Russia's plans for spent nuclear fuel site spark howls of protest
MOSCOW (AFP) Jun 30, 2004
Russia's willingness to build the world's first international depository for spent nuclear fuel Wednesday sparked howls of protests from opponents of the plan.

"Russia should not be reprocessing nuclear waste and most certainly should not be importing it," Igor Chestin, director of the Russian branch of the WWF global environmental group, told AFP Wednesday.

"Russia cannot ensure security" of such an installation, he said, becoming the latest in a line of environmental leaders and politicians to blast the plan, which the government has estimated will earn Russia billions of dollars.

The protests flared after Mohammed ElBaradei, chief of UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said Russia was willing to construct the facility.

Russia is willing to build a "state of the art" geological depository for spent nuclear fuel and be the first in the world "to accept foreign spent fuel," said ElBaradei in Moscow, where he attended a conference on atomic energy.

A day later, the head of Russia's nuclear energy agency Alexander Rumyantsev said that he did not see any obstacles to construction.

"Russia has experience in reprocessing combustible waste" as well as the appropriate legislation, Rumyantsev told reporters after attending a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and ElBaradei.

But Rumyantsev said the final decision on the facility has not been made and would likely take years.

"Experts at IAEA will be discussing the proposal for several years," Rumyantsev was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies. "And there isn't even agreement that the storage site will be created."

In June 2001, Russia's parliament adopted amendments to environmental legislation that authorized the import of spent nuclear fuel, provoking protests from environmental campaigners.

At the time, the energy ministry estimated that the Russian budget could earn up to 20 billion dollars over 10 years from the project, according to the respected Vedomosti business daily.

Regional authorities in Siberia's Krasnoyarsk Region, which currently houses the nation's largest nuclear waste facility and is likely to house the international center, emphasized the financial gains from the project this week.

"This is billions of dollars to the Russian budget, half of which will be allocated to the region," an unnamed regional official was quoted as saying by Vedomosti.

But environmental groups have vowed to fight the plan.

"Russian Greenpeace, like 90 percent of Russia's population, is against such projects that are effectively turning the country into a nuclear dump," Vladimir Chuprov, of the international group's Russia chapter, said.

"Russia is turning into the only country in the world that is opening its borders for such projects."

Said Sergei Mitrokhin, of the Yabloko opposition party that lost its parliamentary seats during a December election: "Russia's future generations will have to pay for waste handling during the next hundred years, if not longer."