Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ecology Minister Calls For Ban on Waste Imports

Russia's top ecology official announced Wednesday that he is seeking to ban all imports of waste to Russia, following a series of scandals over imports of everything from dead British batteries to heavily polluted French kobalt sludge.

Ecology Minister Viktor Danilov-Danilyan, who is also a member of the State Duma, told a press conference that he planned to propose a ban on all waste imports later this year and predicted that the government would probably adopt it early next year.

He also said a recent agreement between Russia and Hungary for storage of Hungarian nuclear waste on Russian territory was illegal.

Earlier attempts to restrict imports of Western waste, by requiring licenses for material designated for recycling or reuse, had failed to keep out hazardous waste as many firms managed to avoid the required ecological tests, Danilov-Danilyan said. Many of the recycling deals were mere guises for dumping, he added.

The environmental movement Greenpeace announced in November 1993 that it had documented 96 attempts by Western firms to send waste to Russia over the past six years, adding that much more Western trash entered the country unnoticed. Paint residues, dead batteries and metal sludge were among the items sent in, mostly from Germany, the report said.

The Ecology Ministry had dismissed the Greenpeace report as an exaggeration, but earlier this month it warned local ecology committees and customs officials that the number of waste import scams was on the rise.

Danilov-Danilyan also protested a recent bilateral agreement in which Russia agreed to process and store nuclear waste from a Hungarian atomic power plant. He said the Nuclear Power Ministry had ignored his objection that Russia's main ecology law bans imports of radioactive waste.

Russia also accepts radioactive waste from Finland, the Czech and Slovak Republics and Bulgaria. The deputy nuclear power minister, Viktor Sidorenko, said earlier this year that Russia is obliged to fulfill contracts signed by the Soviet Union, which built the power plants and agreed to take back spent nuclear fuel.

Danilov-Danilyan countered that the contracts only obliged the Soviet Union to accept nuclear waste for processing, not for storage.

In one of the most recent waste trade scams, an Israeli middleman sent 1,000 tons of French kobalt sludge for smelting to a plant in Orsk, near the Kazakh border.

According to the chief ecological inspector in the region, Viktor Pyanov, the load turned out to contain cadmium, zinc and thallium, a heavily toxic metal used in many pesticides. The factory cannot safely process or store waste that contains thallium and earlier this month was forced to send the trainload back to France, Pyanov said.

The French government has agreed to take back the load but is still negotiating with the Russian government over the transfer, a spokesman at the French Embassy said Wednesday.