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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Greens Attack Funding of St. Pete Nuke Plant

ST. PETERSBURG — Environmentalists sent an open letter this week to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Baltic-region governments appealing to them not to support additional projects at the Leningrad Nuclear Power Station, LAES, in Sosnovy Bor.

The ecologists from the Greenworld environmental group based in Sosnovy Bor, 80 kilometers west of St. Petersburg, accused the plant's authorities of financial mismanagement and routine safety violations.

Greenworld's letter claimed, among other things, that the "wet" storage facility for spent nuclear fuel at the plant is currently 40 percent over its design capacity. It also claimed that there have been numerous incidents of theft of non-ferrous metals from the plant, including "important functional components for 40 operating safety control devices."

Greenworld further alleges that the telephone hotline to Moscow at the plant has been disabled and that drunkenness among workers is widespread. The report quotes the head of the Sosnovy Bor fire brigade as saying that "there have not yet been serious fires at LAES, which is just sheer luck." He said that about 140 fire-safety violations are registered at the plant each year.

Because of these problems and a generally lax safety culture at LAES, the West should cease providing financial support for LAES projects, especially a plan to prolong the life span of LAES's four RBMK-1000 Chernobyl-type reactors.

Greenworld's report was primarily written by Sergei Kharitonov, who worked at the plant from 1973 until March 2000 and who is now a Greenworld council member.

LAES officials, while confirming some of the information in the Greenworld letter, insist that the plant is safe and that none of the violations are significant. They point out that LAES is inspected annually by the Russian State Nuclear Inspectorate, or Gosatomnadzor, and by official delegations from neighboring countries such as Finland and Norway.

"There have never been grounds for a scandal," LAES official Nikolai Yesaulov said. "Yes, every time we receive a list of recommendations, but these are nothing more than minor reprimands. Generally, the high level of the plant's safety culture has never been questioned."

The power of Gosatomnadzor to issue reprimands and follow through on their enforcement has been significantly reduced in recent months as a result of lobbying by the Nuclear Power Ministry, which is seeking to reduce Gosatomnadzor's authority.

According to LAES spokeswoman Valeriya Nikitina, the plant is scheduled to be inspected by the International Atomic Energy Commission in 2002. The IAEC's last inspection of the plant was in 1996.

Kim Soderling, project manager of the Finnish Center for Nuclear Safety, or STUK, which monitors LAES, said that his organization would not comment on Greenworld's letter. "STUK doesn't take part in conversations of Russian Federation's energy policy," he said.

Erlend Larsen, senior executive officer of the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority, wrote in a statement to The Moscow Times that her organization "does not have a complete picture of the safety" at LAES and that "there are several areas where the safety is not internationally acceptable."

"The general Norwegian attitude is that all plants, including RBMK reactors, that do not meet an internationally acceptable safety level should be shut down," Larsen wrote.

Yesaulov confirmed Greenworld's information that the LAES "wet" storage facility is over capacity, but he insisted it was not a problem. "The measures we have taken to compress spent nuclear fuel are sufficient. All our steps have been approved by Gosatomnadzor," he said.

Sergei Bavykin, deputy head of the Environmental Safety Department of the Sosnovy Bor municipal administration, agrees that LAES is safe.

"I do not have any reasons to doubt the plant's policy or its safety enforcement or to suspect the plant's management of any wrongdoing," he said. "It is not that the ecologists provide falsified information, but their view of the situation is obviously one-sided," Bavykin said.

The EBRD is not currently involved in or considering any projects with LAES, said Joachim Jahnke, EBRD vice president for nuclear-safety programs.

In 1995, LAES received a grant of 30 million euros ($26.4 million) to support several projects intended to improve plant safety. The money was allocated at a 1995 meeting of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations, with several other countries later contributing, and the fund was administered by the EBRD.

"The 1995 donation was a short-term project, which has already been accomplished," Jahnke said in telephone interview Wednesday. "We realize the sum was very small in comparison to the amount of work that has to be done, and it was never meant to solve all problems facing the station."

Jahnke said, however, that the EBRD shares Greenworld's concern about Russia's continued use of Chernobyl-type reactors that will reach the end of their recommended life span in the next several years, the more so since the in-depth safety assessments are continually delayed.

According to Jahnke, the risks associated with continued operation of these reactors, which do not and cannot meet international safety standards and have therefore been decommissioned in Ukraine and Lithuania, are a profound concern for the Nuclear Safety Account.

"Russia is presently not in line with its obligations under the nuclear-safety agreement with the bank," he said.

The EBRD, however, remains committed to a dialogue with Russia to resolve this problem, officials said.

Many Russian and international environmental groups have called for Russia to follow the example of Western countries, which have been dismantling their nuclear reactors in recent years.

Vladimir Slivyak of the Russian environmental group Ecodefense said Germany is committed to decommissioning all of its nuclear reactors by 2020. Sweden's nuclear industry will be shut down by 2010.

"The absurdity is that while the West gives up nuclear energy because it is expensive and dangerous, Russia, which finds itself in a dire financial plight, is planning to construct new reactors," Slivyak said.

LAES supplies approximately 40 percent of St. Petersburg's electricity. It employs over 10,000 people in a town of 60,000 and provides up to 80 percent of Sosnovy Bor's revenues.