Chelyabinsk environmentalists vs Russian government

Publish date: February 7, 2002

Written by: Rashid Alimov

Envirogroups say radioactive waste from Hungary has been illegally stored at the Mayak combine in Chelyabinsk County for four years.

The Supreme Court considered a complaint filed by environmentalists from Chelyabinsk on February 6th. They contest a governmental decree, issued in 1998, which allowed reprocessing and dumping at the Mayak combine of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) from the Hungarian Paks nuclear power plant.

Return of the radioactive waste, produced after reprocessing of the Hungarian SNF, was not stipulated in the decree. But the legislation, which was in force at the time this governmental decree, N1483-r, was published, prohibited imports of nuclear materials for storage in Russia. Radwaste, remaining after spent fuel reprocessing, was to be returned to the country of origin.

The new law “On Environmental Protection”, signed by President Putin in January 2002, allows imports of spent nuclear fuel, but declares “priority [for Russia] of the right to return the radioactive waste, generated after the reprocessing [of SNF] into the country of its origin.”

But, in spite of these legal regulations, several shipments from Hungary to the Mayak plant took place in 1998 and 1999. Later, the Balkan crisis complicated the route of the trains with nuclear materials, and the shipments were halted. Nowadays all the waste, produced during the reprocessing of the Paks NPP originated spent fuel, is stored at the Mayak.

Waiting until February 26th?

The complaint was lodged by the envirogroups from Chelyabinsk-based organisations — Pravosoznaniye (The Sense of Justice) and The Movement for Nuclear Safety, Andrey Talevlin and Natalia Mironova. They demand nullifying of the governmental decree, as violating the Constitution since the moment of its pronouncement. “The radwaste must be sent from the Mayak back home, to the Paks NPP, Hungary,” the environmentalists say.

“The court session scheduled for February 6th was postponed, because the representatives of the government could not say for sure, whether the environmental evaluation, required by the Law, had taken place, before the documents were put on the Prime Minister’s desk. We expect, that the court’s decision would be pronounced at the next session, on February 26th,” Andrey Talevlin said to Bellona Web.

Soviet nuclear inheritance

The representatives of the Russian government say, while preparing the decree, they followed the agreement between the USSR and the People’s Republic of Hungary. The agreement regulated participation of Soviet specialists at building of the Paks NPP, operating on four units with VVER-440/213 type reactors. It also stipulated Russia’s obligations to conduct repairs of the nuclear plant.

“But this agreement does not require Russia to store on its territory the radwaste, generated during reprocessing of the spent fuel, generated at this nuclear plant,” Andrey Talevlin comments the document of the Soviet past.

The governmental decree N1483-r has never been published. The environmentalists learned the very fact of its existence accidentally during the legal proceedings against the Mayak combine. In this trial, started in May 2001, they demand that Mayak must stop dumping liquid radioactive wastes into the Karachay Lake and other ponds.

The claimants say that the situation with the radioactive contamination at Mayak and the neighbouring territories is very difficult. Vast areas in Chelyabinsk County, nearly 168,000 hectares, are contaminated with radionuclides. Storing the radioactive waste at the territory of Chelyabinsk County aggravates the damage, brought to the environment by the Mayak plant, and violates human rights of the people, living there, the activists say.