Russia’s Federation Council (parliamentary upper house) is considering amendments to environmental protection and leasing laws, which would allow imports of nuclear waste from foreign power plants. Specialists from the Nuclear Power Ministry (MINATOM), the nuclear inspectorate Gosatomnadzor (GAN), and other federal ministries will argue for their acceptance.

Currently, both Russian environmental law and a governmental decree, prohibit storage of foreign nuclear and radioactive waste. The decree obliges MINATOM to return radioactive waste generated during reprocessing within 30 years.

By amending the law, Russia hopes to earn $5-6 billion.

Opposition to the proposal is focusing around the Social-Ecological Union (SEU) Chairman Alexei Yablokov. Last year Greenpeace made public documents showing that MINATOM had held secret talks with the government of Switzerland and with Swiss energy firms on the possibility of Russia taking Swiss waste. The SEU also made public a letter from Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov to US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, containing a proposal that the US should send Russia its waste.

Russian environmentalists believe MINATOM is prepared to reprocess nuclear waste for $300 per kilogram; the service costs over $1000 in the West.

The only operational reprocessing facility in Russia – the Mayak plant in Siberia – is currently capable of reprocessing VVER-440 and BN-600 fuel, as well as from maritime PWR reactors. Another reprocessing plant, designed to deal with VVER-1000 fuel, located in Krasnoyarsk, is 30% complete. Krasnoyarsk has a 6000 ton storage facility, which is now 35% full. 1500 tons of fuel should arrive from domestic nuclear power plants in the next decade, leaving spare capacity of at least 1000 tons.