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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Concern Voiced Over Nuclear Waste Storage

One of Russia's leading environmentalists on Monday criticized plans to begin storing other countries' nuclear waste in Russia, saying Russia could become the world's nuclear dump.

Alexei Yablokov, President Boris Yeltsin's former environment adviser, urged the State Duma not to pass legislation sought by the Nuclear Power Ministry, which wants to earn badly needed hard cash by taking nuclear materials from abroad.

"If the amendment comes into effect, a door to this terrible practice will be opened," Yablokov said at a news conference. "On the surface, this amendment looks economically and even ecologically attractive, but in practice it will turn out to be dreadful for the country."

Russian law currently forbids the importing of radioactive waste or nuclear materials from other countries for long-term storage or burial. Nuclear materials that enter the country must be re-exported in processed form. The amendment, likely to be voted on in the Duma, the lower house of parliament, this week, will enable Russia to not only import nuclear waste for reprocessing, but also keep it.

The Nuclear Power Ministry, the force behind the idea of such amendment, argues that the amendment would enable Russia to earn money, which could be used to its own disposal practices and support the nuclear industry, where power-plant workers have gone unpaid for months.

Russia has a single facility for reprocessing nuclear waste, the Mayak complex in the former secret city of Chelyabinsk-65 in the Ural Mountains. Nuclear Power Minister Yevgeny Adamov hopes to complete the construction of a second reprocessing complex in Zheleznogorsk in Kransoyarsk region.

The ministry argues that money earned could also cover the reprocessing and storage of the nuclear waste from decommissioned nuclear submarines in the Far North, a spokesman for the ministry said Monday.

The submarine reactors are a source of concern for environmentalists, who say storage conditions are slipshod and inadequate.

But environmentalists say Russia is already overwhelmed by Soviet-era waste and that the money from taking other countries' waste would not be enough to improve domestic waste facilities.

Leaders of almost all factions in the Duma have already expressed support for the idea, however, when it comes up this week. Grigory Yavlinsky's liberal Yabloko group, the only Duma faction to oppose the amendment, is unlikely to be able to block passage.

"I believe that some faction leaders welcomed it because they didn't look into it properly and didn't consult other deputies of their factions," said Tamara Zlotnikova, a Yabloko deputy and the head of the ecological committee.

She also said the decision whether to receive nuclear waste should be made by the residents and authorities of the regions where reprocessing and burial is to take place.

Last week the Russian branch of the environmental group Greenpeace issued a statement in which it called on wealthy countries to "help clean Russia up rather than exploit its poverty."

Russia receives some radioactive waste for reprocessing, under Soviet-era arrangements with former Soviet republics or neighboring nations with Soviet-built VVER-440 reactors. Once the construction of a Russian nuclear power station in Iran is completed and the reactor starts functioning, Russian will have to take care of its waste as well.

Yablokov said that Russia is in great need of a "national storage," a place to bury Russia's own radioactive waste. He said that finding such a place in Russia should be the top priority of the Nuclear Power Ministry.

Yury Bespalko, a ministry spokesman, said talk of a flood of waste coming to Russia was an exaggeration. "First of all, we just want to enter this international market, and there is no guarantee we'll be able to hold a considerable place in it," Bespalko said in a telephone interview.

France and Britain handle waste from other European countries, and the ministry hopes to undercut French and English competitors, who force their customers to take their waste back.

"We don't say that all the problems of our industry can be solved by importing nuclear waste, but it can be helpful, as we cannot rely on budget financing" from the government, Bespalko said.