Public opposition against nuclear waste import grows in Russia

Publish date: January 17, 2001

Written by: Vladislav Nikifоrov

A wave of public protests against spent nuclear fuel import bills paced across Russia. The bills were approved by the State Duma in the first reading in late December.

The Russian environmental groups organised the first day of actions against the plans of the Russian Ministry for Nuclear Energy, Minatom, to import spent nuclear fuel on January 15th. The campaign named Antinuclear Resistance took place in more than 20 cities in the western and central parts of Russia, Ural and Siberia. Environmentalists protested the Duma’s vote in favour of the amendments to the laws on December 21st, allowing Minatom to store and reprocess foreign spent nuclear fuel in Russia.

Now the amendments will have to pass the second and the third readings in the Duma. Then the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, will evaluate them as well. The final judgement will come from the Russian President.

The second reading will be reportedly held in the Duma in February, but the date can be altered.

Tomsk Environmental Student Inspection, Siberian Nature Protection Alliance and Tomsk Youth Yabloko held a rally against the plans to import nuclear waste into Russia. They collected signatures and send the appeal to each Duma member calling on them to condemn the amendments. A meeting dedicated to this issue with the participants representing science, environment protection, NGOs, local council and city council and press took also place in Kemerovo, Western Siberia. On January 12th the Commission on environment of the Sakhalin Duma in the Russian Far East examined the amendments and expressed its protest against the possible approval. Besides, similar actions took place in Kostroma, Vladimir, Nizhny Novgorod, Saratov, Volgograd, Yaroslavl, Cherepovets, Chelyabinsk, Samara etc. The protesters sent appeals to the Duma calling the initiative of Minatom a “dangerous nuclear venture”.

Russian environmental groups collected around 2.5 million signatures in support of a national referendum to restore state environmental agencies and to ban nuclear waste/materials import into the country in Autumn 2000. The Russian Central Electoral Committee rejected around 600,000 signatures and declared that 127,000 lacked to meet the required 2 million criteria for starting the vote. The decision of the Electoral Committee is believed to be authorised by the Kremlin.

International nuclear dumpsite

Countries, which operate nuclear power plants, will be glad to take the spent nuclear fuel away from their territories and are ready to pay for it. And here comes Minatom with a good business proposal difficult to resist. Minatom has always stressed in its PR-campaign that Russia will benefit from the project as well. The promised $20 billion look tempting indeed, but one has to always remember that spent nuclear fuel contains materials, which has to be managed with great care for 200,000 years. Thus, it will cost Russia much more to in the long run, than the immediate earnings.

Head of the Russian State Nuclear Regulatory, Yury Vishnevsky, said about the fuel import project that money earned would be “either eaten up or stolen”. The agency opposed the Minatom’s plans but its weak position in the Russian state hierarchy did not lead to any change. The representatives of the regulatory were even not invited to the Duma when the discussion of the amendments and the pro-voting took place. The dramatic downgrade of the agency’s status also proves that no effective nuclear safety control will be in place should Minatom start shipping foreign spent fuel into Russia.