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Ecologists Decry Arrival of Nuclear Waste

About 30 members of St. Petersburg’s ecological organizations protested on Thursday the transportation of nuclear waste from other countries to Russia.
“No to the Import of Nuclear Waste!” read the slogan held by a group of ecologists in front of Avtovo metro station — the area of the city through which trains transporting nuclear waste from Europe usually pass.
“We are protesting nuclear transportation through St. Petersburg,” said Rashid Alimov, co-chairman of the ECOperestroika ecological organization at a press conference on Thursday. “We also declare the start of a public campaign against the construction of a terminal for receiving radioactive waste cargo in the port of Ust-Luga,” he said.
The protest was prompted by the arrival of the ship MV Schouwenbank loaded with 1,250 tons of depleted uranium hexafluoride from Germany to St. Petersburg on Thursday. It was the biggest transfer of German radioactive waste to Russia in history, ECOperestroika said.
“Another shipment of radioactive waste to Russia is arriving despite such activities being completely illegal, and in violation of the promises of the Russian Nuclear Energy State Corporation, or RosAtom, to stop the import of so-called uranium tailings,” Alimov wrote earlier on the organization’s web site.
“The transportation of such cargo is extremely dangerous. It is fraught with incidents in which containers have become depressurized, which can lead to the poisoning of a large number of people, and to the toxic and radioactive pollution of large areas, including Russia’s big cities,” he said.
Alimov said ecologists intend to measure radiation levels in the vicinity of the current cargo along its route through Russia.
At the end of the protest, police detained Alimov for what they called “the violation of fire safety rules and rules on holding public events,” said Vera Ponomaryova, representative of ECOperestroika.
Russia has already accumulated more than 700,000 tons of uranium hexafluoride.
The uranium tailings being sent to Russia belong to Urenco, a western European company, whose shareholders are the two major energy firms E.On and RWE. Urenco has a contract with RosAtom, during the term of which cargos of waste have already been shipped to Novouralsk in the Sverdlov Oblast, Seversk in the Tomsk Oblast, Angarsk in the Irkutsk Oblast and Zelenogorsk in the Krasnoyarsk region.
The annual reports of Russian Technical Watch for 2003-2007 showed that the safety norms for the storage of such waste were not met at any of the enterprises in the above cities. The tailings are kept outside, and there were also cases of containers becoming depressurized, ECOperestroika said.
The transportation of the tailings began on the night of March 12 from a uranium plant in Gronau, Germany. The shipment of the cargo from railway sidings to the ship took 36 hours, the environmental group said.
Vladimir Slyvnyak, co-chairman of the Ecozashchita (Ecological Defense) group, said that when sending its tailings to Russia, Urenco tries to find the cheapest way to get rid of the responsibility for radioactive and toxic waste.
“We demand a stop to this cynical and immoral business that contradicts the Russian legislation,” Slyvnyak said.
From St. Petersburg port, the train with the tailings will go to the city of Novouralsk. The train travels through St. Petersburg, passing by residential buildings, ECOperestroika said.
Last year a train carrying similar nuclear waste from Germany was discovered by ecologists near residential buildings in the city’s Avtovo district. The ecologists measured the radiation background near the containers and found that it exceeded the normal level of background radiation by 30 times, environmental groups said.
Oleg Bodrov, head of the Green World ecological organization based in the town of Sosnovy Bor in the Leningrad Oblast, said that the Ust-Luga port west of St. Petersburg is currently building new infrastructure for the import and export of nuclear materials. In two years cargos of nuclear waste will be transported via Ust-Luga, he said.
“This is a threat for the Kurgalsky peninsula,” Bodrov said.
Nuclear experts recognize the danger from the transportation of uranium tailings. The British nuclear company BNFL has said that “the sudden emission of a large quantity of uranium hexafluoride, if taken by the wind, may lead to a large number of victims. Theoretically, in certain weather conditions the deadly concentrations may spread over a radius of 32 kilometers from the place of emission.”
RosAtom’s press-service said on Thursday that deliveries of depleted uranium hexafluoride or OGFU is carried out on the basis of contracts signed by Technabexport in the mid 1990s, and that the ministry will end the agreement in 2009-2010, Interfax reported.
“In 2009-2010 the old contracts on the additional concentration of OGFU will run out, and we will not prolong them or sign new contracts,” said Igor Konyshyev, head of RosAtom’s public relations department. “We said it in 2007, and we will keep our word.”
Konyshev said the “various enterprises of RosAtom possess more effective technologies for the enrichment of uranium than European enterprises.” Russian technologies enable OGFU of European origin to be used as a raw material for producing U-235 — the isotope used for the production of fuel for nuclear power stations, he said.
Starting in 1996, under such contracts Russia has received more than 80,000 tons of uranium tailings from Europe. Ecologists say that by the end of 2009, another 20 tons of waste is to be delivered to Russia.
Russia and other countries have currently accumulated several million tons of OGFU. In the U.S. such waste officially became considered as radioactive waste in 2005. European countries do not consider the substance to be radioactive waste, and send it for burial to Russia.
RosAtom head Sergei Kiriyenko said earlier that after the OGFU is enriched in Russia, it is returned to its country of origin, Interfax reported.
Protests against the import of nuclear waste to Russia are also taking place in other Russian cities, including Yekaterinburg. On Monday ecologists plan to hold a protest action in front of RosAtom’s office in Moscow.
By Irina Titova
Special to The St. Petersburg Times