Second reading of spent nuclear fuel import bills

Publish date: April 16, 2001

Written by: Rashid Alimov

The lower house of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, has postponed the second reading of the bills favouring spent nuclear fuel imports to Russia to April, 18.

The State Duma has postponed the second reading of the bills, favouring spent nuclear fuel imports to Russia, scheduled to April, 11. The Duma speaker Gennadiy Seleznev said, that the Duma Council decided to examine the bills on April, 18, RIA Novosti informed. This proposal had been submitted by leaders of some fractions.

In the end of March, nuclear minister Yevgeny Adamov, who had been actively promoting the idea of the spent fuel import, retired. Journalists and public were puzzled over, whether Adamov’s dismissal meant change of the Ministry for Nuclear Energy, Minatom, policy, or it was only a “steam discharge”. An opinion was voiced, that Adamov was sacked, having failed to ensure the bills passing. By the previous week, Minatom resumed its harsh propaganda for changing Russia into radioactive dumpsite.

“Spent fuel issue is very important, high technologies must be brought out to the world market”, new minister Rumyantsev said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is still keeping silence about the spent fuel issue, but he thanked ex-minister Adamov for his successful management of Minatom. This year Minatom “reached the best levels of the Soviet period”, Putin said. No evaluation of Adamov’s public activity has been done.

Rumyantsev’s first steps

“The contracts for building nuclear power plants abroad correspond to all the international norms and Russia’s interests, and the works will continue”, Rumyantsev said. Russia has contracts for building three NPPs in Iran, China and India.

The first important step minister Rumyantsev is going to take, will be Minatom’s assets transfer from commercial Konversbank and MDM-bank to the State Bank, Sberbank. This step is said to be the main difference between Rumyantsev and his predecessor Adamov. In this connection, one can recall Rumyantsev’s self-appraisal as a “Tsar’s man”, which became wide-known recently. Earlier, because of the ministry’s closeness, Minatom was repeatedly accused of manipulations with the money and bribing MPs.

Rumyantsev does not seem to make changes. He will keep Minatom’s commercialisation, began by Adamov, as he is firmly confident, that it is necessary for the nuclear industry survival. That means, that the new minister will not change Adamov’s approach to the spent fuel imports issue.

Manipulating public opinion

Current events, including shut-down of the independent NTV channel, show that the Kremlin political technologists have to a certain extent lost the sense of reality. They believe Russia has no public society today and the state-controlled mass-media would convince people of anything.

As it was public opinion, which caused Adamov’s dismissal, they decided to make a new “correct” public opinion voiced by the “correct” environmentalists. On April, 7, two days before the Parliament hearings, a sensation emerged from the Kremlin political technologist Pavlovsky’s site: “All-Russian environmental organisations support spent fuel import.” “All” turned out to be only two organisations: Kedr party and Russian Ecological Congress (REC). But — who cares? — in the course of a propaganda campaign this circumstance is not so important as the news agencies have already called these two organisations “Russian environmental representatives” and even proclaimed “unity of environmentalists and nuclear scientists”.

The reality is as following: after the petition to the President against spent fuel import, submitted in the middle of March by 672 organisations — among them Greenpeace, WWF, Social-Ecological Unity, — a letter appeared, signed only by two organisations, but loyal to official initiatives.

The plan was that during the weekend the greens would not be able to respond, but this “letter of the environmentalists in support of spent fuel import” would be already wide-spread in the press. It was even easier to do, because NTV channel, which used to say truth about Minatom’s deal, was compelled to defend itself. Social-Ecological Unity mentioned, that the side-effect of the letter of the two organisations would discredit environmental movement. The public would think that environmentalists urged to protest first, collecting 2.5 million signatures for anti-nuclear referendum, and then later changed their minds. Who would pay much attention to the names, eventually mentioned in the document? Moreover, Kedr and REC really set a condition: “products of reprocessing of the spent fuel must be returned to the countries where it was produced.”

The letter begins with a phrase: “Being professionally engaged in environmental safety problems, we understand that, in case of passing of the bills, our country will be able to get essential funds, about $20 billion during 10 years.” In the Social-Ecological Union report this phrase is called not only boastful, but disgusting and cynical: “If the authors of the letter were really engaged in environmental safety problems, hearing about spent nuclear fuel, they would not mention dollars, but radiation-crippled children from Muslyumovo, Chelyabinsk and other “nuclear sites”<…>. $20 billion are also known to be enough only for building storage facilities and spent fuel reprocessing plants, but not for contaminated areas purification or environmental and social programmes”.

On Wednesday, members of Green Cross ecological organisation, member of Russian Ecological Congress, said that their name was used for a “false-letter”. The members of the Congress did not depute director of the Congress Pimenov to make such an appeal. Not a single organisation, out of 148 REC participants, would sign a letter, favouring radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel imports. “This story stinks” Larisa Skuratovskaya, Jemma Firsova and Alla Yaroshinskaya, members of the Green Cross Trustee Council said about the letter. The Green Cross environmentalists demand a REC Trustee Council conference to examine this situation.

Nuclear scientists’ open letter

An open letter of the environmentalists was published soon after the open letter of the nuclear scientists to the State Duma MPs. The letter demanded to pass the nuclear bills. The letter was signed by academicians Evgeny Velikhov, Nikolay Lavernov, Vladimir Frotov, Nikolay Ponomarev-Stepnoy and others. Last Saturday, in interview to Echo of Moscow radio, Nikolay Ponomarev-Stepnoy said to have not signed up these documents.

Speaking about the bills, the academicians wrote in the letter: “we are confident, that the decision must be taken and that should be done immediately.” At the same time, Minatom and Kurchatov Institute representatives keep saying, they do not need immediate decisions. In his interview for “Russia” TV-channel minister Rumyantsev said: “Someone thinks there are trainloads [of nuclear waste] ready to go to Russia as soon as the bills are passed. It is absolute nonsense.” The same was stated by Kurchatov Institute external activities director Andrey Gagarinsky to Radio of Russia: “All we have today is [the reprocessing plant] “Mayak”, we are talking about a long-term program”.

Several famous scientists objected to the spent fuel imports. One of them is academician Alexey Yablokov, arguing that building the reprocessing plants would take much time, while spent fuel would be already in Russia.

Nuclear State Regulatory position

Soon after minister Adamov’s dismissal, head of the Nuclear State Regulatory (GAN) Yury Vishnevsky held a press conference to “dispel the myths, created by the ex-minister”. Speaking about radioactive waste imports, Vishnevsky said, that Adamov and people like him “sell their own country, while pretending they sell new technologies”. According to Vishnevsky, spent fuel import will not bring profit: one third of the money will be spent for taxes, the other third for storage exploiting, and the remaining part “is said to be for environment, but it is obvious that something would be stolen”.

The Minatom representatives argue, that nuclear waste can be reprocessed into uranium- 235, needed by Russian NPPs. According to Vishnevsky, Russia has already from 500 to 700 thousand tonnes of radioactive waste without foreign import. Moreover, one kilogram of uranium, extracted from the waste would cost about $1000, while one kilogram of newly extracted uranium costs only $18. “There are no technical conditions for imported spent nuclear fuel storage in Russia today”, Vishnevsky said.

But during the parliament hearings held on April, 9, head of the GAN proposed the MPs to allow imports and storage of the spent nuclear fuel, produced in Russia.Vishnevsky claimed, such addition to the bills would promote developing of the Russian producers.

Reaction in the regions

Social Ecological Union informs, the State Duma’s decision to accept the bills during the first reading in December, has been denounced by the Dumas and Legislative Assemblies of the following regions: Sverdlovsk, Saratov, Volgograd, Kemerovo, Kostroma, Altai, Bryansk, Novosibirsk, Yaroslavl and Vologodsk regions. The Legislative Assemblies of the cities of Murmansk, Khabarovsk, Yekaterinburg, Kaliningrad and North-West parliament Association also fight the nuclear bills.

In the end of March the State Department of the Tatarstan Republic objected to radioactive waste imports, declaring Minatom’s idea to be “an extremely dangerous initiative, which contradicts to the interests of Russia’s multi-national people.” Tatarstan Anti-Nuclear Society issued an open letter to Russian citizens, criticising spent fuel imports from the national patriotic positions. It should be mentioned that until now, the state and Minatom have used national patriotic rhetoric, proclaiming environmental groups to be agents of the West, who are interested in Russia’s failure in this profitable market. Tatarstan Anti-Nuclear Society claimed, that Russia’s engaging in the process of radioactive waste import and reprocessing would result in total control over Russian nuclear industry by multinational, mostly American companies. It means, the loss of the state independence, the open letter states.

Legislation analysis

Ecodefence! group carried out a comparative analysis of the current legislation. The group questions Minatom’s statement, that passing of the bills is needed to remove a ban on foreign radioactive waste reprocessing. The laws currently in force allow temporary import and reprocessing of foreign spent fuel, which, in fact, has never been prohibited. Special governmental decree no. 773 from July, 29, 1995, regulates the procedure, which is identical to how it is established in other countries, engaged in this unpopular business, e.g. UK and France. “Probably, new minister is not aware of this document”, Ecodefence believes.

Like his scandalous predecessor, Adamov, minister Rumyantsev keeps supporting the idea of changing Russia into radioactive burial ground. New bills, in contrast to the old regulations, lift the ban for long-term storage of the foreign radioactive waste. In fact, they allow eternal storage of them in Russia.

During spent fuel reprocessing a lot of additional waste is generated. In the current legislation there is a demand to send the waste to the home countries of the spent fuel. New bills allow the waste of reprocessing to be kept and stored in Russia. Disposal of the waste in Russia land is provided in the feasibility study of the bills.

Today only Mayak plant in Chelyabinsk region is engaged in reprocessing of the spent fuel of nuclear power plants. According to GAN statistics, an amount of radioactive waste, equal to 400 mln Curie, or 8 Chernobyls, is stored at Mayak plant. The waste is being illegally dumped in the Karachay lake, the most contaminated place on the Earth, according to the UN experts. In spite of the fact that, foreign waste reprocessing has never been prohibited for Minatom, the ministry has failed to sign contracts with the “rich“ countries, capable of paying for that. On the contrary, during the 90s, Minatom lost almost all the contracts with the Eastern Europe “poor” countries. That means lack of the demand for reprocessing services.

“Comparing the new bills with the laws currently in force, one sees, that the undertaking is directed not for Russia’s positions consolidation in allegedly existing market, but for changing the country into radioactive dumpsite”, Ecodefence! co-chairman Vladimir Slivyak said.

The vote results are already known?

Deputy chairman of the State Duma Mrs. Lubov Sliska assumes, that the bills, favouring spent nuclear fuel imports, will pass in the lower chamber of the Russian parliament on April, 18. “The attitude of the leaders of the MPs’ fractions shows, there is no controversy about the bills”, she said at a press-conference yesterday.