Shkotovo majority says ‘nay’

Publish date: August 20, 1997

Written by: Igor Kudrik

On August 17 an overwhelming majority of the population in the Shkotovo region in the Far East of Russia voted against installation of a new liquid waste processing facility at Naval repair yard Zvezda.

An attempt to hold a similar referendum limited to the city of Bolshoy Kamen, where the Naval yard is located, failed on June 12 due to low participation, reports newspaper Vladivostok.

"Do you agree that the liquid radioactive waste processing facility and solid radwaste generated by the facility, which will influence the environment of Shkotovo region, are to be placed on the territory of Naval repair yard Zvezda (city of Bolshoy Kamen)?" This was the question put to the voters on August 17.

55% of the population took part in the referendum; 90% voted against the liquid radwaste processing facility.

The previous referendum in the city of Bolshoy Kamen on June 12 failed, as only 44.2% of the voters participated – short of the 50% needed to make it official. Of those who did vote, 94% was against the facility.

The Bolshoy Kamen liquid radwaste facility traces its origins back to 1994, when a Russian Navy tanker’s attempt at dumping radwaste in the Japanese Sea turned into an international scandal. Under international pressure and with financial aid from Japan, the Russians built the processing facility, designed by American firm Babcock & Wilcox, at Amursky Naval shipbuilding yard in the Far East. The facility was due to arrive at Zvezda yard by July this year, but sudden local resistance left the plans behind the schedule.

Not environmentalists
The reasons for the local opposition are rather strange: Neither the employees of Zvezda, nor the residents of the area, have protested against the laid-up nuclear submarines moored at the yard, although these represent a substantially greater danger to the environment. More over, the lack of a processing facility leaves the unprocessed liquid waste to remain in the rusty tanks on the yard’s territory, which in no way contributes to radiation safety.

–People really do not mind the facility, they are just angry that Zvezda hasn’t paid its workers in eight months, so they used this opportunity to lash out with a protest vote, said Zvezda chief engineer Yury Shulgan to Vladivostok News.

On the other hand, the local protest was joined by Russian scientists who said that the American-designed floating facility is both too expensive and inefficient – and should be replaced by a Russian prototype. According to deputy chairman of the Russian Academy of Science’ Far Eastern Branch, rather than the 65-by-23 meter barge designed by Babcock & Wilcox, the Russian prototype looks like two oversized kettle drums. It would cost only 3000 USD (total development costs for the prototype ran to 105,263 USD), rather than the 21 million price on the American design. Further more, the Russian prototype produces less solid waste as an end result, and operational costs are only 40-50 USD per cubic meter, as opposed to 200 USD for the Babcock & Wilcox design.

Meanwhile, the head of Zvezda’s radiation safety department was less patriotic, claiming that the Russian prototype has many faults, and praising the American facility as the best solution.

While the struggle went on in Bolshoy Kamen, two other liquid radwaste processing facilities were constructed by military engineers operating in the Pacific Fleet. According to Felix Gromov, Russian Navy commander-in-chief, during his visit to the Pacific Fleet a month ago, those two facilities successfully processed liquid waste stored on-board two old Navy tankers in Pavlovsk bay, one of the Pacific fleet bases.

Some specialists claim that the recent referendum was nothing but a waste of money, since the Shkotovo region officially does not include the city of Bolshoy Kamen; hence the decisions adopted at the regional level have no influence on Zvezda yard.