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By Amelia Gentleman

Greens outraged as Putin signs nuclear imports law
US now holds the key to Russia's global waste dump

http://www.nci.org, July 12, 2001

Russian environmentalists responded with fury yesterday to President Vladimir Putin's decision to sign legislation allowing spent nuclear fuel to be imported, protesting that it would turn Russia into a dumping ground for the world's nuclear waste.
He did so in the face of overwhelming public opposition and widespread scepticism. The new law could earn Russia as much as ?15bn from the import of about 20,000 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel in the next 10 years.

The atomic energy ministry, Minatom, successfully pushed the plan, promising that the money earned by storing and possibly reprocessing other countries' spent fuel would be spent on cleaning up contaminated sites and improving safety in the nuclear industry.

But environmentalists say Russia has the worst nuclear safety record in the world, and that its own nuclear waste is stored in such dangerous conditions that it would be irresponsible to increase the amount.

The preliminary plan is to send most of the spent fuel for storage at two of Russia's biggest nuclear sites: the 40-year-old Mayak site in the Urals and Krasnoyarsk in Siberia.

"After a series of accidents, Mayak is now considered to be the most contaminated spot on earth," Tobias Muenchmeyer of Greenpeace said.

"The state of both of these sites clearly demonstrates that Russia is the worst possible place to [take] nuclear waste."

There is also concern that the money earned will not be spent in a transparent way. Minatom has a reputation for secrecy, and Yevgeny Adamov was sacked as atomic energy minister in March in the face of corruption allegations.

A leaked report by parliamentary investigators claimed that he was involved in a series of business deals connected with his ministerial brief and environmentalists alleged that he had personal financial interests in promoting the legislation.

Traumatised by memories of the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe, most Russians are firmly opposed to the idea of nuclear waste imports: an opinion poll earlier this year showed that 89% disapproved of the proposal. The prospect of nuclear waste being carried through the country by road and rail has caused further unease.

"This decision allows the import of radioactive waste that will pose a threat to Russians for hundreds of thousands of years to come. Putin is selling Russia and betraying his people," Vladimir Chuprov, a Greenpeace Russia energy expert said.

The leader of the liberal party Yabloko, Grigory Yavlinsky, said the plan "harms Russia's national interests and will have dire consequences for its future generations".

Russia hopes to import spent fuel rods from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Mexico, Germany and Switzerland, undercutting the services offered by the British and French reprocessing industries.

But Germany has already said it will not send radioactive waste to Russia. Last month the environment minister. Jurgen Trittin, described the plans as "an irresponsible gamble with the health and safety of the Russian people".

Alexander Rumyantsev, the new Russian atomic energy minister, said it would be several years before the imports began arriving, adding: "We hope that during this time we will be able to do intensive work to increase safety."

The plan cannot be realised without US approval. More than 90% of the potential imports needs to be cleared by America because it includes material of US origin. The US state department recently criticised the legislation.

See also:

Nuclear Waste Bill

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http://www.nci.org, July 12, 2001

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