InfoBeat - Update: Russia nuclear waste bill advances
By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV
Associated Press Writer
MOSCOW (AP) - In a landmark vote that critics say will turn
Russia into the planet's nuclear dump, Russian lawmakers defied
broad public opposition and on Wednesday passed a law allowing
nuclear waste to be imported and stored indefinitely.
Proponents say the measure will create jobs and bring in
billions of dollars to needy government coffers. They vow to use
some of the riches to clean up radioactive swathes of the world's
largest country that have been scarred by decades of Soviet nuclear
Opponents question whether the money will be really used as
promised, and whether Russia is equipped to safely handle the
expected quantities of spent foreign nuclear fuel.
Russia's safety record is spotty at its underfunded nuclear
power plants and nuclear weapons facilities. Corruption among
officials is rife. And some prominent scientists say the cost of
building or upgrading waste reprocessing facilities would outstrip
``Our citizens are against turning Russia into an outhouse,''
Sergei Mitrokhin of the liberal Yabloko faction said during
Wednesday's debate in the lower house of parliament, or State Duma.
Nonetheless, the 450-member house approved the three-bill
package after a 20-minute debate on votes of 266-117, 243-125, and
250-125. For passage, 226 votes were needed on each bill.
The measure must pass the upper house, the Federation Council,
and be signed by President Vladimir Putin in order to become law.
Federation Council speaker Yegor Stroyev said the bill would
likely pass the upper house, but only after some ``corrections,''
ITAR-Tass reported. ``First, it is necessary to create guarantees
that this decision will not cause any trouble for future
generations,'' he said, without elaborating.
Putin did not comment publicly on the bill Wednesday, but its
relatively smooth passage in the Duma suggested it had backing from
While opinion polls show most Russians oppose the idea, there is
little sign that the issue will prompt mass public protest in a
country where most people are more worried about pocketbooks than
The Atomic Energy Ministry claims it could earn up to $20
billion by importing 22,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel over 10
``I am voting for this bill because I don't want places in my
country remaining dead zones, contaminated by radiation,'' said
Deputy Yegor Ligachev, a Communist and a former member of the
Soviet Union's ruling Politburo.
Even if there is money to spare for the cleanup, the task is
Russian towns, rivers and permafrost were exposed to radioactive
pollution during the secretive development of the Soviet nuclear
industry, and environmentalists say they remain dangerously
Dmitry Ayatskov, a Federation Council member and governor of the
Nizhny Novgorod region, home of a huge nuclear research center,
said he would oppose the bill. ``We have our own waste to deal
with. I have firsthand knowledge of nuclear safety problems,'' he
The environmental group Greenpeace, which has campaigned
intensively against the bill, urged President Bush to veto
shipments of spent nuclear fuel to Russia.
The group said 92.5 percent of the radioactive waste produced by
Russia's potential client nations is under U.S. control. The United
States has built reactors for and exported fuel to countries around
the world under deals requiring U.S. approval for any transfer of
spent nuclear fuel.
``U.S. permission for the export of spent nuclear fuel to Russia
would be a clear contradiction of the most fundamental U.S. nuclear
non-proliferation policy,'' Greenpeace nuclear campaigner Tobias
Without U.S. approval, Muenchmeyer said, potential waste
exporters would be China, Eastern Europe and former Soviet states
that have Soviet-built nuclear plants. But Russia already accepts
spent fuel rods from Ukraine, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Hungary under
Soviet-era contracts, and they pay far less than Western nations
Norway has expressed concern that the waste could be transported
by ship near its Arctic coast. Norwegian Foreign Ministry
spokeswoman Gry Haaheim said Wednesday that Norway plans to work
actively to get other countries not to send waste.