The remote Russian region of Kaliningrad, located between Poland and Lithuania—both EU countries--may become home for a two-unit nuclear power plant. The State-owned corporation Rosatom (formerly Minatom) is planning to start construction next year and to put the first reactor on-line by 2016. But opposition in the region is growing and the federal government so far has not granted permission for the construction.
On July 11 in Sovetsk, a small town on the Russian-Lithuanian border, more than 500 local citizens took part in a protest against the construction of Baltic Nuclear Power Plant (NPP). Over two weeks, activists collected more than 1,000 signatures in an appeal to the Russian President against construction of the nuclear reactors.
The nuclear power plant is proposed to be built 18-km from Sovetsk and activists asked Rosatom to organize public hearings in this city, but nuclear officials rejected this possibility. Organizers for the protest campaign, including the national group Ecodefense and a local citizen’s group (uniting activists from several small cities around the Baltic NPP’ construction site), said there will be more protests in July and August.
Earlier this year, various protests were staged by environmentalists in Kaliningrad city, the regional administrative center located approximately 120 km from the proposed construction site.
EIA and first local victory of activists
In June, Rosatom announced a public hearing on July 24, as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) procedure in Neman, the closest city to the proposed construction site. It was also announced that the EIA of Baltic NPP will be publicly available for 30 days. But Rosatom and local authorities of Neman placed an unofficial 11-page copy of the EIA on the internet, instead of the official 180-page document with background information on reactor and the entire power plant, environmental conditions in the region, etc.
Environmental activists officially demanded to place “the full EIA on the internet so that all citizens in the Kaliningrad region have equal access to the document and are able to participate in a public discussion over Baltic NPP”. On July 4, Igor Konyshev - director of the Rosatom department responsible for relations with regions and public organizations – announced there will be no access to the full EIA via internet because there is no law demanding that.
Two days later, on July 6, Ecodefense unexpectedly announced it had placed the full 180-page EIA on internet. According to a statement by Ecodefense, “the copy of the EIA was produced without permission from any authority … an EIA must be available to everyone in order to understand what Rosatom is trying to bring into the region… the decision over a nuclear plant must be taken by citizens living in the area, not by the nuclear industry which always gets the profit and leaves the nuclear waste”.
Although Rosatom announced official public hearings only in Neman, a very small city with a high level of jobless people, local activists are putting efforts into organizing more hearings in several cities located in the 30km zone around the nuclear construction site. The first local victory for activists was the July 7 decision of the city parliament in Sovetsk, where local parliamentarians announced their own hearing to be held on August 17. Later this summer, more city parliaments in the 30km zone will discuss the idea of holding their own hearings.
Costs, safety, electricity supply
On July 4, Rosatom organized a roundtable on Baltic NPP in Kaliningrad. Speaking on the financial aspect of the project, the deputy director of Energoatom (the State-owned national company that operates reactors) Sergey Boyarkin stated that the cost of decommissioning will be equal to the cost of construction of Baltic NPP. That will bring the total price of the project to 10-12 billion Euro (US$14-17 billion).
Last year Rosatom repeatedly stated the Baltic NPP would cost 5 billion Euro per two units (VVER-1200 design). But on June 25, state-owned news agency RIA Novosti announced the cost of the plant will be Euro 6 billion Euro. At the roundtable in Kaliningrad, it appeared that these numbers related only to construction costs and do not include decommissioning.
Another speaker at the roundtable in Kaliningrad was a chief-engineer of the Baltic NPP, Ivan Grabelnikov, who discussed the technical side of the project. According to Mr. Grabelnikov, there was some modeling done over the sustainability of the VVER-reactor under plane crash (size of a Boeing-747) scenarios and it showed that the reactor can be destroyed if an airplane crashes into a certain (not named) part of the reactor. Grabelnikov also confirmed that the probability of large accident with radioactive release is not excluded, but it’s small, he said.
Nuclear industry officials insisted during the roundtable that the Kaliningrad region cannot avoid the nuclear plant because its the only option to guarantee the security of electricity supply. The region is highly dependent on electricity and natural gas supplied by mainland Russia. But information coming from the local government in Kaliningrad paints a completely different picture. It appears that the nuclear power plant is not needed for local supply, but only for export of the electricity to the EU.
In December 2008, the governor of Kaliningrad, Georgy Boos, said a second unit of a power plant burning natural gas will be in operation by the end of 2010. According to a report by the Kaliningrad local government on development of the local economy, released in July 2009, the need for electricity in the region will be covered by 106% when the new unit of the natural gas plant is online. Presently, the first unit in operation provides 450 MWt.
Various reports in Russian business media suggested that Rosatom's attempts to create closer ties with European companies (including Siemens, EnBW and others) may be targeted at cooperation on the Baltic NPP. The Russian nuclear industry is probably looking for some kind of guarantee that electricity from the nuclear plant would be consumed in the European Union. Otherwise, it doesn’t make sense to put billions of Euros into a not-needed nuclear plant on the Russian-Lithuanian border.
The situation with the Baltic NPP is a unique one – there has been no official decision of the Russian government over the construction of this plant. It has never happened before in Russia that the official assessment process over a nuclear reactor project started before governmental approval. One of the reasons for lack of governmental approval may well be the lack of European guarantees.
According to both Rosatom (Konyshev) and Energoatom (Boyarkin), all documents required for the final governmental assessment of the Baltic NPP will be submitted by the end of August. In November this year they are planning to receive a positive conclusion. Construction license would then be issued on July 1, 2010, Boyarkin said during the roundtable on July 4.
The full 180-page EIA can be obtained at: http://antiatom.ru/downloads/baltic-npp-ovos.zip.
Source and contact: Vladimir Slyviak at Ecodefense.