Siberia could become the world's atomic waste dump, warn greens

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Furious environmentalists have accused Russia of plotting to turn vast swaths of Siberia into a repository for the world's unwanted nuclear waste in a multi-billion-dollar plan that puts profit before safety.

Furious environmentalists have accused Russia of plotting to turn vast swaths of Siberia into a repository for the world's unwanted nuclear waste in a multi-billion-dollar plan that puts profit before safety.

Russian authorities have conceded that the idea is being actively examined and the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohammed El Baradei, has already stated that he wants Russia to be the site of the world's first global atomic waste dump.

The idea, first floated last year, initially got a favourable response from the Russian government which said it was keen to import spent nuclear fuel for reprocessing and possible storage.

Rosatom, Russia's federal nuclear power agency, makes no secret of its desire to earn foreign currency through the plan. Last week Alexander Rumyantsev, Rosatom's head, suggested Russia take on the task of dismantling the world's nuclear submarines despite the fact that it still has more than 80rusting Soviet-era vessels to take apart and can only do so with large amounts of foreign aid.

Greenpeace Russia said it had information showing that the IAEA still had Russia in mind for a global waste dump and said the matter was likely to be discussed at a conference in New York this month and one in Moscow in June.

"In Russia there are already tens of thousands of tons of radioactive waste from domestic nuclear power plants, military reactors and naval bases," said Vladimir Chouprov of Greenpeace Russia.

Siberia has been mentioned as the likely location of any facility and specific mention has been made of the Krasnoyarsk region where one of the country's two main waste processing sites is located. According to Greenpeace the other, Mayak, in Chelyabinsk, western Siberia, should persuade the world that Russia cannot be trusted to look after radioactive waste.

Earlier this year Russian prosecutors started a criminal case against the Mayak plant's managers alleging that liquid nuclear waste had been pumped into the nearby Techa river since 1948, causing alarming rates of leukaemia among locals.

Greenpeace used last week's 19th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine to protest against the nuclear waste plan. Activists picketed Rosatom's headquarters in Moscow holding a banner which read: "Chernobyl is number one nuclear burial ground. Is Russia number two?"

The incentive for the Russian government to capitalise on its nuclear knowledge may, however, prove too tempting. Russia employs 337,000 people in its nuclear industry and the potential financial rewards are great.

One estimate is that Russia could earn $20bn over 10 years.

While Rosatom officials are anxious to stress that there is so far no definitive agreement for the processing centre, they have confirmed that the idea is being examined and that they see no drawbacks. They reject what they call emotive talk of Russia becoming "a dumping ground" and say the plan primarily envisages recycling nuclear waste so that it can be reused rather than simply buried.

Greenpeace Russia argues that promises to return recycled nuclear fuel have been consistently broken. "Spent nuclear fuel that nobody wants will be left in Russia," said Mr Chouprov. "This is already happening with fuel sent from nuclear plants in Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ukraine. All this waste had been imported for treatment and then forgotten."

Comments