Minatom rules out storage only option

Publish date: September 6, 1999

Written by: Thomas Jandl

Non-Proliferation Trust's (NPT) fuel storage is impossible under Russian Nuclear Minister Yevgeny Adamov's scenario. Minatom position confirms Bellona's predictions about NPT project.

Hoping to earn billions from international utilities for "spent nuclear fuel services," Russia’s Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeniy Adamov tried to sell a law change to the Cabinet in late August. The amended Law on Environmental Protection would make it possible for Russia to import foreign spent fuel in return for hard currency payments. The Cabinet rejected the idea, but Adamov said he would keep trying.

The change would theoretically allow the Non-Proliferation Trust (NPT) proposal to store international nuclear fuel in Russia. But at a press conference following the Cabinet session, Adamov revealed a poison pill. According to a transcript of the press conference, Adamov pointed out that Russia would not allow the import of foreign nuclear materials for storage only, but would insist on a full range of fuel services, that is, reprocessing and re-export of the fuel.

This position is directly opposed to the draft agreement between Minatom and NPT, which includes guarantees that the fuel NPT brings into the country will never be reprocessed, but stored in Russia. Adamov’s position confirms Bellona’s predictions that NPT lacks the clout to enforce any agreement that would bar Russia from reprocessing spent nuclear fuel. Adamov also speaks about the "technical inexpediency" to reprocess fuel within the next 30 years, so that intermediate storage would be in Russia’s interest. That position has also been accurately predicted by Bellona’s Position Paper from August 12, 1999.

Money for ‘fuel services’ goes to nuclear industry upgrades In another blow for NPT, Adamov was very specific about the use for the money Russia would earn from its ‘fuel services’ to other nations (Adamov mentioned Japan repeatedly – Japan is one of the three main targets of the NPT project). While NPT wants to channel money into environmental projects, Adamov sees a need for upgrades in Russia’s nuclear industry, whose reactors are nearing the end of their service lives.

In addition, Adamov foresees tax revenues of $3.3 billion for the Treasury. The demand for substantial tax payments would invariable cut short any money NPT could spend on what the agreement terms "worthy causes."

But, still according to the transcript of the press conference, it appears unlikely that Minatom really wants money spent on environmental cleanup. First Deputy Minister for Atomic Energy Valentin Ivanov told reporters that "Maybe it’s an exaggeration, but you can drink water from the pool where [spent fuel] is kept."

Ivanov may be right – on the exaggeration part.