Russia Denies Leaked Plan to Handle Nuclear Waste

MOSCOW, Russia, December 5, 2000 (ENS) - The Russian Atomic Energy Ministry has denied reports by several Russian environmental organizations that it is planning to store and dispose of radioactive wastes in Sarov, Nizhny Novgorod region about 400 miles east of Moscow.

"The claims are absolutely untrue and are pure misinformation. The Atomic Energy Ministry does not have any such plans for Nizhny Novgorod region," the ministry said in a statement.

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Located at the confluence of the Oka and Volga rivers, Nizhny Novgorod is Russia's third largest city. (Photo courtesy Nizhny Novgorod State University)
"Only people with a sick imagination or technically ignorant persons can claim that radioactive wastes could be stored and disposed of in Sarov, where the Russian Federal Nuclear Center is located and where Russia's nuclear weapons are developed," the ministry said.

But Vladimir Slivyak, co-chairman of EcoDefense!, an anti-nuclear group working to stop the import of nuclear waste to Russia, said Friday that activists have a letter from another branch of the Russian government that indicates the plans for handling nuclear waste at Sarov are well advanced.

The anti-nuclear activists have obtained a letter from the Ministry for Natural Resources dated November 3, 2000 which "gives a green light to perform the government environmental expertize for the project." An "expertize" in the Russian system is similar to an environmental impact assessment.

"If it passes the expertize, waste will be stored and reprocessed in Sarov, a federal nuclear center VNIIEF near N-Novgorod, a closed city owned by the Atomic Energy Ministry (Minatom), Slivyak said.

Slivyak and environmentalist Alisa Nikoulina maintain that, "according to the officials who gave the document away to environmental activists, both storage and reprocessing facilities will be used to manage the foreign radioactive waste which Minatom hopes to import in the nearest future."

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A street near the train station in Nizhny Novgorod (Photo courtesy Michael Scott)
Containers to store radioactive waste and a new reprocessing facility for such waste are to be built soon near the city, the activists said.

Currently, Russian law bans the import of radioactive waste from other countries, but this month the Russian parliament, the Duma, is scheduled to review an amendment proposed by Minatom that would change the law to allow such imports.

Numerous moves have been made to change this law over the past several years. Russia needs the foreign currency the handling of nuclear waste would bring into the country.

But environmentalists say Russia cannot even handle its own nuclear waste safely, so the country should not take in waste from any other country.

"Nuclear industry could not design a safe method for the nuclear waste utilization for more than 50 years of industrial development," says Slivyak.

Until recently, Nizhny Novgorod was closed to foreigners due to its high level of defense related facilities.

The town of Sarov, also known as Arzamas-16 or Kremlev, is the location of the Federal Nuclear Center of Russia where the first Russian nuclear bomb was created.