Nuclear Waste Piling Up at Russia's Overloaded Facilities

MOSCOW, June 23, 2004

New report by Vladimir Slivyak and Alisa Nikoulina from Ecodefense

At a time when the G8 and the United States want to stop the spread of uranium and plutonium, Russia plans to produce more of these materials. Making clear their opposition to the Russian import of other countries' nuclear fuel, the authors say Russian policy is, in fact, the reprocessing of imported nuclear waste, and the extraction of plutonium from it.

President Vladimir Putin signed three laws to allow spent fuel imports into Russia in the spring of 2001, over the opposition of the vast majority of Russian citizens.

According to 2001 public opinion polls, 93 percent of Russian citizens opposed the import of spent nuclear fuel. A poll in 2002 found that about 90 percent of Russians fear nuclear energy. In 2002, on the 16th anniversary of the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, protest actions against importing spent nuclear fuel were held in 82 Russian cities.

The report stresses that Russian nuclear waste facilities are in poor condition. The two major facilities working with spent nuclear fuel are Mayak and Krasnoyarsk-26:

Mayak, near Ozersk City in Russia's Chelyabinsk region, is the country's only spent nuclear fuel reprocessing facility, while Krasnoyarsk-26, in Zheleznogorsk, stores spent fuel but does not reprocess it.

Russian nuclear warheads are reprocessed at Mayak as well as spent nuclear fuel. Highly enriched uranium (HEU) from the warheads is converted to an HEU oxide on their way to becoming reactor fuel.

Security around Russian nuclear waste facilities is very low, which is proved by several examples in the report "Anyone who is able to pay some hundreds of Rubles (US$20-30) to the security guards, can get into the secured areas" , the report explains, that the social situation in many closed nuclear sites is "socially unfavorable," for personnel. "Alcohol and drug addictions are widespread."

Any country sending nuclear waste to Russia must understand that there is a high risk that the waste might end up in the hands of terrorists and could be used for weapons of mass destruction. Also, the transport of spent nuclear fuel is vulnerable to terrorist attack. Since the laws permitting import of spent nuclear fuel came into effect in June 2001, about 10 trains carrying spent nuclear fuel have arrived in Russia from Ukraine and Bulgaria.

In the beginning of 2003, for the first time in Russian history, spent nuclear fuel reprocessing was suspended at Mayak because the government revoked its license for violations of nuclear regulations.

Unless import of spent nuclear fuel is stopped, Russia will become the world's leading nation by amount of radioactive waste, and by the number of nuclear waste dumps.

Download the report (in English)