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Izvestia, December 19, 2003

Nuclear Power Ministry and Green Cross in the Same Team. Ecology and Waste Burial Discussed in the Kremlin

By Sergei Leskov

President Putin invited representatives of irreconcilable interests -- Academician Alexander Rumyantsev, minister for nuclear power; Academician Boris Myasoyedov, deputy chief scientific secretary of the Russian Academy of Sciences Presidium; Grigory Yavlinsky, YABLOKO leader; Sergei Mitrokhin, member of the Deputy Head of the YABLOKO party; and Alexei Yablokov, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and President of the Ecological Policy Centre -- to a meeting in the Kremlin. They discussed very important issues -- nuclear security and the State Duma's ratification of the multilateral nuclear ecological program whereby Russian nuclear submarines are being recycled.

The President discussed with the representatives of the nuclear department and the ecologists the problems of burying spent nuclear fuel, where opinions were divided irreconcilably. The nuclear officials believe that spent nuclear fuel contains a lot of materials of value to the power industry and that, according to world practice, it would be an extravagance to decline to reuse them. The storage and processing of spent nuclear fuel is a high-tech sphere which Russia should not abandon at any costs. The ecologists, however, emphasize the dangers of such programs to the environment. In addition, they believe that Russia's emergence onto the spent nuclear fuel market will provide the United States, which controls to a large extent the stocks of radioactive materials in the world, a further lever with which to influence Russia.

The subject of the Mayak enterprise in Chelyabinsk Oblast was also considered. This region suffered from a radiation accident in 1957, and many people still live on contaminated territories. Minister Alexander Rumyantsev confirmed his department's readiness to allocate funds to
resettle people from the contaminated territories. This primarily concerns the villages of Muslyumovo and Tatarskaya Karabolka.

Vladimir Putin reported that radiation waste and contaminated soil were removed from downtown Moscow -- from the Kurchatov Institute (where, incidentally, Academician Alexander Rumyantsev worked before being appointed minister) -- in the space of two years, and all these materials were also recycled. "This work was done in its entirety," the President emphasized.

On the eve of the meeting in the Kremlin another meeting, which would have been inconceivable in the recent past, was held -- the first session of the public ecological council headed by the minister for nuclear power. This council was set up in accordance with a Russian Government directive to implement the results of the Civil Forum held in 2002. The council's task is to involve not only nuclear department officials but also scientists and representatives of all kinds of ecological organizations, frequently radical ones, in the shaping of policy in the utilization of nuclear power, environmental protection, and radiation safety.

The scheduled composition of the council elicits amazement. Will 30 people who express diametrically opposite interests be able to find common ground? The meeting in the Kremlin was clearly intended to suggest to them the idea of the need to end mutual exposes and reach a consensus that is so essential to society. Incidentally, according to the council's charter all its decisions are adopted precisely on a consensus basis.

The council, unprecedented in Russia, includes quite a few authoritative scientists. Apart from Academician Rumyantsev, it includes Natalya Tarasova, Gleb Khudyakov, and Alexei Yablokov, corresponding members of the Russian Academy of Sciences; Lev Buldakov, academician of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences; Angelina Guskova and Viktor Ivanov, corresponding members of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences; and Rudolf Aleksakhin, academician of the Russian Academy of Agricultural Research. As well as leaders of authoritative ecological organizations from many Russian regions, including Alexander Nikitin from Belluna, Vladimir Kuznetsov from the Russian Green Cross, Lidya Popova from the Social-Ecological Union, and Sergei Baranovsky from the Russian Ecological Congress.

The first council session discussed a program of measures to resolve ecological problems at the very old Mayak enterprise in Chelyabinsk Oblast, which was built back in 1946 and used to produce industrial plutonium. Seven reactors used to operate at Mayak. Consequently huge
reservoirs were formed, polluted by various radioactive substances. Large-scale hydraulic engineering programs have already been launched at Mayak. Some 135 million roubles has already been assimilated. The Karachai and Gniloye reservoirs are to be completely closed for the disposal of waste water and to be upgraded. A comprehensive program has been adopted with a view to ending the disposal of all active substances into industrial reservoirs. But are these programs ideal?

There was a lot of argument, but no bitterness. Not even Alexei Yablokov denounced the nuclear officials but instead made constructive suggestions.


See also:

Yabloko for Nuclear Safety

Yabloko for Environmental Safety

Izvestia, December 19, 2003

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