Techa-2006 competition hit by legal problems and environmentalists’ doubts

Young girls resting on the bank of the contaminated Techa River near Mayak.
Thomasn Nilsen/Bellona

Publish date: March 21, 2006

Written by: Vera Ponomareva

ST. PETERSBURG—Rosatom has announced a competition to solve social and environmental problems in the region of the embattled Mayak Chemical Combine, but environmentalists are worried about how it will be financed and the lack of guarantees that the winning projects will actually be implemented.

Rosatom head Sergei Kirienko announced the competition—called Techa-2006—to competitively deal with social and environmental problems at the Mayak Chemical Combine, Russia’s most polluted nuclear facility, while he was on a visit to Mayak’s hometown of Ozersk in January. Rosatom has allocated 12 million roubles ($400,000) in grant money to finance the competition.

The tender represents the first time that environmentalists and rights activist have been invited to help solve Mayak’s problems. Activists and environmentalists have long been critical of the lack of action by officials and by Mayak management. NGO representatives formed a working group to draw up the rules for the competition.

But the last paragraph of the competition regulations published on Rosatom’s web site does not mention either financing or implementation of the best projects, but speaks only about financial prizes for the winners. This has led to concerns among participating ecologists that the tender is only a symbolic gesture by Rosatom’s new head, Kirienko.

“When we drew up the conditions, we were talking about Rosatom allocating money to finance NGO projects, but when I saw the regulations on the holding of the competition I was slightly shocked” said ,” Nadezhda Kutepova, president of the Ozersk-based NGO Planet of Hopes in an interview with Bellona Web.

“ The regulations declared a competition for projects without financing, with prizes to be awarded to the winners—a kind of social competition.”

Competition winners will get 100,000 roubles ($3,300) for first prize, 75,000 roubles ($2,500) for each of the two runners-up, and 50,000 roubles ($1,700) each for three third-place projects. Five discretionary prizes of 20,000 roubles ($666) may also be awarded.

“Where the 12 million roubles that were promised have gone, and why they have turned into some prizes, and why these prizes are being awarded is incomprehensible,” Kutepova said.

Legal problems dictate “prizes”
Igor Konyshev, an advisor to Kirienko and member of the competition commission, told Bellona Web that the prize scheme had been drawn up due to legal difficulties.

“An open competition is being held for the first time, and we ran into incomplete legislation,” Konyshev said, adding that the winning projects would be financed.

Konyshev said Rosatom had decided to hold the tender in three stages. After the NGOs decide on possible areas for the projects, the competition committee will examine the applications and choose the winners.

“The commission has extended a hand to NGOs and nominated prizes for those projects that meet the competition’s standards,” he said.

Konyshev said financing for the projects would be provided in the third stage, when tenders would be held to find contractors for the chosen projects.

“This is a legal formality, and most likely the project designers will get the grants,” he said.

Vladimir Trugubov, director of the Centre for Competition Tenders, said the competition could not be held in one stage because of Federal Law No. 94, which deals with the organisation of competitive tenders. Under the law, tenders can only be held for concrete projects, which will only be picked after the second stage of judging. To choose these projects, an intermediate competition is needed.

“This is a creative competition, and we would like to clarify what civil society thinks should happen in the defines areas,” Trugubov said in an interview with Bellona Web.

The deadline crunch
The deadline for the prospective projects has been set for March 29th, though Rosatom only distributed that time-frame to competitors on March 6th.

“If you consider that I received this deadline on March 6, and that at least two weeks is needed to distribute information, and that people then have to write a detailed application, this is a very short timeframe,” Kutepova said.

Kornyshev said he hoped NGOs would submit applications, as Rosatom had announced its intention to hold the competition in early January.

“In addition, I think that the competition committee will look charitably on the applications —the most important thing is that they should capture the essence of the project,” he said.

The first meeting of the competition committee, which comprises representatives from Rosatom, Mayak management, and the NGOs Green Cross, Planet of Hopes, and the Movement for Nuclear Safety, will take place March 30. In April the winners of the competition will be announced and tenders take place, while implementation of the projects will start in late May.
Konyshev said he expected about 15 organisations to take part.

“The more the better, but I think that about 15 projects is realistic. We would even find money if the total cost runs about 10-12 million roubles,” he said.

Lack of information may derail the number of proposals
Although the competition was widely announced following Kirienko’s visit to Ozersk, there is now an obvious lack of information. No officials have made any public declarations on the start of the competition, let alone clarified the changes that have taken place in its financing scheme. The competition regulations also make no mention of whether the projects will actually be financed.

The lack of information could be a reason why fewer applications are being received.

“I know of several organisations that wanted to submit a project, but decided against it after finding out about the final conditions,” Kutepova said.

“This is simply giving money to Mayak,” the head of the Chelyabinsk Region-based Ecology and Helping Hands foundations, Nikolai Shchur, told Bellona Web.

“You give them your idea, and they give prize money for that idea. But you won’t implement the project—it may be implemented by Mayak, and in any case the money is going to Mayak. We all know how Mayak eats up money that it gets from the federal budget and from its own profits—there’s a criminal case being examined at the moment,” against Mayak for its dumping practices along the Techa Reservoirs.

Helping Hands has been doing project work on polluted areas for four years. The foundation has acquired specialist equipment for the maternity hospital in the Chelyabinsk Region village of Argayash, and organised an “oasis for first-born children,” where mothers-to-be are guaranteed healthy food and can take lessons—including lessons on defence of their rights.

“We would have suggested such projects in other regions,” Shchur said. “Further, we would
have suggested re-housing people from polluted regions.”

Shchur said that a house in Chelyabinsk Region could be bought for 10,000-100,000 roubles.

“Twelve million gives us a very real opportunity to resettle people from the worst places. And a social organisation could look for houses, and draw up sales agreements,” Shchur said.

Resettlement of people from regions along the Techa River is a burning problem. Money has currently been allocated to resettle only people from two streets in the village of Muslyumovo. Another village in the polluted area—Tatarskaya Karabolka—is currently not earmarked for resettlement, in anticipation of a new federal law on helping victims of radiation accidents that will include people from the village. According to Shchur, Tatarskaya Karabolka is being developed in various ways, including road repairs, telephone installations, and preparations for connection to the national gas grid.

“This is the latest crime,” Shchur said. “As soon as the village is developed, people will go there, buy country houses, snap up land, etc.”

Mayak director sacked over court case
Rosatom head Kirienko sacked Mayak director Vitaly Sadovnikov in an order dated March 15th. The official communiqué said the order was given based on a procedural order from the General Prosecutor’s Office and the courts. Sadovnikov is currently accused of breaching safety rules in running the plant and handling environmentally dangerous waste products, which lead in 2001-2004 to dumping of tens of millions of cubic meters of liquid radioactive waste into the Techa river.

“The director of Mayak is quite rightly undergoing legal investigation, but dumping of waste was never a secret,” said Vladimir Slivyak, co-chairman of the environmental group Ecodefence! in an interview with Bellona Web.

“Criminal responsibility should be taken not only by Sadovnikov, but also by Rosatom and Rostekhnadzor,” the body currently in charge of nuclear safety regulation.

“The Prosecutor is obligated to take on at least two more officials: Andrei Malyshev from Rostekhnadzor, and Sergei Antipov from Rosatom,” Slivyak said. “ Otherwise the prosecutor’s office will be taking a selective approach.”

Malyshev was acting head of Rosatomnadzor, Russia’s nuclear regulatory body, in 2003. According to Slivyak, Malyshev was legally obliged to strip Mayak of its licence after assuming office. Rosatom’s deputy director, Antipov, is responsible for handling of irradiated nuclear fuel, radioactive waste, and sources of radiation, as well as environmental conservation, environmental safety, and cleaning up polluted areas.

More News

All news

The role of CCS in Germany’s climate toolbox: Bellona Deutschland’s statement in the Association Hearing

After years of inaction, Germany is working on its Carbon Management Strategy to resolve how CCS can play a role in climate action in industry. At the end of February, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action published first key points and a proposal to amend the law Kohlenstoffdioxid Speicherungsgesetz (KSpG). Bellona Deutschland, who was actively involved in the previous stakeholder dialogue submitted a statement in the association hearing.

Project LNG 2.

Bellona’s new working paper analyzes Russia’s big LNG ambitions the Arctic

In the midst of a global discussion on whether natural gas should be used as a transitional fuel and whether emissions from its extraction, production, transport and use are significantly less than those from other fossil fuels, Russia has developed ambitious plans to increase its own production of liquified natural gas (LNG) in the Arctic – a region with 75% of proven gas reserves in Russia – to raise its share in the international gas trade.