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Anti–nuclear resistance in Russia: problems, protests, reprisals

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Russian Social Ecological Union

This is an excerpt from a new report by the Russian Social Ecological Union, the Russian member of Friends of the Earth International.

Rosatom is a Russian state-owned corporation which builds and operates nuclear power plants in Russia and globally. The state-run nuclear industry in Russia has a long history of nuclear crises, including the Kyshtym disaster in 1957 and Chernobyl in 1986. Yet Rosatom plans to build dozens of nuclear reactors in Russia, to export its deadly nuclear technologies to other countries, and then to import their hazardous nuclear waste.

This report is a collection of events and details about the resistance to Russian state nuclear corporation, Rosatom, and other activities that have led to the pollution of the environment and violation of human rights. Social and environmental conflicts created by Rosatom have been left unresolved for years, while at the same time, environmental defenders who have raised these issues, have consistently experienced reprisals.

Nuclear energy ‒ failures and lies: Rosatom is heir to the Soviet atomic industry, despite all attempts to appear otherwise. Nuclear disasters still affect us and many of their long-term problems have been left unresolved. Upon review of the recent accidents that have occurred at nuclear facilities in Russia, it is clear that few improvements have been made. We see this again and again in the examples mentioned in this report.

Expired reactors: More than 70% of Russian nuclear reactors are outdated. They were developed in the 1970s and were designed to operate for only 30 years. The lifetimes of such reactors have been extended by twice the design limit. Rosatom's strategy also includes a dangerous increase of the reactor's thermal power. Rostekhnadzor (Federal Environmental, Industrial and Nuclear Supervision Service) grants licenses for lifetime extensions without an environmental impact assessment and without public consultations.

Decommissioning problems: Most of the Russian nuclear power plants, despite their lifetime extensions, are approaching inevitable closure. Over the next 15 years, the NPP decommissioning process will take place. Currently, 36 power units are in operation at 11 NPPs in Russia, and 7 units have been shut down. While the fuel was removed from 5 of these units, the NPPs have not yet been decommissioned14. This process will lead to enormous amounts of nuclear waste. Moreover, sufficient funds for the decommissioning process have not yet been earmarked.

Uranium mining protest: In the Kurgan region, Rosatom's subsidiary company, Dalur, has been mining uranium and the local communities fear an environmental disaster. In the summer of 2019, the state environmental appraisal revealed a discrepancy between Dalur's documentation and the Russian legislation requirements, but the company started the deposit's development anyway at the end of 2019.

Rosatom importing uranium waste: In the fall of 2019, environmentalists revealed that radioactive and toxic waste (uranium hexafluoride, UF6) were being imported from Germany through the port of Amsterdam into Russia. This is the waste from the uranium enrichment process which will be sent to the Urals or Siberia and stored in containers above the ground. Thus, under the auspices of a commercial transaction, the German uranium–enriching enterprise Urenco avoids its nuclear waste problem, while Rosatom profits by taking the hazardous waste into Russia.

The Mayak plant ‒ Rosatom's dirty face: The Mayak plant in the Chelyabinsk region is a nuclear waste reprocessing facility, arguably one of the places most negatively affected by the Russian nuclear industry. Firstly, radioactive waste was dumped into the Techa river from 1949 to 2004, which has been admitted by the company. According to subsequent reports by the local organisation For Nature however, the dumping has since been ongoing. As a result, 35 villages around the river were evacuated and destroyed. Secondly, the explosion at the plant in 1957, known as the Kyshtym tragedy, is among the 20th century's worst nuclear accidents.

Struggle against nuclear repository: In the city of Krasnoyarsk, Rosatom plans to build a national repository for high-level radioactive waste. A site has been selected on the banks of Siberia's largest river, the Yenisei, only 40 km from the city. Environmental activists consider this project, if implemented, to be a crime against future generations and violates numerous Russian laws. Activists are also concerned that waste from Ukraine, Hungary, Bulgaria (and in the future from Belarus, Turkey, Bangladesh, and other countries) could be transported there as well.

Rosatom's 'death plants': At the end of January 2019, RosRAO, a structure of Rosatom, began the project of 're profiling' the four former plants in the Kurgan, Kirov, Saratov regions and the Republic of Udmurtia, converting facilities used to destroy chemical weapons into facilities for the disposal of hazardous waste. Later, RosRAO was even hypocritically rebranded the Federal Environmental Operator.

A road through a radioactive graveyard: Many hazardous radiation facilities across Russia are abandoned and require restoration. An example of this is the radioactive waste dump of the Moscow Polymetal Plant. Since the 1930s, the Moscow Polymetal Plant has processed monazite, containing thorium, uranium, and radium. Until 1972, the plant disposed of its tailings on the banks of the Moscow River. Eventually, the waste dump was abandoned and has since become a radioactive hillslope. Today, in place of the Moscow Polymetal Plant stands the headquarters of Fuel Company TVEL, a subsidiary of Rosatom, while the company Radon, another subsidiary of Rosatom, excavates 10–15 cubic meters of waste from the hillslope annually. Given that 15,000 cubic meters of waste remain, at this rate it would take more than 1000 years to remove all of the buried waste.

Conclusion: nuclear power is a problem, not a solution: Despite the nightmare described above, Rosatom is trying to convince us of the nuclear industry's purity and purported carbon neutrality. In addition, Rosatom is building nuclear plants abroad using money from the Russian Federation's budget. Nuclear not only won't save our climate, but will continue to create even more insoluble problems of radioactive waste for thousands of years.

We demand that:

  • Russia must abandon all further development of nuclear energy.
  • Current nuclear power plants should be closed and decommissioned as soon as
  • Current funds from the development of nuclear energy should be redirected to the
    development of local renewable energy sources, to the restoration of contaminated
    territories and as support for those affected by the activities of the nuclear industry.
  • The problem of nuclear waste should be discussed widely, openly and inclusively,
    with the participation of all interested parties, and decisions should be made
    democratically, taking into account the principles of environmental justice.
  • Pressure on all activists, including environmental defenders and defenders of
    victims' rights, should cease immediately.
  • And finally, Rosatom should be held responsible for environmental pollution and
    violation of human rights.

The full report is online at:


Rosatom's export reactor portfolio is 30% smaller than declared

The Russian environmental group Ecodefense has published its second independent report on Russian-designed nuclear power plants in foreign countries. The report, 'Russian Reactor Export: 2020', notes that Rosatom claims it is building 36 reactors around the world and that the total value of its foreign nuclear orders exceeds US$130 billion.

However a close study of the information available on Rosatom's projects reveals that as of May 2020, Rosatom only had contracts for 21 new reactors abroad. Of these, only eight reactors are in an active construction stage. Last year, construction work started on the second unit of the Iranian Bushehr plant. The remaining seven were already being built in 2018.

The roster may also be expanded with new units in Egypt, China, and Turkey, but the continuing coronavirus pandemic makes any accurate forecasts on expected construction start near impossible.

In 2019, Rosatom did not ink any new contracts for nuclear power plant construction abroad, but it made headway in preparing three projects ‒ in Bulgaria, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan ‒ which so far lack contractual obligations.

As of early 2019, the Russian state had at least US$90 billion in federal budget funding pledged to foreign reactor projects. According to Ecodefense's report, efforts to attract foreign investment into Rosatom's reactor ventures abroad are floundering. In Turkey, where active ‒ and unsuccessful ‒ attempts have been made over several years to secure investor funding, the Russian state bank Sberbank said last year it would provide Rosatom a loan toward the construction. Possible involvement of the state development corporation VEB.RF (formerly, Vneshekonombank) has been mentioned with regard to the project in Uzbekistan. Promised investments turn out to be just more examples of reactor projects abroad being infused with Russian state funding.

Earlier, money from the National Wealth Fund ‒ a key element of the Russian pension system ‒ was used to finance the much-delayed Hanhikivi project in Finland. Plans have been discussed to tap into that fund for the project in Egypt as well. Rosatom's projects are only feasible in an environment of unfettered access to the Russian federal budget and a lack of efficient oversight over the expediency of state spending. The absence of any investors but the Russian state clearly shows that these projects are economically unsound and are undertaken for the sake of political influence.

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