By Jeffrey St. Clair
Back in October, In These Times reported on a scheme hatched by the Russian nuclear agency to import spent nuclear waste from commercial reactors in Europe and Japan for storage in the Russian outback (see "Hot Property, Cold Cash," October 17). This story finally has grabbed the attention of the national press. On April 12, the Boston Globe reported that Russian Minister of Atomic Energy Yevgeny Adamov is proceeding with plans to import 20,000 tons of radioactive waste for storage and eventual recycling at the Mayak nuclear facility in the Ural Mountains.
Adamov boasted that the deal would generate more than $21 billion over the next 10 years, a figure nearly equal to the Russia's entire 1999 budget. "The deal is extremely beneficial for the ministry," Adamov said, "and we are intending to carry it out."
The main stumbling block is a 1992 law passed by the Duma that prohibits Adamov's agency from importing nuclear waste from countries outside the former Eastern Bloc. But Adamov claims to have the blessing of new Russian President Vladimir Putin and, according to Russian greens, has vowed to overturn the ban in the upcoming legislative session. Last year, Adamov was accused of offering Russian legislators a variety of bribes for their votes, including cash, trips to France and prostitutes.
Adamov never enjoyed a particularly close relationship with the Yeltsin government's inner circle. But he and Putin have been close since the president's days in the KGB. Russian greens rightly fear that the Putin/Adamov alliance will prove dangerous to both the environment and environmentalists.
Under Putin, the FSB - the KGB's successor - has interrogated and locked up several anti-nuclear organizers on trumped-up drug charges, or the absurd pretext that they are aligned with Chechen separatists. And Putin's state prosecutors have continued to harass Alexander Nikitin, the nuclear whistleblower acquitted of violating Russian secrecy laws in December. The new crackdowns have given a chilling context to Putin's vow to lead the country through "the dictatorship of law."
Jeffrey St. Clair is a contributing editor of In These Times.