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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Waste Will Bring Woe, Not Wealth

Although we've known for months now that things were coming to this, the final approval of the obscene plan to import nuclear waste for storage and reprocessing still comes as a heavy blow. President Vladimir Putin signed the measure last week, clearing the way for the Nuclear Power Ministry to begin the virtually unsupervised sale of the Russian environment.

The facts of the case are simple. The Soviet and Russian nuclear programs have an appalling record of absolute disregard for safety and the environment. Hundreds of thousands of people — perhaps millions — are suffering today from this callous indifference. Many more have already died.

Now, the ministry has the temerity to use this history as an excuse for new atrocities, claiming that it will use part of the revenues generated to clean up the messes with which it has littered the country over the last half-century.

What is more, 90 percent of the Russian people — both those who live in irradiated zones and those who, thankfully, so far do not — oppose this plan. Nonetheless, the country's democratically elected leaders have contemptuously ignored their views.

A petition to force a national referendum on the subject was quashed by the Central Elections Commission last November in what was patently a successful effort to steamroller public opinion. This incident will go down as one of the low points of Russian democracy.

Now, as a sort of cynical gesture that is being pitched as a sign of concern for the people's well-being, Putin has created an oversight committee and nominated Communist State Duma Deputy and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Zhores Alfyorov to head it.

Few doubt the sincerity of Alfyorov's commitment to excellence in Russian science. However, he must realize that such excellence depends at least as much on the wholehearted support of the public and the pride that the people take in the nation's achievements, as it does on state support or budgetary funding.

Alfyorov, who has backed the imports, and his committee will not be able to ensure that the spent nuclear fuel rods are properly transported and stored. He should take a lesson from the United States — a country with its own history of irradiating its citizens — which spent $6 billion just studying a proposed site for a nuclear-waste storage facility.

Alfyorov and his committee also will not be able to ensure that any money earned is spent on cleanups.

Environmentalists held a nationwide candlelight vigil last week. It would seem that, at this point, there is nothing else to do.