Bellona Foundation - On 18 October 2001, the Russian State Duma
passed an amendment to the Law on Environmental Protection, thereby
removing the last roadblocks for massive import of nuclear waste.
At the same time the environmental group Ecodefense! reported
that railroad wagons, destined for Russia, were being loaded with
Bulgarian spent nuclear fuel. By the end of 2002 a steady flow
of special trains is supposed to arrive in Siberia.
The proponents of the law stress that the import will be "important
for the development of Russian industry and science." Their
opponents, however, express their scepticism towards this theory.
They also question the financial part of the project. Russian
authorities believe the income from the spent nuclear fuel import
will constitute at least US$20 billion. Environmentalists believe
the sum will be much smaller, and that it will not be used to
the promised clean up of areas which are contaminated by the nuclear
industry. A Duma member from the Yabloko faction, Sergei Mitrokhin,
describes the "magical" 20 billions as a "myth".
He also believes that the Western governments now might end up
abstaining from sending their waste to Russia, because they are
afraid the long transport routes could expose the waste to possible
Opposition Duma members have tried to reach a compromise with
the parliamentary majority. Yabloko representatives presented
a proposition suggesting that the waste be returned to the countries
of its origin after reprocessing in Russia. The proposal was rejected
by the Duma.
So was the attempt to make Sergei Mitrokhin a member of a new
presidential commission on nuclear waste import control. The commission
will instead have five Duma representatives who are all in favor
of the waste import. Moreover, they all have close ties with the
nuclear power industry. Vladimir Grachev, Mikhail Zlikhanov and
Peter Romanov all represent interests of the Ministry of Nuclear
Energy in the Duma. Robert Nigmatulin is the brother of the deputy
minister on nuclear energy. And Sergey Shashurin has a criminal
record (accused of car theft, but later released). A couple of
years ago he tried to start up a business together with the Kurchatov
Institute with the aim to import radioactive waste from Taiwan
and store it at Sakhalin, Tatarstan.
There is fierce public opposition against the import of nuclear
waste. Three out of four Russians oppose the new law. On 24 October,
a number of Russian environmental organizations held demonstrations
in major cities along the Trans-Siberian railroad. Leaflets handed
out warned against the danger of an environmental catastrophe:
"Look at the condition of our railroads: almost every week
there are different accidents. When there is a train with nuclear
waste coming, any accident may turn into a terrible environmental
catastrophe, where thousands of people living along the Trans
Siberian railroad would suffer!"
The liberal Yabloko party insists there must be held a national
vote. However, this might turn out to be easier said than done.
Last year Russian environmental groups collected around 2.5 million
signatures for a referendum, only to be stopped by the Central
Electoral Committee, which declared 600,000 of them invalid. The
organizations therefore did not get the required two million signatures.
Also this year the initiators will face obstructions. Ten days
after Yabloko announced its intention to organize a second collection
of signatures, a group of Duma members suggested to change the
law on national referendums.