Russian State Duma, the lower chamber of the parliament, held first reading of a bill regarding amendment of the Law on Environmental Protection to allow spent fuel imports to Russia on September 24. The Russian Ministry for Atomic Energy, or Minatom, failed to persuade Russian Cabinet members to approve amendments and forward them to the State Duma for consideration in late August. The Duma took the issue up on its own without waiting for the Cabinet.
Minatom’s lobbyists are working hard on separating the issues of spent fuel and radioactive waste in the bill amending the Law on Environmental Protection of the Russian Federation. The current version of the law says that any import of radioactive materials is prohibited. Once ‘spent fuel’ and ‘radioactive waste’ are separate issues, fuel will be considered a resource eligible for import.
The amendments have reportedly received support among all the Duma factions, but Yabloko, a reformers’ minority in the parliament. Tamara Zlotnikova, head of the Duma Environmental Committee and member of Yabloko, said her faction would oppose the amendment bill at all levels.
But the situation has changed in favour of those supporting spent fuel imports. The Russian Federal Environmental Committee, former Ministry of Environment, stated publicly its support for the amendments. The head of the Committee, Victor Danilov-Danilian, said last week his agency would support the fuel imports because the money earned could be used for improving the overall radwaste management in Russia. Minatom has heavily applied the same dubious argumentation in attempt to push forward the amendment bill. The Federal Environmental Committee turned down the drafted bill on several occasions before.
The idea to accept foreign spent fuel for reprocessing was an old dream of Minatom that was buried some 5-6 years ago when the construction of a new reprocessing plant, RT-2, in Krasnoyarsk County, Western Siberia, was put on hold due to the lack of funding. The idea to import spent fuel was recently revived by the U.S. based Non-Proliferation Trust (NPT) that suggested storage of 10,000 tonnes of nuclear fuel in Russia. Minatom enlarged this idea by suggesting to import unlimited amounts of spent fuel and proposing reprocessing services as well.