Duma blocks nuclear exports

29 October 1999

MINATOM has warned that a proposed change in Russian law could endanger the export of nuclear materials. An amendment to the law on the use of atomic energy would make every export deal subject to a new piece of legislation.

The State Duma has adopted the amendment, now it has to go before the upper chamber, the federation council. The change would cover the export of nuclear fuel and radioactive substances. Only radioactive materials for medical purposes would be excluded. Opponents point out that it would take about a year to adopt a new law for each specific contract and no Western company would be willing to tolerate such a delay.

First Deputy Minister of Atomic Energy, Valentin Ivanov, says the amendment would put Russian nuclear exporters out of business. Russia signs hundreds of nuclear export contracts a year. MINATOM contracts have been earning about $2 billion a year. Ivanov said MINATOM will lobby the Federation Council to reject the amendment.

Efforts to lift the legislative ban on Russia’s import of spent nuclear fuel have received a boost. The chairman of the state committee for environmental protection, Viktor Danilov-Danilian, has made clear his support for a revision of the law which currently prohibits spent fuel imports for storage and reprocessing. Danilian agreed to support fuel imports because the money earned could be used to improve overall radwaste management in Russia.

Promoters of the revision, notably MINATOM, had faced opposition from the state committee, but the two sides have hammered out terms for draft amendments. The government has submitted new proposals to the State Duma, which on 24 September held its first reading of a bill amending the Law on Environmental Protection to allow spent fuel imports to Russia. MINATOM had failed to persuade Russian cabinet members to approve amendments and forward them to the State Duma for consideration in late August but the Duma took up the issue on its own account.

MINATOM is lobbying to separate the issues of spent fuel and radioactive waste in the bill amending the Law on Environmental Protection. The current law prohibits the import of radioactive materials, but if ‘spent fuel’ and ‘radioactive waste’ are seen as separate issues, fuel will be considered a resource eligible for import. The amendments have received support from all Duma factions, except Yabloko, a reformers’ minority in the parliament.

Importing foreign spent fuel for reprocessing has long been MINATOM’s ambition but plans were stalled some six years ago when the construction of a new reprocessing plant, RT-2, in Krasnoyarsk, Western Siberia, was put on hold due to the lack of funding. The scheme was recently revived by the US based Non-Proliferation Trust (NPT) which also raised the possibility of storage of 10 000 tonnes of nuclear fuel in Russia. MINATOM extended this to include import of unlimited amounts of spent fuel.

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