Asian nuclear waste to Russia?

Publish date: February 19, 1999

Researchers from Russia and Japan are drawing up a joint proposal to ship 10,000 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel from several Asian countries and store it in Russia for 20 years.

Experts from Russia’s Kurchatov Institute and the University of Japan recently designed a proposal for shipping spent nuclear fuel from civilian nuclear power plants in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan to Russia. The spent nuclear fuel could stored in Russia for several decades or reprocessed at a planned RT-2 processor near Krasnoyarsk, Siberia.

According to the February edition of Nuclear Engineering International, Russia would make $1 billion in the deal; a tremendous amount of money for the bankrupt Russian nuclear industry, while much less than Japan spends shipping spent fuel to reprocessing plants in Europe. Japan, Taiwan and South Korea are among the few countries in the world still building new nuclear power plants. Japan operates 52 reactors.

Japan’s shipments of spent fuel to La Hague (operated by COGEMA, France) and Sellafield (operated by British Nuclear Fuel, BNFL, United Kingdom) are reported to be near an end. The two European reprocessing plants have accepted a combined 7,100 tonnes of spent fuel from Japan. The proposed deal with Russia amounts to 10,000 tonnes.

But current Russian environmental law forbids the import of spent nuclear fuel, although this may change. The Russian State Duma, minus the Yabloko faction, signed a proposal in January to amend the Law on Environmental Protection and lift the ban on radioactive imports, even if the radioactive waste stays in Russia.

Bellona Web has learned from sources in Moscow that Japanese citizens have been among the more effective lobbyists for lifting the ban. Minatom is said to have negotiated with Japan for several years to ensure the latter would benefit from an early shipment contract once the ban was no more.

Such information doesn’t surprise the anti-nuclear movement in Russia. The Japanese nuclear industry is said to have hired Minatom to lobby the Russian Duma, helping ensure Japan could shed its nuclear waste; something the best scientists in Japan have not been able to do. Should Russia’s laws be changed, Japan will be among those responsible for turning Russia into the world’ nuclear waste dump, says Vladimir Slivyak, a co-ordinator for the anti-nuclear campaign with the Social Ecological Union in Moscow.