Nuclear Watchdog Chief's Vow

APMalyshev said he was committed to preserving Gosatomnadzor's independence.
New Gosatomnadzor chief Andrei Malyshev said Friday that he was committed to preserving the independence of the nuclear safety watchdog, amid fears that the appointment of an industry insider would spell the end of regulation in the nuclear power sector.

Nuclear safety advocates were caught by surprise in June when Gosatomnadzor's former chief, Yury Vishnevsky, was sent into retirement and replaced with Malyshev, then deputy nuclear minister for power plant construction. Vishnevsky had reached the mandatory retirement age of 60, but most observers expected the government to extend his term.

Critics of the shake-up, including the liberal Yabloko party, believe Vishnevsky was dismissed because he was too critical of the Nuclear Power Ministry. Many accuse the ministry of arranging Malyshev's appointment in an effort to diminish the independence of the watchdog, which issues licenses for civilian nuclear facilities and has the power to fine violators.

"The Nuclear Power Ministry has taken down the last barrier to uncontrolled nuclear expansion in Russia," said Vladimir Chuprov, a nuclear safety campaigner with Greenpeace. "You can expect that in the near future objective independent control will disappear, and the risk of a nuclear accident will sharply rise."

In his first interview since taking the post, Malyshev strongly denied the charge.

"My position when I worked within the Nuclear Power Ministry was that the federal agency that regulates nuclear and radiation safety should be independent. That's the way it is today," he said.

Malyshev said his experience in construction and design gave him the expertise for the job.

"The word 'safety' has permeated me," he said with a laugh.

During nearly 12 years at Gosatomnadzor, Vishnevsky was cautiously critical of the Nuclear Power Ministry. In particular, he spoke out against a 2001 law allowing the import of spent nuclear fuel for reprocessing, arguing that Russia simply was not ready to take on such a risky endeavor.

That issue will be a test of Malyshev's commitment to safety, said Alexander Nikitin, a St. Petersburg-based expert with the Norwegian environmental group Bellona. No spent fuel has been imported yet under the new law, and it will be up to Gosatomnadzor to license such projects.

Malyshev said he would judge each import project individually.

"The environmentalists are always against. Against what? They say it will just be bad in general. Well, it can't just be bad in general," Malyshev said. "You need to look at the law and answer the question: Is this particular project safe according to these criteria?"