SOCIO-ECOLOGICAL UNION
NUCLEAR INFORMATION AND RESOURCE SERVICE


For Immediate Release
July 7, 1999

Contact: Michael Mariotte, 1-202-328-0002
Vladimir Slivyak, 7-095-7766546

WORLD'S NUCLEAR WASTE TO GO TO RUSSIA?
NEW SCHEME WOULD SEND FUEL, PLUTONIUM TO RUSSIA FOR STORAGE

The Russian nuclear agency Minatom and the Non-Proliferation Trust (NPT), a private U.S. non-profit entity, have signed an agreement clearing the way for development work to start on a 6000-ton dry storage facility for spent fuel imported into Russia. Necessary approvals still must be obtained from the U.S. and Russian governments, and each side is to finance its own activities.

The Non-Proliferation Trust is an outgrowth of U.S. Fuels and Security, which was formed to develop an international spent fuel storage facility on Wake Island in the Pacific. Its principals include Admiral Daniel Murphy, a former chief of staff to President Bush; former CIA director William Webster; retired Admiral Bruce Demars, a former chief of the Navy's reactor program; and entrepreneur Alex Copson. But in an unlikely alliance, the project also is being advised and promoted by Thomas Cochran of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a U.S. environmental and non-proliferation organization. According to officials of Russian environmental groups that visited the U.S. this Spring, Cochran said he believes the project would help secure Russian plutonium.

"This project is a violation of several Russian laws which ban the import of high-level waste into Russia," said Vladimir Slivyak of the Antinuclear campaign of Socio-Ecological Union, an umbrella organization composed of some 300 groups across the former Soviet Union. "Russian environmental groups are shocked by the NPT and NRDC activity which has nothing in common with environmental principles and unethically promotes the interest of the western nuclear industry, whose main concern is to get rid of its own nuclear waste."

"The world has huge problems with its radioactive waste, but sending it to Russia is not the answer," said Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), a Washington-based international environmental group. "While we are sympathetic to NRDC's proliferation concerns, this plan really represents the ultimate in 'not in my backyard' thinking. The only real beneficiaries of this scheme are nuclear utilities and the NPT personnel."

Under the NPT proposal, the organization would import commercial irradiated fuel containing up to 50 tons of fissile plutonium and store it in dry casks. The fuel could come from many countries, especially in western Europe. The NPT organization would collect fees from the utilities and nations exporting the fuel. At the same time, the NPT would use some of its fees to lease up to 50 tons of weapons plutonium from Minatom and store it at a facility currently under construction at Mayak. Although the NPT is being characterized as a non-profit entity, the principals are experienced at for-profit enterprises and presumably will receive business-level compensation.

Reprocessing of the fuel reportedly would be prohibited under the agreement between the NPT and Minatom. But Slivyak expressed doubt that Minatom would honor any such commitment. "Minatom several times has stated it intends to reprocess the foreign spent fuel," said Slivyak. Plutonium extracted through reprocessing can be used for nuclear weapon production and also in the MOX program of Russia. This program includes using the old, dangerous Soviet-designed reactors and reprocessing facilities. Russia's greatest nuclear catastrophe happened at the Mayak plutonium producing facility in 1957. The Mayak complex also will be used for Russia's MOX fuel program, which would use plutonium from warheads and reprocessing as fuel for commercial nuclear power reactors.

"Mayak causes many safety concerns among the Russian public, who do not trust Minatom, which is responsible for the site," explained Slivyak. "Moreover," he added, "Russian environmental and peace groups argue that if Minatom cannot meet legislative requirements even at the stage of signing an agreement, there is no hope the agency will protect the environment and public health and safety in the vastly more complex and difficult MOX program. The Russian Minatom and the U.S.-based NPT must respect the nation's environmental laws and step away from this agreement."

Earlier this year NIRS released a letter from Minatom chief Yevgeney Adamov to U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, in which Adamov proposed that the U.S. solve its high-level waste problem by shipping its irradiated fuel to Minatom, which would then reprocess it. Richardson reportedly declined the offer. NPT says the large sum of money it will provide to Minatom if it accepts the foreign high-level nuclear waste will allow safety improvements at Russian nuclear facilities.

"The world's nuclear industry, through NPT, is just searching for an opportunity to solve the problem with waste by organizing a worldwide nuclear dump site in Russia," said Slivyak. "Sending of nuclear garbage from other countries to Russia will never improve safety, but will contribute to Minatom's policy of nuclear genocide against the Russian population. If the U.S. administration goes along with NPT's plan, the genocide will become international."

U.S. law prohibits the shipping of U.S.-origin irradiated fuel to nations that do not have an Agreement for Cooperation with the U.S. Russia does not have such an agreement with the U.S. More than, the fuel in the world is classified as of U.S. origin, and thus would be prohibited by U.S. from being sent to Russia, unless an Agreement of Cooperation were drafted and signed or a presidential waiver granted.

"We call on President Clinton and Energy Secretary Bill Richardson to quickly and adamantly reject this scheme," said Mariotte. "Sending 6,000 tons of lethal irradiated fuel, including 50 tons of fissile plutonium, across the world to central Russia is the most hazardous and incomprehensible atomic waste transport program yet contemplated," added Mariotte. "The nuclear industry has to get one thing clear: it is responsible for its own nuclear garbage and the world's environmental movement will actively oppose any scheme to dump the industry's waste on other peoples."