MINATOM to attack reprocessing market

27 August 1998

Nuclear officials in Moscow say a new law on imports of nuclear materials could pave the way for Russia to enter the world market for fuel reprocessing. A spokesman for the Nuclear Society of Russia says parliamentary specialists believe the draft law, which would permit the import of spent nuclear fuel to Russia for the first time since 1992, now seems likely to be adopted by the autumn session of the State Duma.

Atomic energy minister Yevgeny Adamov says the legislation could result in Russia dramatically increasing its share in the world market for spent fuel management, and predicts possible annual revenue of $5-6 billion over the next 10 years. Russia’s reprocessing facility near Chelyabinsk (Mayak), has some experience reprocessing LWR fuel, eg from Finland’s Loviisa reactors. Another facility under construction at Krasnoyarsk in Siberia would also be able to handle this fuel if it were completed.

In 1992, the parliament adopted an environmental law, one article of which expressly forbade “the import of radioactive waste and materials from other states... with the purpose of their storage or disposal”. This allowed for no exceptions and meant that Russia lost the chance not only to pursue new reprocessing contracts, but also to fulfil existing ones inherited from the Soviet Union for reprocessing and disposal of waste from Soviet-design reactors in other countries.

However, in order to get round this ban, a subsequent presidential decree and government resolution made it possible for Russia to continue accepting spent fuel for reprocessing from Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Lithuania and the former satellite countries of Eastern Europe. However, other foreign contracts, which the Nuclear Society says could have been worth several billion dollars, “failed”. As examples, it cites a potential long-term contract with Taiwan in 1992 where Russia “lost” about $2 billion, and negotiations with South Korea, Switzerland and Austria which had to be halted, with estimated lost profits amounting to $5-6 billion.

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