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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Defends Nuclear Dumping Off Japan

Russian environmental officials announced Monday that the government had dumped liquid nuclear waste into the Sea of Japan and said the practice would continue, despite protests by Japan and a worldwide moratorium on such disposal of radioactive material.


According to the officials, the low-level waste, amounting to 900 cubic meters, was dumped Saturday into the Sea of Japan and poses no threat to the waters, which are a commercial fishing area.


The dumping occurred just three days after President Boris Yeltsin's visit to Tokyo, where he signed agreements with Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa saying that dumping was harmful. Ecology Ministry officials, however, said that the president had not been informed in advance of Saturday's dumping, which originally had been scheduled for Oct. 9, "since the details were not known at the time".


Yevgeny Romanov of the Russian Navy said that an additional 800 cubic meters would be dumped at sea by Nov. 15. He added that Russia generates about 20, 060 cubic meters of low-level radioactive waste per year.


Romanov reiterated at the press conference that the dumping only involved a small amount of radioactivity, which would be quickly diluted in the sea.


"It was a few curies, only a small amount", said Vitaly Lystsov, an ecological safety expert at the ministry, referring to the standard unit used to measure radioactivity. "We used to dump thousands of curies".


Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kokeyev said Monday that Japanese officials had been warned in advance, but Japanese authorities said they had no prior knowledge of the dumping.


"We heard about the dumping through the press", said a Japanese diplomat at the Moscow embassy, who declined to be named. "On Saturday we contacted the Russian authorities who told us they could not comment since it was not a working day. On Monday afternoon we asked the Russian ambassador to clarify the situation".


The waste originates from a ship-repairing plant, which repairs nuclear submarines in Bely Kamen, near the Far Eastern city of Vladivostok.


Rybalsky said that this was the first time that governments and the International Atomic Energy Agency had been informed of the dumping ahead of time.


IAEA spokesman Hans Meyer said Monday in a telephone interview that the agency had been warned, adding that the moratorium on dumping at sea was not legally binding and therefore allowed.


"We can only take note of the action, which they said was on a one-time basis, there is little we can do", he said. "It is their sovereign decision".


In May this year, Russia for the first time admitted that it had dumped nuclear waste in the past at sea, in a paper titled the "White Book".


Russian Ecology Ministry officials acknowledged that the dumping was dangerous, adding however that Russia had no other choice since the two tankers involved were in "an emergency condition".