Russia stops its nuclear dumping

MOSCOW (Reuter) - Russia announced yesterday it would not ditch more nuclear waste in the Sea of Japan, but said it might be forced to resume dumping unless it could build a new processing plant within 18 months.

'The Prime Minister (Viktor Chernomyrdin) has decided to suspend the second dumping of waste. A second dumping will not take place in the near future,' the Ecology Minister, Viktor Danilov- Danilyan, told a news conference after a cabinet meeting.

The first dumping of low- level liquid nuclear waste last weekend provoked outrage from Japan, South Korea, the United States and international environmentalists. Some 900 cubic metres (32,000 cubic feet) of waste from scrapped nuclear-powered submarines were poured into the sea.

Mr Danilov-Danilyan said the Prime Minister would soon order a feasibility study into the construction of a plant in Russia's Far East to process the waste, costing about 10bn roubles ( pounds 5.7m), and he appealed for foreign help.

If the factory were built quickly, it might be possible to avoid ditching more waste, the Ecology Minister said.

Despite the howls of protest Moscow initially said it would go ahead with a plan to dump a second load of 800 cubic metres (28,000 cubic feet) in the next few days. Russia has said it does not have the capacity on land and the amount stored on floating tankers is growing as submarines and other atomic- powered navy vessels are decommissioned.

Japan welcomed Russia's change of heart and said it was ready to discuss helping with the bill for safely disposing of the country's huge radioactive rubbish heaps.