Russia votes to accept other countries’ nuclear waste

The Russian parliament, the Duma, has approved by a large margin a controversial proposal that permits the import of other countries’ nuclear waste for reprocessing as a source of income for the cash-strapped nation.

A total of 256 deputies voted in favour while only 125 were against the plan, which supporters, including the Atomic Energy Ministry, say could earn the nation some $20 million over the next 10 years, which could be used to clean up Russian regions such as the Kola Peninsula (see related story) polluted by radioactive waste from the Soviet-era nuclear programme. The plan will allow the import of high-level nuclear waste, including spent nuclear fuel from power plants which would either be stored in perpetuity in Siberia or reprocessed into nuclear fuel and exported.

However, members of the Russian Academy of Science sent an open letter to the Duma’s deputies and President Vladimir Putin urging them not to approve the plan and to find alternative solutions for the existing pollution problems. “In case of massive [nuclear waste] introduction, the inevitable side-effects would endanger the life of Russia’s residents for hundreds of years,” the letter stated. Other opponents worry that the nuclear waste import risks making Russia the world’s nuclear dump, claiming that the country can’t cope with its existing waste, and doubt whether the money will be used as promised. Environmentalists from Russia’s Green Party picketed the Duma’s building and chained themselves to its entrance after the decision.

“To make such profit there must be approximately 20,000 tonnes imported at a price of $1,000 per kilo,” commented Vladimir Slivyak, director of the anti-nuclear Russian NGO, Ecodefense!. “Such an ‘economic programme’ may hardly be implemented since Minatom [the Atomic Energy Ministry] was never able to arrange a single contract for reprocessing with the price higher than $620 per kilo.”

None of the three related bills, which must now be approved by the upper house of parliament and President Putin before being implemented, provides details on how long the imported waste would be stored.

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