Are Bellona spies or a constructive organization?
In a meeting with Hauge, Nikora noted that the Murmansk Parliament is ready to cooperate with any civil society organization that suggests solutions to environmental problems and is ready for constructive dialogue. At the same time he recalled that Bellona Murmansk has had run ins with Russia’s security services that “these problems will continue if environmentalists break the law.”
The suggestion surprised representatives of all of Bellona’s offices that were present for the meeting. “I can tell you,” said Hauge, “that not one employee of Bellona in Murmansk has ever had problems with the law. The organization functions strictly within the framework of Russian legislation and we devote tremendous attention to this aspect of our work.”
“If you have in mind the case of Alexander Nikitin, then I must remind you that he was acquitted by Russian courts at every step, all the way to the Supreme Court,” Hauge continued.
Authorities cooperation with the public
Hauge first visited the Kola Peninsula in 1989. In the early 90s Bellona opened its Murmansk office. “I would like to underscore that Norwegian Bellona never dictates to the Murmansk organization, what they should do, what projects they should develop, what ideas they should stand up for. The direction of uur work partially overlaps, but we don’t control our Russian offices. These are independent environmental organisations, created and registered in accord with Russian law,” said Hauge.
In his meeting with Nikora, Hauge also stressed that for any democratic country, including Russia, it is important to develop large ecoomic projects in dialogue with the public.
Hauge said that Bellona-Murmansk succeeded in establishing a close working relationship with the previous regional administration. The organization was a member of the past administration’s working group on renewable energy. Hauge said Bellona would like to renew the work of that group and take an active role in it. Bellona-Murmansk has been refused participation in the current administrations working group on energy efficiency, which is perplexing.
“We hope that we will succeed in establishing a constructive dialogue the all branches of authority and other interested parties who are ready to speak openly with civil society organizations,” said Hauge.
Hauge has planned to discuss issued of renewable energy during his visits, but, unfortunately, representatives of the Murmansk Regional administration refused to take part in the meeting.
In discussing plans for energy security with Nikora, Bellona representatives could not help evaluating the efforts of the local administration’s development of energy efficiency and savings programmes.
Hauge said that the Murmansk Region possesses the largest potential for the development of wind energy in comparison to other regions of Europe. “The Kola Peninsula has a big future if such projects are developed here. The Region could become the leader in clean energy exports among European countries,” said Hauge.
He suggested that Nikora draw up an energy plan for the Region, which would include maximum possibilities of power generation fro all possible sources for the Region. Hauge is certain that if energy from renewables, oil and gas, and measures for energy efficiency are employed, then the aged reactors at Kola NPP could be shut down without harm to the energy security of the region and its further economic development.
“The first two reactors long ago passed their planned lifespan deadlines. When in 2018 and 2019 their increased lifespans run out, they will be 45 years old. That is old. It is a frightening figure,” Hauge told Nikora.
Other such questions of nuclear and radiological safety were discussed in a roundtable that took place the same day on the Lenin nuclear icebreaker, which is now a museum.
Nuclear and radiological safety issues
The last time Hauge visited the Kola Peninsula was in 2002 when Bellona led a delegation from the European Parliament so they could see, with their own eyes, the Cold War legacy. This led to enormous funding pledges from European governments toward solving nuclear and radiological issues in Russia. The Murmansk Region was the biggest budget line item.
“I want to thank Bellona for its enormous investment in solving environmental problems on the Kola Peninsula,” said Murmansk parliamentarian and head of Atomflot, Russia’s nuclear icebreaker port, Vycheslav Rushka at the opening of the roundtable discussion.
According to Rushka, because Bellona drew the attention of the world community to the nuclear woes of the region, its has received a flow of funding from foreign governments. It became possible to dismantle aged nuclear submarines, and long term projects on the contaminated Lepse spent nuclear fuel storage vessel, the Andreyeva Bay naval waste dump, Saida Bay, and the former naval bas of Gremikha have begun.
Hauge assured Rosatom representatives that Bellona intends to continue such work. He emphasised that the most complex and costly project will be the rehabilitation of Andreyeva Bay. “I am certain that in order to complete this work the most cutting edge world technology must be employed to create maximum safety for personnel there as well as the environment,” he said.
According to Alexander Rogachev, the international director of SevRAO, the company doing the work at Andreyeva Bay, much has been done. All work is progressing according to plans agreed to with international sponsors and SevRAO has no problems.
Another sore spot is the Lepse floating spent nuclear fuel storage facility. Preparation for its dismantlement began 18 years ago at the initiative of Bellona and the Murmansk Shipping Company. This is an international project receiving funding from the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development. The total cost of dismantlement is estimated at €75 million, of which €45 million is coming from abroad.
The last two year of the project were lost becase Russia’s nuclear fleet was transferred to Rosatom. Only this year was the process of picking international observers finalised and now real action can be taken.
Accoring to Rushka, Atomflot will insist on transferring the Lepse to Saida Bay or to the aquatorium at Nerpa where the ship can safely await dismantlement. The vessel itself can be raised to the shore for reliability and regulation of necessary issues.
In other words, the vessel will be dismantled exactly the way Bellona experts suggested. “I think that, without this activity that Bellona has timely displayed, we wouldn’t have much today: not a working territory in Saida Bay, and no active work at Andreyeva Bay,” said Rushka.
He expressed hope that next year a project to clear all spent nuclear fuel from the floating nuclear service ship the Lotta will be cleared away. “In the container storage facility on the territory of our (SevRao’s) enterprise, we already have 28 storage units, and we are actively continuing work. It will be possible to say that on serious problem associated with water-bourn storage of such quantities of fuel will be solved,” Rushka said.
Summing up the round table and his visit to Murmansk, Hauge underscored that he was glad he was able to constructively discuss the problems.
“I was happy to come on an official invitation of the head of the regional parliament. Of course, we cannot come to agreement on all issues. There was no need to argue. This is absolutely normal. I am glad that we succeeded in establishing a dialogue that Bellona, in its turn, intends to develop,” said Hauge, and continued: “It is very pleasant for us to hear such high evaluations of Bellona’s work on solving environmental problems from representatives of various enterprises of Rosatom – our opponents. It cannot but inspire all of Bellona to more active work.