Russia-US nuclear waste deal sparks protests

Russia may soon be able to import spent nuclear fuel originating in the US, after the White House announced it will open talks on a civilian nuclear agreement with the Putin administration.

The news signals a major change in US policy, which has so far ruled out the re-processing and storage of US-produced nuclear fuel in Russia due to concerns over safety and Russia’s nuclear cooperation with Iran.

The announcement sparked protests and led to several arrests in St Petersburg, where the G8 talks are to be held this weekend. Thirteen environmental activists engaged in a peaceful protest were detained on Tuesday, and most of them arrested on charges of “disobeying the police.”

Russia has been importing radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel for re-processign and storage since legislation allowing this was introduced in 2001. The fact that the only re-processing plant in the country – Mayak – cannot deal with all the types of fuel imported increases Russia’s function as a radioactive waste storage facility.

The new deal with the US would open up many new pathways for nuclear waste to enter Russia, and presents an opportunity for lucrative deals with South Korea, Taiwan and other countries that use US-produced nuclear fuel.

Rosatom, the Russian atomic energy agency, already receives spent nuclear fuel from Western European countries, Bulgaria and the Ukraine.

Environmental groups expressed concerns about the “thousands of tonnes of nuclear waste” that would enter Russia via the new route.

Vladimir Slivyak of the Ecodefence campaign group – who was among those detained during Tuesday’s protests – said: “Over the last 10 years Rosatom is purposefully trying to transform Russia into an international radioactive waste dump.

“No country can solve the issue of safe nuclear waste decommissioning in 50 years, and the present actions of the Russian authorities are a crime against the Russian population”

Euro MP and anti-nuclear campaigner Rebecca Harms said: “I believe that Russia should be proud of its young activists, who stand out against the dirty deal on transforming Russia into international nuclear repository. They are real citizens.”

Goska Romanowicz

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