RUSSIA The Ministry for Atomic Energy (MINATOM) has signed a ‘protocol of intent’ with German and Swiss companies to import spent fuel and waste to Russia for reprocessing and storage, according to Greenpeace Russia. The document was signed by MINATOM officials and the ministry’s subcontractor Techsnabexport and German Internexco and Swiss EGL (Electrizitatagesellschaft Laufenberg AG).

Greenpeace says this is in contravention of Russia’s Environmental Law (part 3 of Article 50) and Governmental Decree no 773 dated 29 June 1995, which prohibit storage of foreign nuclear and radioactive waste on the territory of the Russian Federation. The decree also obliges MINATOM to return any radioactive waste, generated in the process of reprocessing, to the country of origin within 30 years.

However, the new protocol of intent assures the Western parties that current legislation can be amended or bypassed.

MINATOM spokesman, Yuri Bespalko insists the protocol “is of the most preliminary nature and is not obliging anyone to do anything”. The countries “have only stated their positions and expressed their intent to cooperate”.

EGL does not want to take back any waste generated during reprocessing, and welcomes MINATOM’s intention to amend the law. However, the Swiss would take back any plutonium. And if the fuel were not processed for plutonium extraction, the Swiss side requested the right to access Russian plutonium stocks equivalent to those contained in the Swiss fuel.

According to the protocol, Switzerland has 2000 t of reprocessable spent fuel, including 300 t that are ready for shipment. The preliminary shipment schedules are defined for the period 2000 to 2030, presuming 50-60 t is shipped each year.

EGL has also asked Russia to accept 550 m3 of highly radioactive waste, from reprocessed Swiss spent fuel, for final disposal.

While MINATOM officials accepted the Swiss proposal in principle, they asked for a line to be added to the protocol expressing dissatisfaction over the price and demanding further negotiations.

Herbert Bay, part of the Swiss nuclear industry delegation, said the document was genuine but that it only represented the beginning of negotiations, not a final deal.

“We are decades away from a deal,” he said.

Bay denied the document was secret, saying it was confidential because negotiations were still under way. He also dismissed the environmental group’s charge that international agreements were being violated. He explained that the protocol specifically stated a number of necessary prerequisites – including approval from the United States, Russian and Swiss governments – for the agreement to be made final.

“This is an immoral attempt to exploit Russian poverty and lack of regulatory control,” comments Damon Moglen, a Greenpeace campaigner in Washington.