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Closed Siberian nuclear city prepares to build radwaste repository

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Bellona Foundation

Residents of the closed Russian nuclear city of Zheleznogorsk, near the Siberia city of Krasnoyarsk, have approved at a July 30 public environmental hearing a project to construct an underground research laboratory, which will study the possibility of constructing a long term subterranean radioactive waste repository.

However, some environmentalists have raise concerns that access to information about the facility, which was only viewable in paper form at the Zheleznogorsk city administration, was intentionally restricted by Russia's state nuclear corporation, Rosatom, to avoid criticism of the project. Because of Zheleznogorsk’s militarily closed status, special passes are required to visit the city and thus to view the information. Others claimed that only organizations were invited that confirm the position of the Mining and Chemical Combine. Still others are unconvinced by the safety of the proposed repository, saying that safety assurances are hyped propaganda from Russia’s nuclear industry.

The laboratory, near the Siberia city of Krasnoyarsk will be built in the area’s Yeniseisky District and will conduct a minimum of nine years of study of mountainous and geological layers in accord with international recommendations and on the basis of experience from other similar international laboratories attempting to perfect the fragile science of safely storing radioactive waste for dozens if not hundreds of thousands of years underground.

Lab before repository
The aim of the years of study, which will be conducted at the exact underground depth of the possible future repository, is to confirm the fitness of the local geology for safe storage of longlived high- and medium-level radioactive waste, and the development of technology to handle waste. This will encompass the development of building chambers and shafts for radioactive waste storage, as well as the creation of engineering barriers against radiation. Comprehensive studies of the isolating characteristics of engineering barriers will be carried out, as well as studies on the thermodynamics of the chambers and shafts and geological layers.

The studies will form the backbone of a technical report that will be submitted for expert analysis by the State Com-mission on Useful Mineral Supplies, which will form the basis for whether the project can enter its first phase of construction of permanently isolating facilities, or if further study is required. No decision on whether the repository can be put to use can be taken until the underground laboratory has reasonably proved that the repository will be safe. The mining and chemical combine itself already houses wet storage for spent nuclear fuel, and has also launched a dry storage facility, which this year received its first load of spent RBMK reactor fuel.

Limited access to EIS
Public hearings are a necessary com-ponent of a State Environmental Impact Study of planned economic or other activities. The aim of the Environmental Impact Study is to avert or minimize negative environmental, societal, and economic consequences. According to the Zheleznogorsk Mining and Chemical Combine, a mere 50 people from the 100,000 strong region participated in reviewing the environmental impact report before the hearing, including a number of official inquiries from authorities.

Information about the hearing was posted, as required by law, 30 days before it took place in official media. The State Environmental Impact Study was accessible for review, and preparations of remarks and suggestions of interested parties were addressed in the public reception of the Zheleznogorsk city administration, which was staffed by consultants who answered questions from citizens on the voluminous technical text and who noted their opinions on the planned facility.

Environmental groups from Krasnoyarsk and Zheleznogorsk, representatives of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology, scientists and specialists in various fields were invited to attend Monday’s hearing.

But there were complaints that access to the impact study was extremely limited. "It was only possible to view the environmental impact study material by traveling personally to Zheleznogorsk,” said Valery Komissarov, chief engineer of the isotope and chemical factory of the Zheleznogorsk Mining and Chemical Combine. “Paper and electronic copies were forbidden, three copies of the document were available in the public reception of the city administration, where you could copy some information by hand,” he said.

Because of Zheleznogorsk’s militarily closed status, special passes are required to visit, and without being able to visit, many interested citizens were unable to view the Environmental Impact Study. According to Vladimir Mikheyev, director of the Citizens’ Center For Nuclear Nonproliferation, the closed nature of the impact study shows that Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom is hardly ready to cooperate with the public, specifically with critical observations by ecological groups. They only invited organizations that confirm the position of the corporation to their event,” Mikheyev told the Russian Press Line news agency.

Source: Bellona Foundation, 2 August, written by Anna Kireeva, translated by Charles Digges
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