Moscow targets waste market

28 May 1999

Russian Nuclear Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov says Russia must fight for its place on the world market for nuclear waste or it will be pushed out by other countries. He told the Duma (lower house) that “Russia must fight for its place on this market and capture it or it will be forced out from it by France, Britain and China.” Adamov argues that Russia must import and process nuclear waste from other countries and estimates the size of the world nuclear waste market at 150 000 tonnes and $150 billion. Adamov believes that revenue from nuclear waste import and processing could be an important source of funds to support the ailing Russian economy. “Management of this fuel has a potential of $10-15 billion a year,” Adamov said in a letter to former Russian prime minister Yevgeny Primakov. He concluded by suggesting the only roadblock is current Russian environmental legislation. Russian Environmental Law prohibits the import of foreign nuclear waste. Presidential decree No 733 obliges MINATOM to return any radioactive waste generated during the reprocessing of spent fuel to its country of origin within 30 years. MINATOM hopes to change the way spent fuel is classified “from waste to resource or raw material”, creating a loophole in environmental legislation through which spent fuel imports could pass. Russian Duma member and deputy chair of the Parliamentary Environmental Commission, Vladimir Tetelmin, told the Norwegian environmental group, Bellona, that there are plans to distinguish between nuclear waste and spent nuclear fuel for a revision of Russian Environmental Law. However, he did not think Russia would find any foreign customers because waste from reprocessed spent fuel would have to be returned to the country of origin. “I doubt Western Europe would have it back, therefore there won’t be any contracts,” he said. While there is widespread support for a change in the law in the Duma, Russian officials have been at pains to deny any plans to import and store foreign wastes. “This will not be considered”, insists Boris Nikipelov, a special advisor at MINATOM. Nikipelov was commenting on an article in The Wall Street Journal which alleged that there have been consultations between American and Russian government officials and representatives from the American company Non Proliferation Trust Inc on the possible storage in Russia of nuclear waste from Taiwan, South Korea and other countries. According to company estimates, this project would net revenue of $6 billion for Russia, $4 billion of which could be used to increase safety at Russian nuclear plants and for environmental projects. Nikipelov confirmed that MINATOM is considering the possible temporary storage and processing of foreign spent fuel to raise funds for ecological and social programmes. According to Russian specialists, a facility for the temporary storage of used nuclear fuel would cost $500 - 700 million and could create revenue of about $5 billion over a 15 - 20 year period. The construction of a $2 billion facility for the processing of used fuel would increase revenue to $15 billion.

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