A U.S. and German industry group has developed a proposal for
shipping foreign spent fuel to Russia for long-term storage. The
proceeds of the venture would be a minimum of $4 billion, coming
from nations trying to rid themselves of spent nuclear fuel problems.
Part of this money will go to help pay Russian pensioners and
The proposal to store foreign spent nuclear fuel in Russia will
be sent to key Russian and U.S. officials in May, but it's already
known that the plans have been discussed informally with Russian
minister of atomic energy, Yevgeny Adamov. Last week The Moscow
Times quoted Adamov as saying, "Russia must fight for its
share of the nuclear waste market."
Non-proliferation Trust Inc. (NPT) will manage the proceeds
of the deal. According to the presented proposal, the project
entails the shipping of 6,000 metric tons of spent fuel from various
countries - like Switzerland, South-Korea and Taiwan - to a new
storage in Russia, probably at Zheleznogorsk (Krasnoyarsk-26)
in Siberia. The spent nuclear fuel, originating from the countries'
civilian nuclear power plants, will be stored in Russia for at
least 40 years. After that, it would either continue to be stored
in Russia, buried in a repository there, or moved to other international
storage sites, like the Pacific atoll of Wake Island. In any case,
the spent fuel will never be returned to the utilities, according
to the proposed project. Minatom says they will also keep the
door open for the possible right to reprocess spent nuclear fuel
at a later stage. But the Americans say reprocessing is out of
Any expenditures would have to be approved by the development
trust's board, which would be headed by former FBI director William
Webster, and include the two powerful Admirals Daniel Murphy and
Bruce Demars. Adm. DeMars is former Nuclear Navy head, while Adm.
Murphy is former chief of staff to Vice President Bush.
Local Greens protest the plan Despite assurances from U.S. and
German industry groups, many Russian environmentalist fear the
foreign spent fuel could be reprocessed in the future. In any
case, if the spent fuel should be buried in a repository in Russia,
it will be met with scepticism from environmental groups, not
only in the Krasnoyarsk region, but all over Russia.
Krasnoyarsk environmentalists have already described the proposed
nuclear plan as a "dirty trick" between Minatom and
the U.S. business group. Spokesman for a local anti-nuclear watch-dog,
Vladimir Mikheyev, says no Greens in Russia will sell themselves
out; saying it would be treasonous, even for U.S. dollars. According
to his group, the existing storage for spent fuel in Zheleznogorsk
already contains amounts of waste fuel comparable with 61 Chernobyl's.
On June 1, the Youth Yabloko party and the Social Ecological
Union announced a demonstration outside the State Duma in Moscow,
protesting the plans to import nuclear waste from other countries.
Four possible repository sites Russia, in common with a number
of Western countries, does not currently possess a repository
suitable for the permanent disposal of spent nuclear fuel. Currently
four candidate sites for such repository in Russia are under investigation:
- Disposal in permafrost at Novaya Zemlya.
- Deep disposal in granite formations at Kola Peninsula.
- Deep disposal in porphyrite at Mayak in Southern Ural.
- Deep disposal in granite at Zheleznogorsk in Krasnoyarsk region.
Future leakage of radioactivity from either of the above mentioned
locations will effect the Arctic oceans, either directly or via
the Russian rivers Ob or Yenitsey.
$4 billion to nuclear safety The countries which will get rid
of their nuclear waste by sending it to the planned new storage
in Russia will be charged between $1,000 to $2,000 per kilogram,
bringing the cost to $6 to $12 billion for the planned 6,000 metric
tons. Of this, the proceeds of the venture will be a minimum of
$4 billion (revenues minus costs). According to NPT, the $4 billion
proceeds would be managed by a separate Minatom Development Trust
and will be spent for both nuclear safety measures and social
programs in Russia. The money is divided up for the following
- Fissile materials and safeguards enhancements, including
disposition of 50 metric tons of weapon grade plutonium ($1,8
- Spent nuclear fuel decommissioning and disposition, including
the development of a spent fuel geological repository ($700
- Additional non-proliferation programs and charitable programs
administered by Minatom;
- ($600 million);
- Pensions and salary arrears for nuclear and defence workers
- Various Russian environmental programs ($200 million);
- General pension payments for eligible retirees ($200 million);
- Payment to orphans ($100 million);
Income will be spent for nuclear warheads While the American
side looks into the planned storage project as a genuine way to
fund nuclear safety and fissile materials safeguards in Russia,
the Russian Minister of atomic energy sees a second option in
the deal. After the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia started in March,
the Russian Security Council ordered the development of a new
generation of nuclear warheads. In mid May Adamov complained that
"they (Security Council) told us to accelerate military nuclear
programs, but said we should do that using our own sources of
revenue." In response Adamov stated that without money coming
from West as payment for nuclear storage, Russia cannot manage
a new generation of nuclear weapons.
While the NPT project talks about a maximum of 6 000 metric
tons of spent nuclear fuel, Adamov has a bigger perspective on
the opportunities for Russia. He says that spent nuclear fuel
collection from other countries and storage in Russia is a "$150
billion business". World-wide, more than 160 000 metric tons
of spent nuclear fuel have been produced since the nuclear age
started some 50 years ago. Less than 10 percent of it has been
reprocessed. Annually, 10 000 metric tons piles up. This means
more and more spent nuclear fuel needs to be stored, and a growing
international demand for nuclear waste storing facilities. "This
is a golden opportunity for Russia," Adamov says.
German companies also involved The initiators of the plan consist
of several U.S. and German companies, in addition to private persons.
Alaska Interstate Construction will have the responsibility for
the construction and management of the new spent nuclear fuel
storage, although a substantial part of the construction work
will be subcontracted to Minatom. The German companies Wissenschaftlich-Technische
Ingenieurberatung GmbH and Gesellschaft für Nuklear Service mbH
participates with their knowledge in spent fuel storage constructions
and casks development and monitoring systems. The planned storage
in Russia will be modeled after the German storage facility at
Ahaus. The German government recently said it will stop sending
spent nuclear fuel from German power plants for reprocessing in
France. It remains to be seen what kind of solutions for the German
spent nuclear fuel will be chosen, but Russian environmentalists'
are afraid Germany might go for storage in Russia.
The U.S. shipbuilder Halter Marine will build the needed transportation
vessel for spent nuclear fuel from the participating countries
to Russia. The law firm Egan & Associates is a partner in
the projects to take care of international nuclear regulations
The time schedule for implementing the storage project is not
yet clear. The main obstacles for the project today are current
Russian environmental legislation, which forbids the import of
nuclear waste from foreign countries. But the law might soon be
changed. Russian minister of atomic energy Yevgeny Adamov is strongly
lobbying to amend Russian environmental law in favour of spent
nuclear fuel imports and he has the support from most Duma members,
which are hoping to bring Russia into the billion-dollar world
marked for nuclear waste management.
Today Russia imports spent nuclear fuel from countries using
Soviet-designed reactors, among them Ukraine, the Czech Republic,
Slovakia and Bulgaria. Spent nuclear fuel from Finland was exported
to Russia until 1996, but was stopped after political pressure
from environmentalists, among them the Bellona Foundation.
The spent nuclear fuel from the VVER-440 reactors in Hungary
and Finland was shipped to the reprocessing plant RT-1 at Mayak,
while the VVER-1000 spent fuel from Ukraine is shipped to the
storage near the planned RT-2 reprocessing plant at Zheleznogorsk.
In January this year, the Russian environmental group Social
Ecological Union, released a document signed by Russia and a Swiss
utility official expressing Swiss interest in sending spent nuclear
fuel to Russia for permanent storage. The release of the document
created huge protests from environmentalists who says Russia is
already unable to handle its own nuclear waste left from the Soviet
U.S. environmentalist provide public policy advice But the new
NPT project is well prepared for protests from environmentalists
and politicians in Russia. Thomas Cochran, a senior staff scientist
at the Washington D.C. based Natural Resource Defence Council
(NRDC), is actively working for the project. In an interview with
the newsletter NuclearFuel in May Cochran says the parts of the
project devoted to help Russian pensioners ($200 million) and
to help Russian orphans ($100 million) is necessary in order to
win the support of key members of the Russian Duma. "I only
provide public policy advice to NPT," Cochran said.