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Nuclear News - 12/06/00
RANSAC Nuclear News, December 6, 2000
Compiled by Christopher Ficek



A. Plutonium Disposition
    1. Statement To French Parliament On Nuclear Materials Use,Pete Domenici (11/30/00)
B.  Russian Nuclear Forces
    1. Russia Will Preserve Balance Of Nuclear Forces At MinimumSufficient Level -  Sergeyev¸ Interfax (12/04/00)
C.  U.S. - Russian Relations
    1. US Allocates Russia 2 Bln Dlrs for Threat-Decreasing Plan,Itar Tass (12/06/00)
D.  START
    1. Russia to Abandon START Treaty if USA Pull out of ABM,Interfax (12/5/00)
E. Russian - Iranian Relations
    1. Russia Assures U.S. on Arms Sales to Iran, Reuters (12/06/00)
    2. Russia Defence Minister to Shortly Visit Iran, Itar Tass(12/06/00)
    3. U.S. To Try To Change Moscow's Mind Over Arms Sales To Iran,RFE/RL (12/05/00)
F. Russian Nuclear Power Industry
    1. Radiation Leak at Russian Plant Puzzles Experts, Reuters,(12/06/00)
    2. Novovoronezh Nuclear Plant Denies Radiation Pollution,Itar Tass (12/06/00)
    3. Radiation Leak Spotted At Moscow Region Plant, Anna Badkhen,Moscow Times (12/06/00)
    4. News Update [Uranium Production]¸Uranium Institute(12/05/00)
G.  Nuclear Waste
    1. Russia Denies Plan to Build Nuclear Waste Plant, AgenceFrance Presse (12/06/00)
    2. Putin's Nuclear Dump, Richard Beeston, The Times (UK)(12/05/00)
    3. Environmentalists To Appeal Decision on Radioactive WasteReferendum¸British Broadcasting Corporation (12/02/00)
    4. Russia Plans Reprocessing Plant for Foreign Nuclear Waste,Agence France Presse (12/02/00)



A. Plutonium Disposition

1.
Statement To French Parliament On Nuclear Materials Use
        Pete Domenici
        November 30, 2000
        (for personal use only)

Thank you for the invitation to discuss my views on disposition of militaryplutonium.  I regret that I am unable to join you.  I hope thatthe combination of this statement and the presence of my science advisor,Dr. Peter Lyons, will suffice to convey my extremely strong interest inthis subject.

The end of the Cold War presented the world with new opportunities andchallenges.  The threat of global confrontation is now greatly reduced,but the world is still far from a safe place. Localized conflicts and internationalterrorism represent serious threats.

Regional conflicts and terrorism are serious enough with conventionalarmaments.  If nuclear weapons were added, their consequences wouldrapidly escalate toward global involvement.   Any use of a nuclearweapon has grave consequences for mankind.

It is in everyone’s interests to avoid the spread of nuclear weaponsbeyond the current weapons states.  These states must be extremelycareful to preclude leakage of weapons materials or expertise.

Both the United States and Russia have large stocks of weapons-gradematerials: some in weapons, some in storage.  Continued reductionsin weapons, which I hope will occur, will lead to increased volumes instorage.

Under the Soviet system, weapons and weapons materials were carefullyguarded by well-paid personnel.  Rigid controls throughout the systemadded confidence that weapons materials could not be moved without governmentconcurrence.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, conditions in Russiahave become alarming.  There are increasing concerns that the securityof weapons materials may be dramatically weakened as the Russian societyand economy have undergone a series of economic and social shocks. This leads to real concerns that weapons materials may become increasinglyvulnerable to diversion.

I have sought to provide fiscal and policy leadership within the UnitedStates to address these issues.  From the policy perspective, I chaireda 1998 study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. This study concurred with a previous review by the U.S. National Academyof Sciences, which labeled excess weapons-grade plutonium as a clear andpresent danger to global peace and security.

I’ve encouraged support for the U.S. program wherein we assist Russiawith improving controls on their fissile materials.  This programalone is funded at $174 million this year.  We are also supportingconstruction of the Mayak facility for storage of weapons grade materialsunder IAEA safeguards.  Other programs, like our Nuclear Cities Initiativeand Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention, are supporting efforts toprevent leakage of expertise from the Russian nuclear weapons complex.

One of the largest challenges, however, and the focus of that 1998 study,involved disposition of weapons grade materials.  For uranium, thereis an active program to blend the material down to levels usable in civilianreactors.  For plutonium, the challenge is much greater.

In the United States, we are pursuing dual tracks for plutonium disposition,MOX and immobilization.  I have strongly favored MOX.  I regardimmobilization as a weaker alternative that, in some sense, creates a “plutoniummine” available for future exploitation.

In contrast, the MOX route not only assures that the plutonium meetsthe “spent fuel standard,” which was the goal for disposition, it alsoenables recovery of the energy potential of the plutonium.  In mydealings with Russia, it has been clear that any approach to plutoniumdisposition, which does not recover its energy content, would not be considered. I have noted significant concerns about immobilization from discussionswith Russian leaders.

In a visit to France in 1998, I met with some of your leaders in Parliamentto explore ideas for MOX.  I expressed interest in progressing rapidlywith MOX.  I proposed that the vast French experience with fabricationand use of MOX be used to increase the rate at which Russian plutoniumcould be used.  I found close to zero enthusiasm in France to useyour fabrication facilities to make weapons-grade MOX or to use this MOXin your reactors.

Many French leaders cautioned that you seek a balance between generationand use of civilian plutonium as well as a clear separation between civilian-gradeand weapons-grade plutonium.  Some argued that my proposal blurredthe distinction between military and civilian plutonium.  However,in my view, destruction of military plutonium in civilian reactors shouldbe an acceptable tradeoff in that it removes a global problem threateningcivilian populations.

I was pleased on my trip to find enthusiasm for sharing French MOX expertisewith Russia to assist them in their own program.  I compliment theFrench-German-Russian program concerning MOX facilities.

Since that 1998 trip, I’ve focused on approaches in which both the U.S.and Russia would individually dispose of their surplus plutonium. In 1998, Congress set aside $200 million for expenditures in Russia fortheir MOX program.

Progress on design of the U.S. MOX program is well funded, as part of$249 million for disposition of our fissile materials.  This programinvolves Duke Power reactors using MOX and extensive use of technologiesfrom Cogema.

I’ve been pleased to hear that bilateral negotiations on plutonium dispositionhave progressed, concluding with the September 1 signatures on the protocol.I understand that the existence of that $200 million for Russian programs,available only once Russia’s program is operational, helped the negotiations.

$200 million is not sufficient to construct the MOX facilities in Russia. I am willing to propose additional U.S. support for this effort, but itneeds to be considered in the context of international support, given itsclear importance to the entire world.

I appreciate that France, the United Kingdom, and Japan have indicatedtheir intent to support this program.  I understand that the GenoaG-8 negotiations next summer are the target for finalizing an internationalfunding package for this critical endeavor.  I certainly encourageyou to support this effort with significant contributions.
 
While I am very pleased to have the bilateral agreement finalized,it is not as strong as I had hoped.  I regret that the agreement coversonly 34 tons, instead of the 50 tons agreed to between Presidents Clintonand Yeltsin.  I also am concerned that this agreement not be interpretedas setting any precedent for equal amounts of plutonium in future dispositioninitiatives, for the simple reason that estimates of Russian plutoniumstocks are far larger than the U.S.  But of greatest concern to meis the slow rate of disposition, limited by the Russians’ current abilityto utilize MOX, of 2 tons per year.  At that rate, it will take 17years to consume those 34 tons – that is far too long.

It is possible that the current window of opportunity with Russia forthis MOX program will not last 17 years.  And, while I am very hopefulthat further arms reductions in both countries will free more surplus plutonium,that would only further extend this period.  Since the Russian materialremains a potential diversion threat, I regard this extended time as mostunfortunate.

My interest in utilizing French or other European reactors to disposeof MOX was driven by my desire to increase the disposition rate. If that possibility could be revisited as part of French contributionsto this effort, I would view that as very positive.  Other possibilitiesmight involve using other nation’s reactors to increase this rate. For example, the possibility of using Russian MOX in Canadian systems isattractive.

Whatever burn rate is available, the political nature of this agreementrequires that disposition in the two countries occur in a coordinated fashion. Thus, the two programs must track each other in disposition. We cannotaccept a situation wherein U.S. plutonium is destroyed faster than Russia’s.

Another approach to increasing the burn rate would involve constructionof new reactors.  For this reason, the U.S., over the last three years,has supported development of high temperature gas-cooled reactors. These offer interesting potential for plutonium disposition.  In additionthey may be extremely attractive for standard commercial use.  Inthe current year, we are providing $10 million for these efforts. I understand that both France and Japan are providing support.  Inaddition, we are also funding study of licensing issues for commercialuse of this reactor.  I encourage additional French support for thisproject.

By way of conclusion, the United States has already committed $200 millionto the disposition program for Russian weapons-surplus plutonium. Smaller amounts of U.S. funding are assisting in development of other approachesto enhance disposition rates.  The global importance of this dispositionprogram argues for significant cost-sharing among the G-8 nations.

I encourage you, as leaders of the French Parliament, to seriously considerapproaches by which France can join with the United States, Russia, andthe other G-8 nations, in removing this proliferation threat as rapidlyas possible.
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B. Russian Nuclear Forces

1.
Russia Will Preserve Balance Of Nuclear Forces At Minimum SufficientLevel -  Sergeyev
        Interfax
        December 4, 2000
        (for personal use only)

MOSCOW. Dec4 (Interfax)- Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev hasannounced that Moscow will preserve its balance of nuclear forces withthe United States after the planned cuts in its armed forces personneland nuclear component in 2001-2005.
 
"I think the world is ready for a steady reduction of nuclear weaponry,and we will preserve the balance of forces [with the United States] atthe minimum sufficient level, "Sergeyev told the press in Moscow on Monday.
 
Commander-in-chief of Russia's Strategic Missile Forces Gen. VladimirYakovlev has said that "up to six Topol-M advanced missile systems" willbe put into service before the end of this year. Two Topol-M regimentsof 20missiles are already in service with the Tatishchevskaya division,he noted.
 
The number of Topol-M systems to be put into duty next year will depend"on meeting the budget targets and the defense production plan," Yakovlevsaid.
 
The 180thanniversary of the Pyotr the Great Military Academy was celebratedin Moscow on Monday.  Russian military commanders and Patriarch ofMoscow and all Russia Alexy II attended the celebrations.
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C. U.S. - Russian Relations

1.
US Allocates Russia 2 Bln Dlrs for Threat-Decreasing Plan
        Itar Tass
        December 6, 2000
        (for personal use only)

MOSCOW, December 6 (Itar-Tass) - To implement a joint threat-decreasingprogramme, the United States appropriated over two billion dollars to Russia,Itar-Tass learnt at the Russian Defence Ministry on Wednesday.

According to the ministry, the American aid was channelled to strengthensecurity, control, accounting and centralisation of nuclear weapons andfissionable materials as well as to prevent their proliferation.

A special place in the programme is occupied by aid to reform the Russianmilitary-industrial complex by converting munitions factories.

In 1992, the Russian and U.S. governments signed a treaty on joint effortsto slash stockpiles of mass destruction weapons. An idea of financing theprogramme was suggested by U.S. senators Samuel Nunn and Richard Lugarand approved by the U.S. Congress.

Since 1992, the U.S. has been annually financing the programme. Thetotal sum of funds appropriated from the Pentagon budget reached 2.1 billiondollars.

Lugar will fly to Moscow on December 10 to familiarise himself withprogress in implementing the programme. The senator plans to visit "sevenvarious points in the Russian North and the Far East" during his trip whichwill last two weeks.

He will visit nuclear facilities of former "nuclear cities". Lugar saidthat his task is to familiarise himself with progress in fulfilling theprogramme and to report to his Senate colleagues, after the return to Washington,on progress in work.
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D. START

1.
Russia to Abandon START Treaty if USA Pull out of ABM
        Interfax
        December 5, 2000
        (for personal use only)

Moscow, 5th December: A Russian parliamentary delegation said at aninternational meeting that Russia would "immediately" withdraw from theSTART-II Treaty if the United States renounces the Anti-Ballistic MissileTreaty, a senior Russian parliamentary deputy said on Tuesday [5th December].

The Russians issued this warning at a meeting in Berlin of a trilateralcommission that includes the heads of the international affairs committeesof the Russian, French and German parliaments, Leonid Slutskiy, deputyhead of the international affairs committee of the Russian lower house,told Interfax.

Another deputy head of the Russian committee, Aleksandr Shabanov, who,like Slutskiy, is a member of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party,voiced this warning at the meeting.

Initially, the French and German representatives took the warning asan "ultimatum and as an attempt to intimidate" the West, but "the sidescame to understand each other" toward the end of the talks, and the Frenchand Germans agreed with much of Russian reasoning, Slutskiy said.

Relations between Russia and the European Union were also on the agenda,Slutskiy said. The negotiators "reached a common denominator: the rapprochementof countries that are members of the EU and Russia is an urgent necessity".

The situation in the North Caucasus and the Balkans also came up. "Oppositionto us was a lot weaker at that meeting than it had been at similar meetings,"Slutskiy said.

He said the commission for refugees of the Council of Europe ParliamentaryAssembly (PACE) is due to meet in Paris on Friday and the PACE politicalcommission will convene in Riga on Saturday.

Whether a PACE session in January will return the right to vote in theassembly to Russia largely depends on those meetings, Slutskiy said.

Russia lost this right after the Council of Europe accused Moscow offailing to follow PACE recommendations on reducing the Russian militarypresence in Chechnya.

Slutskiy also said that a French-German-Russian delegation is likelyto visit Kosovo in April.

He said the trilateral commission or "the European Parliamentary Initiative,as we call it today, may very soon be joined by representatives of the[parliamentary international affairs] committees of Italy and Great Britain".

Slutskiy said the commission is due to hold its next meeting in Parisin April next year.

Russia's lower house ratified START-II this year.
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E. Russian - Iranian Relations

1.
Russia Assures U.S. on Arms Sales to Iran
        Reuters
        December 6, 2000
        (for personal use only)

BRUSSELS, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Russia assured the United States on Wednesdaythat it will not sell offensive weapons to Iran despite last month's decisionby Moscow to resume arms transfers to Tehran, U.S. defence officials said.

The officials spoke with reporters following a 45-minute bilateral meetingbetween Russian defence minister Igor Sergeyev and U.S. Defence SecretaryWilliam Cohen at NATO headquarters in the Belgian capital.

"He (Sergeyev) said they would sell only defensive weapons," one ofthe U.S. officials, who asked not to be identified, told reporters travellingwith Cohen to a NATO defence ministers meeting in Brussels.

"Most of these sales would be to service and maintain old Soviet equipment,"the official added.

The Cohen-Sergeyev exchange came when Cohen reiterated U.S. concernabout Moscow's recent decision, effective last week, to withdraw from a1995 pact not to sell conventional arms to Iran, which the United Statessays is trying to develop nuclear arms and supports anti-western "terrorist"groups.

U.S. state department officials travelled to Moscow this week to pressWashington's concerns over the matter and to make sure that any new transfersto Iran do not include technology that might improve Tehran's Sahab-3 missile,now in development with a range of about 1,500 km (about 1,000 miles).

Moscow is prevented by other agreements from selling nuclear, chemicalor biological arms and technology to Iran, which the United States sayshas an active nuclear arms programme.

LUCRATIVE MARKET

Washington has warned that it would consider sanctions under U.S. lawagainst Russian companies or the government if sales of advanced conventionaltechnology occurred.

"They (the Russians) have already pledged not to sell any equipmentor expertise which would contribute to their (Iran's) nuclear weapons programme,"another U.S. defence official said on Wednesday.

Sergeyev, who is expected to visit Tehran soon, told reporters duringa visit to NATO on Tuesday Moscow would stick with its international obligationson transfers to Iran.

But Russia wants to make money from a lucrative market at a time ofhigh oil prices and appears to be taking advantage of a delay in determiningU.S. President Bill Clinton's successor in the White House.

Wednesday's meeting was upbeat, U.S. officials said, and both Cohenand Sergeyev stressed that U.S.-Russian military relations were improving.The U.S. secretary praised Sergeyev's suggestion at the NATO gatheringthat Moscow's ties with the western alliance needed to break out of a stateof "permafrost."

The two defence leaders promised to work together to complete a jointplanned early missile warning system in Moscow, the U.S. officials said,adding that the project had been delayed by Russian tax laws covering U.S.monitoring equipment being sent to Russia.

Cohen also promised to cooperate with Russia under an agreement madeby NATO and the Russians on Tuesday to explore cooperation on possiblejoint submarine rescue efforts.

That agreement followed an August accident in which the submarine Kurskplunged to the bottom of the Barents Sea, killing 118 sailors in Russia'sworst such naval disaster.

Sergeyev told Cohen that the incident was still under investigationand did not repeat claims by some Russian military officials that the Kurskmight have collided with another submarine, U.S. officials said.

But Cohen, they added, "strongly repeated" U.S. statements that no Americansubmarine was involved in the disaster, in which was the Kursk was rockedby two explosions.
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2.
Russia Defence Minister to Shortly Visit Iran
        Itar Tass
        December 6, 2000
        (for personal use only)

TEHRAN , December 6 (Itar-Tass) - Russian Defence Minister Igor Sergeyevis expected to soon pay an official visit to Iran. Iran says the visitmay take place in January. Russian military sources say minister Sergeyevcould visit Iran from December 27 to 29.

The visit is aimed at discussing military ties between Russia and Iran.It is believed that the volume of Russia-Iran defence cooperation may amountup to seven billion dollars within the next few years. It will includethe training of Iranian military specialists in Russia, as well as suppliesof some defensive weapons to Iran.
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3.
U.S. To Try To Change Moscow's Mind Over Arms Sales To Iran
        RFE/RL
        December 5, 2000
        (for personal use only)

A U.S. delegation headed by John Barker, deputy assistant secretaryat the Bureau of Nonproliferation Affairs, is due to arrive in Moscow laterthis week in a bid to persuade Russia to stick to a 1995 pledge not tosell weapons to Iran. The decision to send the delegation to the Russiancapital was reached during last week's talks in Vienna between U.S. Secretaryof State Madeleine Albright and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, accordingto AP on 4 December. Russia recently informed the U.S. that it is withdrawingfrom its commitment not to supply Teheran with conventional weapons (see"RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2000). ITAR-TASS reported that U.S. DefenseSecretary William Cohen and Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev planto meet on the sidelines of a Russia-NATO Permanent Council session inBrussels on 5 December to discuss the issue of Russian arms sales to Iran.
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F. Russian Nuclear Power Industry

1.
Radiation Leak at Russian Plant Puzzles Experts
        Reuters
        December 6, 2000
        (for personal use only)

Dec 6, 2000 -- (Reuters) Experts failed on Tuesday to find the sourceof abnormally high radiation levels near a nuclear power station in southernRussia, the Atomic Energy Ministry said.

Officials were sent to the Novovoronezhskaya nuclear power station nearthe city of Voronezh, 450 km (280 miles) from Moscow, to check radiationlevels close to the water outlet of two reactors which have been shut downfor some time.

"It was established that at a few points the level of contaminationexceeds that allowed in a protected zone," the ministry said in a statement.

"Measures have been taken to limit access to the area of the water outletand to contaminated points. Work is going on to remove contaminated soil."

But the source of the pollution was still unclear.

"It has been established that the cause of the contamination is notlinked to the operations of the active three reactors at the station. Workis continuing to find the source of the contamination," the statement said.

It said there was no radioactivity in the water and fish of the nearbyRiver Don, which flows into the Black Sea.

The ministry said the problem arose on November 30 and work began thenext day to gauge the extent of the contamination.
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2.
Novovoronezh Nuclear Plant Denies Radiation Pollution
        Itar Tass
        December 6, 2000
        (for personal use only)

MOSCOW, December 6 (Itar-Tass) - Radiation pollution of a section inthe protective zone of the Novovoronezh nuclear power plant, situated inthe centre of European Russia, has nothing to do with the work of operatingpower units of the station, the press centre of the Rosenergoatom companyreported on Wednesday.

Plant workers took measures to limit access to the area of water dischargeand are conducting work to remove polluted soil and to track down a sourcefor increased radiation background.

The report stresses that the content of radioactive substances in waterand fish of the Don river remains at the level of the years-long average.

Between December 1 and 4, plant workers, while conducting radiationcontrol over the territory of the protective zone near the discharge canalof power units No.1 and 2 (put out of operation), spotted a section witha radiation background topping the natural one.
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3.
Radiation Leak Spotted At Moscow Region Plant
        Anna Badkhen
        Moscow Times
        December 6, 2000
        (for personal use only)

Radiation levels in the soil at the Novovoronezh nuclear power plant,about 475 kilometers south of Moscow, were higher than normal Tuesday,The Associated Press quoted a federal nuclear agency official as saying.

Konstantin Romburger, a spokesman for the Rosenergoatom agency, a subdivisionof the Nuclear Power Ministry, said that he did not know how high the radiationlevel was, but that it did not pose a threat to surrounding areas.

However, the Novovoronezh plant has long been a source of concern forenvironmentalists. It operates two Chernobyl-style VVER-440 nuclear reactorsand three Western-style VVER-1000 reactors. The life span of the VVER-440reactors expires next year.

AP quoted Romburger as saying that the radiation apparently came froma leaking water pipe that is connected to the cooling system of two ofthe Novovoronezh plant's five reactors. Romburger said that the area hasbeen sealed off with barbed wire and that warning signs have been postedaround the area. He added that a special commission would study the effectsof the leak.

Officials at the Nuclear Power Ministry and the Novovoronezh plant deniedthe report.

Vladimir Slivyak, the director for anti-nuclear campaigns with the Moscow-basedEcodefense! Environmental group, said he has never heard of barbed wirebeing installed on the territory of a nuclear power plant. He said he hadno information about the Novovoronezh leak.

Officials at the Voronezh branch of Ecodefense! also had no informationabout the leak. But Alexei Kozlov, one of the heads of the local Ecodefense!branch, said in a telephone interview from Voronezh that his group hadrecently discovered high concentrations of the deadly radionuclide cesium-137in the nearby Don River. He said that the Novovoronezh plant was the onlypossible source of the radioactive element in the river.

The Norwegian environmental group Bellona said Don water samples wereemitting more than 500 microrem per hour, far above acceptable levels of60 microrem per hour.
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4.
News Update [Uranium Production]
        Uranium Institute
        December 5, 2000
        (for personal use only)

[NB00.49-3] Russia wants to double uranium production by 2010 to meetincreasing domestic demand and to export worldwide, according to ValentinShatalov, director of the Russian Chemical Technology Institute. He saidthat Russian production should be increased from the current 2200-2500tonnes to 4000-5000 tonnes by 2010. Russia currently uses more than 8000tonnes annually, half in domestic reactors and half for export. The shortfallis currently being met with inventory. (FreshFuel, 4 December, p4) In aseparate report from the same Institute, concern was expressed that Russia'suranium stockpiles could dry up in 20 years' time. (Ux Weekly, 4 December,p2)
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G. Nuclear Waste

1.
Russia Denies Plan to Build Nuclear Waste Plant
        Agence France Presse
        December 6, 2000
        (for personal use only)

MOSCOW, Dec 6, 2000 -- (Agence France Presse) Russia denied Tuesdayit was planning to build a nuclear waste reprocessing plant near NizhnyNovgorod, 450 kilometers (270 miles) east of Moscow, as environmental activistshad alleged.

"These allegations are completely false and are an example of pure misinformation,"the Russian energy ministry said in a statement.

It said there had never been any question of building such a plant "inthe Nizhny Novgorod region."

Russian environmentalists said last week that the Russian authoritieswere planning to build a plant for reprocessing foreign nuclear waste atSarov, in the central Russian region.

But the ministry said Tuesday that "only people with a sick imaginationor people knew nothing at all" could have suggested that nuclear wastefrom abroad would be stockpiled at Sarov.

The Russian authorities want to amend a 1991 environmental protectionlaw that prohibits importing nuclear waste either for reprocessing or disposal.

Last month, the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, indefinitelypostponed a debate on the proposed amendment, but the atomic energy ministrydefended the reform.

It said amending the 1991 law would permit Russia to sign reprocessingand disposal contracts with China, Germany, Japan, Spain, Switzerland andTaiwan, earning 21 billion dollars over the next 10 years.
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2.
Putin's Nuclear Dump
        Richard Beeston
        The Times (UK)
        December 5, 2000
        (for personal use only)
 
Putin’s contempt for Russia’s environment could lead to nuclear catastrophe.

Russia’s fragile environment is facing its most serious crisis sinceSoviet times, with the Putin Government pushing through reforms that threatenwildlife and nature reserves and raise the prospect of another nuclearcatastrophe. From the dense forests of the Far East — the habitat of theendangered Siberian tiger — to the delicate tundra of the Arctic circle,plans are under way to exploit these great tracts of wilderness. Simultaneously, the Ministry of Atomic Energy is moving ahead with plansto import some 20,000 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel from 14 countries forstorage in sites across Russia.

In the past, the Soviet Union’s environment was sacrificed in the nameof communist progress, but this time huge profits from mining, timber,oil and the nuclear industry are the main prize.

Last week, Russia’s fledgeling environmental movement suffered a damagingblow when attempts to halt the Government and hold a nationwide referendumon the issue were defeated.  Under Russia’s constitution a referendumcan be held if more than two million citizens sign the required petition.Activists succeeded in raising support from 2.5 million people, but, tothe anger of environmentalists, the electoral commission disqualified 600,000signatures. “This was done intentionally to stop us,” says Ivan Blokov,the campaign director at Greenpeace Russia.  “They want to preventall attempts to save the environment. Economic interests have been putabove all else, including human health.”

Most of the blame is being directed at President Putin, who has madeno secret of his contempt for the environmental movement and last yearsuggested it was a front for “foreign secret services”.

One of the first moves he made after his election victory in March wasto abolish the State Environmental Committee and the State Forestry Committee— the main environmental watchdogs — and to place them under the controlof the Natural Resources Ministry, which is responsible for granting commerciallicences.

“It is a bit like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop,” saysThomas Nielsen, of the Norwegian group Bellona, an environmental groupin Russia. “Profits are now the priority over the environment.”

As a result of the move, big staff cuts are being made, which couldsee the disbandment by the end of this year of the 60ong anti-poachingforce in the Far East, which is protecting the remaining 450 Siberian tigers.

Many key jobs are also under threat, from forestry officials to environmentalofficers — who are already badly overstretched and underfunded as theysafeguard the largest country on the planet.

The biggest immediate worry is the nuclear industry. Later this month,a Bill before the Duma, the lower house of Parliament, will prepare theway for the Ministry of Atomic Energy to open up Russia as a storage sitefor imported spent nuclear fuel.

Despite the nation’s appalling experience with nuclear power, the ministrysays that the contracts could be worth £13 billion. But environmentalistsinsist that Russia does not have the capacity to transport and store safelythe 20,000 tonnes of highly radioactive waste at the three proposed sightson the Volga, in the Urals and in Siberia.

Despite the setback over the referendum, some environmentalists insistthat the fight is not over and that Russian public outrage may yet forcethe authorities to back down.

“Whatever the authorities said, we still got more than two million peopleto back us and in that sense we have scored a victory,” says Igor Chestin,the director of the World Wide Fund for Nature in Russia. He insists thatPutin and the Duma could be persuaded to give way to public opinion, whichdemonstrated its power earlier this year with the outcry over the sinkingof the nuclear submarine Kursk.

But the authorities are capable of fighting back — sometimes resortingto old KGB methods of intimidation. Last week, for example, the naval prosecutorin Vladivostok reopened a criminal case against Captain Grigori Pasko,a journalist on a naval publication, who revealed details of the dangerousstate of Russia’s nuclear submarines to Japanese television. Last Julyhe was sentenced to three years, but was released early to take accountof the time he had already spent in detention. A new conviction  wouldprobably lead to a much longer sentence.

Russia’s Natural Resources Ministry has not commented on the case, butdoes say that it could have a constructive relationship with the environmentalmovement as long as it tones down its public campaigns and engages theauthorities instead of challenging them.
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3.
Environmentalists To Appeal Decision on Radioactive Waste Referendum
        British Broadcasting Corporation
        December 2, 2000
        (for personal use only)

Text of report by Russian NTV International television on 30th November

[Presenter] Representatives of the Greenpeace environmental organizationorganized a news conference in Moscow today. They were protesting againstthe decision taken by the Central Electoral Commission yesterday. Hereare the details in a report from Olga Podkopayeva:

[Correspondent] There will be no environmental referendum - this iswhat the Central Electoral Commission decided yesterday. Russians weresupposed to have replied to three questions: should radioactive waste fromother states be banned from entering the country, is a federal centre forprotection of the environment needed, as well as an independent forestryservice?

The signatures were collected over three months. There were 2,490,042of them. But the Central Electoral Commission only recognized 1,800,000of them as valid. The authorities took fright was the comment by representativesfrom Russian environmental organizations at a news conference today.

[Svyatoslav Zabelin, co-chairman of the Social Ecological Union] Itis simply staggering how many times one take fright of our people comingto polling stations to express their opinion on issues concerning them.This is the third time now that they have been scared to death.

[Correspondent] A reason for not recognizing a signature could be anymark in a document, an altered date, for example. A signature was consideredinvalid if the name of the Region was not given in the address.

[Ivan Blokov, campaign director for Russian Greenpeace] If someone writesas the address - Syktyvkar, such-and-such street, Number such-and-such,then the address is deemed insufficient to unambiguously identify the voter.The Central Electoral Commission demands that the address should read thus- Republic of Komi, Syktyvkar, followed by the address.

[Correspondent] The environmentalists are now preparing to appeal againstthe Central Electoral Commission's decision in the Supreme Court. But theyare concerned that the procedures could be dragged out and meanwhile thedecision to bring radioactive waste into our country could be taken withoutthe participation of the public.

[Askhat Kayumov, co-chairman of the Social Ecological Union] I haveheld in my hands documents, for example, showing that the Atomic EnergyMinistry has already concluded an agreement with a shipyard in NizhniyNovgorod Region for the production of an amazing number of containers formoving radioactive waste. There has been no decision yet to bring suchwaste into the country, but the containers have already been ordered.

[Correspondent] The coordinator of the Russian Greenpeace campaigns,Ivan Blokov, has learnt that Swiss firms are continuing talks with theAtomic Energy Ministry on storing their radioactive waste in Russia.
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4.
Russia Plans Reprocessing Plant for Foreign Nuclear Waste
        Agence France Presse
        December 2, 2000
        (for personal use only)

Russian authorities are planning to build a facility to reprocess foreignnuclear waste, even as debate on importing such waste is raging, ecologistshere have charged.

In a statement released by the anti-nuclear group ECODEFENSE on Friday,the ecologists claimed that Russia's nuclear energy ministry plans to buildthe new plant near the city of Nizhny Novgorod east of Moscow.

"The storage and reprocessing facility will be used to manage the foreignwaste that the ministry plans to import in the nearest future," in spiteof the legal ban on importing waste, the ECODEFENSE statement said, quotingunnamed officials who provided relevant documents.

Russia's nuclear energy ministry has recently proposed an amendmentto Russia's parliament, lifting the ban.

The proposal, presented to the parliament earlier this year, sparkedfurious debate and caused ecologists such as Greenpeace to call for a nationalreferendum in order to resolve the issue.

Though the central election committee has rejected Greenpeace's bid,even those deputies responsible for introducing the amendment lobbied parliamentto postpone the debate indefinitely.

Russian nuclear industry could earn an estimated 20 billion dollarsover the next ten years should the ban be lifted, allowing Russia to importsome 20,000 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel from abroad, the ministry officialssaid.

However, environmentalists warn that adding more to Russia's 14,000tonnes of nuclear waste already stored near its nuclear reactors couldspell an ecological disaster for the country.

"Nuclear industry could not design a safe method for utilization ofthe nuclear waste for more than 50 years," ECODEFENSE's co-chairman VladimirSlivyak said in a statement.

"It isn't smart of the Russian government to trust the nuclear ministryanymore," he added.
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