation of Kola NPP must be ceased in order to ensure safety of Murmansk Region, Russia, and the Northern Hemisphere.”
A period of one month – or until July 10, 2011 – is now allowed for all interested parties to forward their comments or objections to the project. Meanwhile, the local environmental organisation Kola Ecological Centre has registered an application to conduct an independent public environmental impact assessment of the planned experiment.
The above press release was prepared in cooperation with Nature and Youth (Priroda i Molodyozh), an environmental organisation based in Murmansk Region, Russia.