Chelyabinsk court to examine Mayak plant

Publish date: January 14, 2001

Written by: Edward Meilakh

Russia’s only reprocessing plant’s right to dump radwaste into lake is questioned by local envirogroups. Court accepts suite against the dumping practice.

On January 4, the Arbitration court of Ural county agreed with the appeal of the local greens to examine the legality radwaste discharges from Mayak plant at Chelyabinsk court of arbitration. The court hearing on this case should take place not later than in one month.

Chelyabinsk environmental groups, among them Movement for Nuclear Safety, filed a suit against the Mayak reprocessing plant to Chelyabinsk regional court of arbitration in October 2000. Courts of arbitration in Russia deal with cases related to economical disputes. The groups wanted the court to acknowledge that radioactive discharges from the Mayak plant into the Lake Karachai and other reservoirs are illegal. The main argument of the greens was the lack of appropriate licence for such activity of the reprocessing plant from the Russian State Nuclear Regulatory.

The court turned down the suit arguing that the claims are not of economic character and thus the case should be examined by the courts of common jurisdiction. A note prepared by Committee on Radiation and Environmental Safety of Chelyabinsk county in 1998 said, however, that activity of the Mayak plant, including the discharge of liquid radioactive waste, caused a damage to the region equal to $9 billion. On January 4th, the Ural county court of arbitration in Ekaterinburg agreed with the appeal of the greens and obliged the Chelyabinsk regional court of arbitration to examine the case anyway.

According to the Russian legislation, the decision of Ural county court of arbitration is final and is not a subject for appeal. The new hearing should take place within a month from the date of the decision announcement.

Mayak plant’s press-spokesman, Yevgeny Ryzhkov, said to RIA News the suit filed by the groups is “politically motivated”. Ryzhkov also added that the current Russian legislation does not prohibit dumping of radioactive waste into closed reservoirs, f. ex. lakes. “We have never had licence [for dumping radwaste into the Lake Karachai] because it is not required by the current laws or regulations,” Ryzhkov said. The administration of the Mayak plant, Ryzhkov added, wants to stress that banning the dumping practice would lead to the closure of the Mayak plant, which employs around 15,000 people.

Mayak Chemical Combine (MCC) used to operate six reactors for the production of weapons-grade plutonium. Five of them were graphite-moderated while the sixth was originally a heavy water reactor. These reactors have now been shut down. The heavy water reactor was later modified to a light water reactor, which remains in operation today. An additional light water reactor produces isotopes for civilian use. The plant has a reprocessing facility (RT-1) in use and about 100 storage tanks containing high level radioactive waste.

From 1949 until November, 1951, all liquid waste from reprocessing activities were discharged into the Techa River. Since these discharges led to the contamination of large areas, the most highly radioactive waste was dumped into Lake Karachai instead. The waste was discharged directly into the lake until 1953, when a temporary storage facility was taken into use, however, low and medium level waste still continue to be dumped into the lake.