Murmansk environmentalists against new radioactive waste management bill and further waste imports from Germany

Publish date: November 15, 2010

MURMANSK – As Russian press reports have begun to indicate that a second parliamentary reading of Russia’s new bill on radioactive waste handling in the country should come any day, Bellona-Murmansk, Nature and Youth and the Kola Environmental Centre yesterday gathered in Murmansk for a press conference.

Russia’s law “On the management of radioactive waste in the Russian Federation was passed in its first reading in the Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, last year. In March the Duma was due to review the legislation and minor corrections to it in a second reading. But a wave of public dissatisfaction and disappointment among several legislative organs shelved the second reading for an unknown time in the future.  

The Russian press, however has indicated that the second reading will be coming in the near future, however, and a second reading in the Duma is usually the clincher that send a bill on to become law. The third required reading is usually a formality that does not entertain any further amendments to a bill.

Because of this, the Murmansk based environmental groups again appealed to Duma deputies to include corrections in the bill that would make it a universal instrument for environmental protection. The passage in whatever form will impact several generations of Russians.

The praise that Rosatom representatives are lavishing on the draft bill “On the management of radioactive waste” is reminiscent of never-changing incantations: The same was said ten years ago, the same, again, this year after the first reading, and once again, after all the amendments were introduced for the second reading.

Rosatom is sensitive to criticism of certain situations, and therefore harps on the charms of managing radioactive waste within a legal framework. But who has forbidden them to deal with waste in a civilised fashion in the absence of this law?

“International experience has been taken into consideration,” says Rosatom, but it is not fully explaining that foreign owners of nuclear technology began shoring up this experience many decades ago and without the long vacillations of Rosatom.

What problems are there with the current bill? Firstly, the economics don’t make sense. The bill is divided into radioactive waste already accrued before the adoption of the bill, and waste accrued after its adoption. What has already been accrued will be dealt with by funding from the state and other budgets, and this will not be pocket change. Several hundred thousands of tons of radioactive was has built up, and demands transport, reprocessing, long term storage and internment, for which several hundred billion state budget roubles have been earmarked. And that waste which has not yet appeared will be Rosatom’s responsibility. Profitable, yes?

“They finally want to cut Rosatom into to pieces – the one that operates on the state budget and the one that operated commercially,” said Yury Ivanov of the Kola Environmental Centre at yesterday’s briefing. “There is already a stock own part of Rosatom, which makes money – that’s (nuclear power) stations, Atomenergoprom (which encompasses all fuel production and trade, reactor building, and uranium mining) and (the nuclear fuel monopoly) TVEL. And then there are the money losers that are fully supported by the state budget – Mayak, and the Krasnoyarsk Mining and Chemical Combine.”

Ivanov continued to say that, “Nuclear power stations, having received fresh fuel, later take out spent nuclear fuel and send it to Mayak for reprocessing without spending a Kopek. That is, Rosatom gets an internal bargain at the expense of state budget funds Therefore, we ask Duma deputies to include corrections (in the bill) that transfers this burden from taxpayers.”

Another problem is politics. Rosatom views the public as a superfluous headache while making decisions about construction of storage or repositories. The current bill will be harmful to the public interest, which the authorities are working so hard to curb.

If the bill is adopted in its current form, public influence on important decisions will be lost. Which is why the honour of “approving” the bill was only bestowed on the bodies of executive power of the constituent entities of the Russian Federation. The only right reserved for everyone else is to “participate.”

The document does not require the approval of local populations during the citing of nuclear repositories that could exists for hundreds of thousands of years and bring harm to the environment. Final decisions will be taken at the regional governors’ level, and governors are no longer elected, but appointed by the president. Meanwhile, there are more and more people in the Regions who support environmentalists.

“Our organization over the past days has collected 500 signatures that will be sent to Duma deputies,” said Vitaly Servetnik, chairman of Nature and Youth. “In this manner, we will again remind them that there is a portion of the (Murmansk) region’s population that doesn’t want energy projects of that nature. I know of 15 other regions where various organizations have successfully collected signatures.”

Finally, there is the environmental aspect of the question. It is huge, but probably the most tragic mistake of the Duma could be “extended permissions” for injecting liquid radioactive waste into the earth. Rosatom has for a long time employed this disposal method at Kalinin Nuclear Power Plant, the Krasnoyarsk Mining and Chemical Combine, the Dmitrovgrad Federal Nuclear Research Centre, and now wants to legalize such activities. The bill accommodates permitting these injectons where they are already taking place.

“Nowhere in International Atomic Energy Agency norms does it permit such injections,” said Andrei Ponomarkenko, nuclear projects coordinator with Bellona-Murmansk. Yet, Russian legislation is rife with forbidden norms. The law on environmental defence or the water code are good examples. According these documents, underground water deposits into which liquid radioactive waste is injected become water installations. At Kalinin NPP, where such injections take place, and where there are underground water tables, water and radioactive waste mix and are spread underground.

If such a practice is not stopped, then at least four areas of Russia will become huge underground storage spots for lethal waste that can seep into surrounding water tables, subjecting local populations to contaminated water.

According to one federal law, “the import of radioactive waste into the territory of the Russian Federation is forbidden” and therefore – if one really wants, such an operation can be performed under the observance of various stipulations. There is no need to explain how cleverly this is being done in reality under the glaring secrecy of Rosatom. This passage called Article 31, ”The particulars of importing into the Russian Federation and export from the Russian Federation of radioactive waste” is the know-how of the nuclear industry.

It recently became known that the European Commission suggested for adoption by European Union nations a raft of obligatory fundamental principles for the storage of radioactive waste – the “Fundamental Recommendations of the European Commission on Radioactive Waste and Spent Nuclear Fuel” – where in the near future export of nuclear waste from the EU will be forbidden.

It did not escape the attention of Murmansk environmentalists that civil society organizations had appealed to the Germany’s Chancellor, the Russian and American Presidents and the Director General of the IAEA, with the demand that spent nuclear fuel from Germany not be imported to Russia.

According to an agreement between the United States and Russia on the import of spent nuclear fuel from research reactors, the United States pays for the transport of these nuclear materials into Russia, where the spent fuel is reprocessed at Mayak, near Chelyabinsk. As a result of this reprocessing, thousands of cubic meters of liquid radioactive waste are dumped. Several thousand people live in the contaminated zone surrounding Mayak. According to data provided by the Chelyabinsk Movement for Nuclear Safety, the rate of illness of residents of the contaminated areas of the Chelyabink Region surpasses all conceivable limits. The incidence of cancer in 2008 reached 387 per 100,000 people, which is significantly higher than average indicators in Russia. The level of childhood cancer related illnesses rose by 64 percent in 2008 in comparison with the previous year. The number of inborn anomalies reached 46.6 per 1000 births in 2008. It should be clearly understood that new waste means new illness and new childhood anomalies.  

Beginning last year, the MCL Trader began delivering spent nuclear fuel from research reactors from the Svirka Research Centre in Poland through the Port of Murmansk. The spent fuel is loaded onto trains at the Atomflot nuclear icebreaker port and delivered by rail to Mayak. A new route for such cargoes has been established.

This flow of cargo could increase significantly as a result of imports from Germany – and perhaps later from other countries using American fuel – of spent nuclear fuel. The risk for residents of Murmansk, the surrounding region and those who live along trasport routes will also correspondingly increase.

However, in recent days it has come to light that shipments of wastes from Germany may be halted. This appears to be the case after massive protests by Germans who actively hampered transports of nuclear waste resulting from reprocessing of German spent nuclear fuel in France.  These public protests forced the administrations of cities from whence the shipments would be transported to Russia to take pause. Mayak’s dirty work has become known in Germany and German environmentalists are demanding that their authorities not further contaminate Russia and deal with their own nuclear waste with local internment.

Environmental groups in the Murmansk Region completely agree with their German counterparts. They say that Germany has enormous possibilities for safe storage of its own dangerous waste.

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