[Date Prev][Date Next]
[cdn-nucl-l] Solution to problem of used fuel, Russia: Controversial Nuke-Import Plan To Become Law
It seems we will soon have an answer for those who want a solution to "the
problem" of what to do with used fuel.
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
Russia: Controversial Nuke-Import Plan To Become Law
By Sophie Lambroschini
Russia's controversial plan to lift its ban on importing spent nuclear fuel
hit a minor stumbling block this week when legislators postponed the
proposal's second reading in the Duma -- the country's lower house of
parliament -- until next month. Still, as RFE/RL correspondent Sophie
Lambroschini reports, many of the plan's opponents say it is only a matter
of time before the Kremlin-sponsored proposal becomes law.
Moscow, 23 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Russian legislators this week put off a
decision on whether the country should open its borders to other countries'
spent nuclear fuel. The second Duma reading of the controversial proposal,
initially scheduled for yesterday, has been put off until mid-March.
The delay came at the request of the 11-member Duma Ecological Committee,
who made the recommendation after a preliminary hearing on 19 February to
sort through the hundreds of amendments to the plan proposed since its first
successful reading in December.
The committee -- whose members hail almost exclusively from pro-government
Duma factions -- recommended rejecting a pair of amendments that would place
budgetary and legislative restrictions on the waste-import plan.
Igor Artemyev, a deputy with the liberal Yabloko faction, said the rejected
amendments were "key" to providing the parliament a measure of control over
the proposed import procedure:
"The 'nuclear lobby' (the Ecological Committee) in the Duma rejected an
amendment to provide independent parliamentary control over the [import]
contracts. Obviously, the nuclear lobby doesn't want any parliamentary
control. The second amendment was a proposal by legislators to create a
special budget fund by which it would be possible to see how, where, and
through what accounts the money [earned from import contracts] is
transferred -- whether it goes through the state coffers, and to what
projects and programs."
The plan authored by the government with input from the Atomic Energy
Ministry, proposes amending an article in Russia's existing law on
environmental protection that bans the import of nuclear waste. The plan
packages the proposed amendment with two additional bills outlining the
conditions under which nuclear materials could be brought into the country
for reprocessing or temporary storage.
The plan has been championed by Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov, who
claims the project could bring in as much as $20 billion -- money he says
could be spent, in part, to build a new generation of Russian nuclear
reactors and help bolster the safety conditions of those already in
The plan's critics, however, argue that the country's poor nuclear safety
record and aging facilities make the proposal a dangerous gamble for Russia.
A number of regional parliaments have protested the plan, with opposition
registering especially high in Siberia, where the proposed waste imports
would be stored and reprocessed. Many have questioned whether Russia has the
resources and technology available to provide safe and reliable storage of
nuclear waste for periods of up to 40 years, as the plan envisions.
Environmentalists have added that leaky transport containers and the poor
condition of Russian railroads increase the risk of serious accidents during
the long trip from Europe to Siberia. But a nationwide referendum on the
issue was shot down last December when the Central Elections Commission
declared invalid a portion of the more than 2.5 million signatures gathered.
The proposal is predicted to see a relatively smooth ride through the Duma,
where the influential pro-government Unity faction holds more than 80 seats.
Ecological Committee member Anatoly Greshnevikov -- one of the few members
to openly criticize the proposal -- says the waste-import issue is an
example of how the Kremlin's strong presence has effectively broken
resistance in the parliament's lower chamber:
"It's all very sad. It's very bad that parliament has withdrawn from the
control it should be using over such ecologically dangerous draft laws and
deals. It's sad that the government is so actively insistent on earning
these $20 billion. And since [the authorities] have the Unity faction and
have talked other deputies into going along, there's no hope that the
process can be stopped."
What some environmentalists and deputies find most disturbing about the plan
is the Atomic Energy Ministry's apparent willingness to store the world's
spent nuclear waste on a permanent basis. Greshnevikov explains:
"It's said that the temporary storage will last 40 years, but no one knows
what will happen in 20, 30, 40 years. There is no guarantee in this law that
the country -- for example, Thailand or Japan -- that brought the spent fuel
in for reprocessing will then take it back out in 40 years..."
The Norwegian Bellona environmental association echoes similar concerns,
reporting in their newsletter that Russia's tentative proposal to reprocess
the imported fuel could be a violation of the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation
Treaty, since it entails the extraction of depleted uranium that could then
be used for military purposes. For that reason, Bellona says, Russia may
only be able to attract customers in one way: by offering permanent