Duma postpones fuel import bills reading

Publish date: March 23, 2001

Written by: Vladislav Nikifоrov

The Russian State Duma removed from their agenda the bills calling for nuclear fuel import for storage and reprocessing in Russia. The same day the Russian Supreme Court rejected an appeal of the greens for the right to hold a national vote about nuclear import.

On March 22nd, The Russian State Duma, lower house of the Russian Parliament, was to hold the second reading on the bills allowing nuclear fuel imports into the country. The majority of the Duma members voted in favour of the bills during the first reading in December 2000. The new date for the second reading is not set. But it seems, the Russian Nuclear Ministry, or Minatom, has less and less chances for its nuclear import plans.

According to Russian daily Segodnya, shortly before the vote the information leaked about President administration’s negative attitude towards nuclear import. The Kremlin is worried about the President’s image in the West. All will be done to stop Minatom’s initiative on lower levels before it reaches the president’s desk for the final decision, the source said. The presidential representative, Alexander Kotenkov, said, however, the failure to pass the bill was “favourable for our rivals,” hinting that the opponents of the legislation were getting hefty financing from foreign countries that did not want to lose their share of the spent nuclear fuel market. “The president has not changed his position towards these documents,” he added. The Russian nuclear minister, Yevgeny Adamov, said he approved Duma’s decision, but he also added he was sure “the bill will be voted for sooner or later”.

In December last year, the bill was overwhelmingly approved by the deputies. This time they agreed that too many uncertainties remained about the Minatom’s bills and delayed a vote on the bill until at least early April.

On March 14th 2001, in a letter to the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), Richard J.K. Stratford, Director of the State Department’s Office of Nuclear Energy Affairs, said, “…any transfer to Russia of power reactor spent fuel subject to U.S. consent rights could only take place if the United States were to conclude an agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation with the Russian Federation. We have not so far been willing to negotiate such an agreement, because of our longstanding concerns about Russian nuclear cooperation with Iran.”

Stratford was writing in response to a letter signed by more than 150 organisations world-wide urging the United States to block any shipment of US-origin nuclear fuel to Russia. The appeal was initiated by Russian envirogroups, among them – ECODEFENSE! Because most part of the reactor spent fuel in the western world and Asia is either of U.S.-origin or irretrievably mixed-in with fuel of U.S.-origin, the State Department stance effectively rules out the Minatom project.

Currently, about 90 percent of the world market of about 200,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel is controlled by the United States, while another 6 percent is controlled by France and Britain. Russia controls only 4 percent, Vladimir Kuznetsov, former inspection head of the Russian Nuclear Regulatory, said to Moscow Times.

Supreme Court rejects national vote appeal

Meanwhile, the Russian Supreme Court turned down the appeal of the greens for a national referendum regarding nuclear fuel import. The court upheld a decision by the Central Electoral Committee to stop the national vote last year, which claimed that 127,000 more signatures were missing to initiate the vote.

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. The signatures were delivered to the local electoral committees by October 25th 2000, and then passed over to the Central Electoral Committee for final verification. The Committee chose to ban the referendum, refusing to accept around 600,000 signatures. In consent with the Russian legislation, two million signatures collected in 60 various regions are enough to initiate a national vote.

Environmentalists say they will lodge an appeal with the Chairman of the Supreme Court and the European Court on Human Rights.