Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

On January 20, the lower house of the Duma (the Russian parliament) adopted in first reading a new law on radioactive waste. It is expected that final approval by lower and upper houses of parliament and Russian president will happen by next summer. The legislation was developed last year by state-owned nuclear power corporation Rosatom.

WISE Kaliningrad - After legislation was passed in first reading, environmental groups started to criticize the new law for a vast amount of significant lacks related to the disposal of radioactive waste. Russian anti-nuclear group Ecodefense called for a national campaign aimed to change the law. Otherwise, new legislation will bring many more troubles than benefits, activists said.

A set of amendments for the new law, supported by nearly 30 environmental groups from all across Russia, was sent to the lower house of the Russian parliament. In the first week of February, nearly 500 letters from individuals, small business and scientific communities where sent to parliamentarians to demonstrate the support for the amendments prepared by anti-nuclear campaigners. In an attempt to calm down the protest parliamentarians invited environmental activists to join a special working group dealing with amendments to the law on radioactive waste.

“The goal of this law is to put the financial responsibility for radioactive waste on the national budget instead of that of the nuclear industry as the producer of waste. When 'Rosatom' was formed by the Russian government, its budget was filled with money for the disposal of radioactive waste. And now 'Rosatom' wants to keep this money for other needs and make taxpayers to fund the disposal of radioactive waste one more time. This is also a way for 'Rosatom' to show that nuclear power is cheap and get more subsidies from federal government for new reactors”, said Vladimir Slivyak of the Russian environmental group Ecodefense who joined the parliamentary working group. Activists oppose this attempt by 'Rosatom' because there is a lot of commercial wastes accumulated at civil nuclear reactors and the nuclear industry should pay for it.

Another serious problem with the new law is that it allows dumping of radioactive waste underground. This extremely dangerous practice was banned in Russian legislation in 2002. At the same time, nuclear industry continued to dump liquid radwaste at nuclear weapon facilities near Tomsk and Krasnoyarsk because the license for dumping was issued before the ban was adopted in legislation. As a result, so-called lens with radioactive waste was formed in underground waters threatening to contaminate drinking water for nearby cities. One of the goals of 'Rosatom' is to remove from legislation the ban on dumping liquid radwaste.

Another site where liquid waste dumped underground is the Kalinin nuclear power plant, located about 300 km from Moscow. Surrounding lakes near the plant are already contaminated with radioactive tritium – a highly dangerous substance that may cause cancer and genetic defects.

Environmental groups are strongly opposed to the approval in the new law of liquid waste dumping. Another demand by activists is to include the necessity of public approval for the construction of storage facilities or dumping sites for radioactive waste. According to the proposed law, it will be enough to get the approval for the construction from the local governor. For example, a so-called 'declaration on cooperation' which doesn’t have any legal status, would be enough. In the current situation where governors are not elected, but sent to the regions by the Russian president who may also fire them, it is very unlikely regional authorities are willing to show their opposition to any proposal coming from Moscow.

On the contrary, environmental groups now demand to count public opinion directly, for example in the form of a referendum or a special public opinion poll. This proposal was also met with resistance from 'Rosatom'. Just like another demand by campaigners – to remove from the new law a proposal to give a sort of 'tax-free' status to radwaste dumping sites. Activists say this is another hidden subsidy for the nuclear power industry.

So far, three meetings of the parliamentary working group have been held and on many principal elements of the legislation is still no agreement. It is not clear how the process will go forward if no agreement will be reached. But currently it is planned that the official set of amendments for the new law will be approved in the middle of March and then the date for second reading of the legislation in the lower house of parliament will be set.

Source and contact: WISE Kaliningrad