Sat, Feb 17, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Don't plan on dumping your waste in Russia

By Vladimir Slivyak

There has been extensive coverage in Taiwan's press recently about the possibility of Taiwan dumping its nuclear waste in Russia. Taipower (台電), like many other nuclear power companies around the world, has a great interest in shipping its nuclear waste overseas because it cannot find a domestic solution. That being so, I would like to make several points to clarify the situation in Russia.

Russia's Environmental Law bans the importation of radioactive waste. The Ministry of Atomic Energy (Minatom), however, is attempting to amend this law in order to be able to import such waste. On Dec. 21, 2000, the State Duma (the lower house of Parliament) approved in the first reading bills lifting a ban on imports of spent nuclear fuel. Radioactive waste currently under discussion does not include "low level waste." According to the drafts, foreign "spent nuclear fuel" may be imported for either storage up to 50 years, for reprocessing.

It is important to mention that the bills have passed only their first reading. During the second and third readings, some amendments may be added, but fundamental changes, such as expanding imports for all kinds of radioactive waste for disposal, cannot be made. Moreover, the bills can be rejected at any stage by the Duma or, the Federation Council (the assembly of governors of Russian regions) or the president.

Once the bills have been approved, Taipower might try and export its spent fuel to Russia for reprocessing, but this will just create a bigger problem because all nuclear waste produced by reprocessing -- more hazardous than spent fuel itself in terms of radioactivity and volume -- will be returned to the country of origin.

We have been shocked by a Taipower statement that radioactive waste can be stored (this means "dumped") in Russia permanently. This reveals a total misunderstanding of the proposed legislation, if not an attempt to mislead the Taiwan public into opting for an "out of sight, out of mind" solution.

The public is strongly opposed to Minatom's proposal. According to Russia's national public opinion research center, 93.5 percent of the people are against this plan. Last summer, in just two months, Russian environmental groups collected approximately 3 million signatures demanding the holding of a national referendum on the importation of radioactive waste. On Jan. 15, dozens of Russian environmental groups protested in more than 20 cities in western and central Russia, the Urals and Siberia.

Strong public opposition to the importation of nuclear waste is growing extremely rapidly. It indicates, I believe, that the amendment to the Environmental Law will not take place, unless the government ignores the people. Cooperation between nations on solving nuclear waste problems would of course be welcomed, but such cooperation must not come at the sacrifice of the lives and futures of residents of other countries.

Vladimir Slivyak is the co-chairman of ECODEFENSE!, an international non-profit environmental NGO founded in 1990 in Kaliningrad, Russia.

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