It's a dirty job, but the country could get rich doing it, say
supporters of a draft law that could turn Russia into the world's
biggest importer of nuclear waste.
It's a catastrophe in the making, counter environmentalists and
other critics, who say the idea of taking in other countries'
radioactive garbage is just a scheme to turn a quick profit and
could lead to nuclear accidents.
At issue is legislation, facing a second reading in the Duma on
Feb. 22, that would legalize the import of spent fuel from foreign
nuclear reactors to be treated and stored in Russian facilities.
The proposal appears to be on the fast track to approval, after
passing its first reading in December by 319 to 38 votes. Bills
require three readings in the Duma, the lower house, before being
taken up by the Federation Council.
The Ministry of Atomic Energy, known as MinAtom, claims the plan
could reap $21 billion over the next decade, vault Russia into
first place in the burgeoning global nuclear-services industry, and
provide cash to clean up radioactive hot spots - ecological
disaster zones from the Soviet era.
"Our aim is to make Russia competitive in one of the most
lucrative high- tech industries," says Yury Bespalko, spokesman for
MinAtom, a vast empire that controls Russia's 29 civilian atomic
power reactors, most nuclear-related scientific work and also many
aspects of military research and weapons production. "We have the
technology and the necessary facilities, but we need fresh sources
Mr. Bespalko says he expects the legislation to be passed and
importation to begin before year's end.
MinAtom has recently sold Russian atomic power stations to Iran
and India, and is eagerly eyeing the Chinese market, where plans
call for building up to 20 nuclear power stations at a cost of $50
billion in coming decades. "Russia must be able to provide the full
service to prospective customers in this highly competitive field,
including storage and reprocessing of spent fuel," says Alexander
Kosarikov, a Duma deputy with the pro-Kremlin Unity party. "And why
not? Russian nuclear products are reliable, safe, popular and
Environmental critics of the proposed law tell a very different
story. They say the Kremlin has used political pressure and
outright chicanery to bulldoze the law through, despite widespread
popular opposition. Last year, in one of Russia's first-ever mass
grass-roots advocacy campaigns, a coalition of ecological groups
gathered 2.5 million signatures on a petition calling for a public
referendum on the proposal.
Under Russian law, a vote must be held if 2 million citizens
demand it. …