MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin is
considering a document delivered to him by Yabloko Party leader
Grigory Yavlinsky, outlining a plan that would subjugate the monolithic
Nuclear Power Ministry, or Minatom, to three government bodies,
stripping away the Stalinesque opacity that helped drive the arms
race and continues to shroud its civilian pursuits in secrecy.
The document - whose authorship officially remains a mystery
- was delivered to Putin on July 10 and deals in its opening with
an analysis of Russia`s looming programme to import, store and
reprocess foreign radioactive waste. It contained suggestions
that last year`s legislation allowing these waste imports be amended
to require the return of reprocessed waste to its country of origin,
something the current laws do not regulate.
But within the document, a copy of which was shown to Bellona
Web, was a long addendum to the president listing sweeping reforms
for Minatom - so sweeping in fact, that Minatom itself would cease
to exist and become little more than a small government bureaucracy.
Among the suggestions were that Russia`s nuclear energy monopoly
Rosenergoatom - which owns Russia`s 10 nuclear power plants -
be handed over to the Ministry of Energy; that Minatom`s nuclear
military industrial complex be given away to the Defence Ministry;
and that Minatom`s fuel cycle study laboratories be designated
as a separate structure entirely and put under the supervision
of the Ministry for Industry, Science and Technology.
According to the Kremlin press office, the report has been given
to Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Putin`s chief of staff
Alexander Voloshin has been handed the mandate of assembling experts
for an official meeting on the topic. The Kremlin spokesman also
said that Minatom has received notice of the proposal and has
until August 1 to reply.
"This proposal is obviously being taken very seriously,"
said the Kremlin spokesman. But the spokesman could only hint
at who authored the text.
"Ecologists, perhaps, Duma deputies interested in that
sort of thing - I will say no more," he said with a trace
The authors of the report, who are known to Bellona Web but
who requested strict anonymity, described Minatom in the report
as "an archaic administration that has undergone no reform
in many years and is not capable of dealing with contemporary
"As a result of this, it hatched new and complicated projects
that turn out to be calamities for the country," the report
A source close to the authors said the report was delivered
to Putin personally by Yavlinsky during a July 10 meeting between
Yabloko Duma Deputy Sergei Mitrokhin, who has seen the report,
said in an interview with Bellona Web Tuesday that his party,
one of the few liberal factions in the Duma, "had followed
all of the proposals as they were being drawn up and we fully
support the document."
He said that the suggestions were getting "the president`s
full attention" and that during a recent meeting with Duma
faction leaders, Putin had said that recent actions of Minatom
were "troubling" him.
"I think, therefore, we could be seeing some changes in
the very near future," Mitrokhin said.
It is too early to say what the break-up of Minatom would mean.
Press spokesmen for the Defence Ministry, the Ministry for Industry,
Science and Technology and the Ministry of Energy all said this
was the first they had heard of the plan.
The Defence Ministry spokesman even expressed alarm.
"Dismantling Minatom means accounting for weapons-grade
plutonium and uranium and turning it over to [the Defence Ministry],"
he said. "But I sincerely doubt Minatom has even half of
that material accounted for yet."
Mikhail Shingarev, head of Minatom`s board for relations with
government agencies and information policy, was also caught unawares
by the news, but said that the policy changes relayed to him by
Bellona Web were "impossible."
"There are two big problems that only Minatom can take
care of and those are ecology and nuclear security," he said.
"With Minatom divided across several agencies, these problems
will never be solved."
He would comment no further on the report itself because he
had not seen it, but he did note that Minatom`s brass had received
the requests promised by the Kremlin for a response to the report`s
Mitrokhin said, however, that the changes cannot take place
with the speed of a "coup."
"This can`t be handled abruptly like a U-turn," said
Mitrokhin. "Russia is a nuclear power and Minatom has been
responsible for all branches of that. Gradual changes will proceed
with that in mind."
But Mitrokhin agreed that, since its inception, Minatom has
been accountable to effectively no government agency, running
a virtual country of closed nuclear cites across Russia for weapons
development and fuel cycle experiments.
Then, last year, Minatom began leading a charge to abandon legislation
prohibiting the import of radioactive waste to Russia, saying
waste storage and reprocessing fees could net Russia $20 billion
over the next ten years. The plan would add another 20,000 tonnes
of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) to the 10,000 tonnes that Russia has
already accumulated by itself.
The plan was a flop with Russian citizens, who organized a petition
drive and raised 2.5 million signatures, 500,000 more than were
needed to force the import question to a national referendum.
But the federal Central Election Commission cast aside 800,000
of those signatures on "technical" reasons, some as
petty as "incorrect" street abbreviations listed by
At the same time, then Nuclear Minister Yevgeny Adamov was coddling
the Duma with so much cushy eleventh hour lobbying that claims
surfaced later that many deputies had been bribed to pass the
Adamov`s successor, Alexander Rumyantsev, is pursuing the import
programme with as much zeal as his predecessor, but - as was shown
at a recent press conference, where the minister continually bumbled
figures and referred to import customers Minatom does not have
- he is just as inclined to cloaking Minatom`s real plans from
the public as the ministry`s Stalin-era founders were.
"This is the kind of thing that comes up in any conversation
about Minatom," said Mitrokhin. "This is something that
has to change."
YABLOKO Against Nuclear Waste Imports