All Russian State Duma factions, except for Yabloko, signed a proposal to amend the Law on Environmental Protection to make it legal to import radwaste and spent nuclear fuel into Russia.
The proposal was presented through Duma speaker Gennady Seleznev to the Russian government in late January.
The cash-strapped Russian nuclear industry has been insisting on such amendments in recent years without visible success. Today their dreams seem to have been answered.
Currently, both the Russian Environmental Law (section 3, Article 50) and Governmental Decree no. 773 dated 29 June, 1995, prohibit storage of foreign nuclear and radioactive waste on the territory of the Russian Federation. In addition, the governmental decree obliges Minatom to return any radioactive waste generated during reprocessing to the country of origin within 30 years.
In early January, Greenpeace Russia got hold of a confidential protocol of intent signed by Minatom officials and the ministry’s subcontractors Techsnabexport, German Internexco and Swiss EGL (Electrizitatagesellschaft Laufenberg AG). The protocol outlines the shipment of spent nuclear fuel and nuclear waste from Europe to reprocessing and storage facilities in Russia.
According to the protocol, Switzerland has 2,000 tons of spent fuel it might want reprocessed, including 300 tons that would be ready now for shipment. The preliminary shipment schedules were envisioned for the period between 2000 and 2030, with 50-60 tons shipped on an annual basis.
The Swiss company also asked the Russian side to accept 550 cubic meters of highly radioactive waste for final disposal. The Germans were said to have expressed interest without specifying the amount of waste.
An American nuclear deal
In late 1998, Jevgeny Adamov, Russian nuclear minister, wrote a letter to his American colleague William Richardson, head of the Department of Energy, and suggested taking the American spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power plants then reprocess and store it in Russia. This time the confidential letter fell into hands of American NIRS and antinuclear campaign department within Russian biggest NGO – the Socio-Ecological Union. Adamov seemed flexible in his proposal, suggesting two options: placing the reprocessed waste in permanent storage on Russian soil, or sending it back to the U.S. as Russian regulations require.
The only operational reprocessing facility in Russia – the Mayak plant in western Siberia – suffered severe economic constraints over the past years. The Mayak plant (or RT-1) is currently capable of reprocessing fuel from nuclear power plants operating VVER-440 and BN-600 reactors, as well as maritime PWR reactors.
Another reprocessing plant, RT-2, is located in Krasnoyarsk County and is 30 per cent complete. Plans require an additional $4 billion funding to finish construction. The plant was designed to deal with fuel from VVER-1000 reactors. The incomplete plant has a storage facility with a capacity of 6000 tons and is now 35 per cent complete. The management of the plant is counting on 1500 tons of fuel to arrive from domestic nuclear power plants in the next decade.
"Thus we can take 1000 tons of foreign spent nuclear fuel," Valery Levedev, director of the nuclear complex in Krasnoyarsk, said in an interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta. The director dreamed of using the money earned on 1000 tons to build an additional storage facility of 30000 tons; with more foreign fuel … the completion of RT-2.
Groups warn against nuclear dumpsite
The supporters of the amendment argue that the funds received for becoming a nuclear dumpsite could be used to deal with domestic radwaste later. In the meantime, Alexey Yablokov, the prominent Russian enviromentalist and former enviro-adviser to the Russian President, warned of the consequences once the amendments were put in place.
"Russia will become a world nuclear dumpsite," said Yablokov at a press conference in Moscow yesterday. "The country does not have the capacity to reprocess its own spent nuclear fuel. Completion of the new reprocessing plant in Krasnoyarsk will require $4 billion – a major part of the money received for these suspicious deals," Yablokov added.
Tamara Zlotnikova, chairman of the State Duma Environmental Committee, filed a request Monday to have the Russian PM prevent the proposed amendments. Zlotnikova said there was almost unanimous support for the amendment in the Duma, which could be explained by deputies’ intentions to collect funding for the coming Duma election campaign next winter.