EC and environmentalists fear nuclear threat to Russia

An EC commissioner has spoken out on the threat of Russia’s nuclear graveyards and environmental groups staged protests in 20 cities against a government proposal to import nuclear waste on a commercial basis.

On 18 January in Moscow, the EC’s Commissioner for External Relations Chris Patten spoke out on the Commission’s worries over the safety of decaying nuclear submarines. In the same week, Russian environmental groups organised the first day in a series of nationwide protests against the Ministry of Atomic Power’s (Minatom) proposal, which has already been approved by the lower house of the Russian parliament, the Duma, for a first reading of three laws. The laws would allow Minatom to store and reprocess foreign spent nuclear fuel in Russia.

“There is a wide range of nuclear safety issues which need to be tackled. But there is no case so dramatic as that of nuclear safety and submarines,” Patten said. “In the seas and on the shores surrounding the Kola peninsula, there are some 300 nuclear reactors, about 20% of the world’s total and thousands of spent nuclear fuel elements. “The lack of adequate storage or disposal facilities for spent fuel and radioactive waste from the reactors of nuclear vessels is a sword of Damocles hanging over all our futures.”

Patten said that the Commission and the incoming Swedish Presidency of the EU are very keen to see quicker progress in international efforts to address the problem. He affirmed that there would have to be rapid decisions on issues of sovereignty, finance and legality to allow the Multilateral Nuclear Environment Programme in the Russian Federation (MNEPR) to clear up the radioactive material.

On 15 January, protests organised by the environmental coalition, Socio-Ecological Union, and involving environmentalists and local politicians from across the political spectrum, took place in 20 cities from the west to Siberia. One political party, Yabloko, has called for nationwide resistance to the Minatom plan.

At present, the import of nuclear waste is prohibited under Russian law, and the new laws will have to pass second and third readings, and approval from President Vladimir Putin.

A damning new report on the dangers of transporting of radioactive materials across Russia is to be released during the week at the National Press Institute in Moscow.

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