It's official: Russia has now offered itself up as the world's
nuclear dumping ground. On December 21, the Russian Parliament voted
320 to 30 to overturn an environmental law that prohibited the import
of commercial nuclear waste.
The vote capped a two-year lobbying assault by Minatom, the Russian
nuclear agency, and an international assortment of nuclear profiteers,
ranging from tycoons and former CIA agents to European and Japanese
utilities and even a few renegade environmental groups, including
the Natural Resources Defense Council (see "Hot Property,
Cold Cash," October 17, 1999). Now Minatom is free to accept
more than 20,000 tons of radioactive waste from the United States,
Europe and Asia over the next 50 years. The waste is slated for
storage at several sites across Russia, where it will more than
double the nation's own nuclear waste, now estimated to total more
than 14,000 tons.
Russian officials have boasted that dumping fees will bring $20
billion into the
Russian treasury--much of it going to the notoriously corrupt Minatom.
"In Putin's Russia, profits are now the priority over the environment,"
says Thomas Nielsen of The
Bellona Foundation, a Norwegian environmental group.
A sign displays radiation
levels in Murmansk, Russia.
Much of the money may go to build a new generation of nuclear power
plants. According to a leaked May 2000 document titled "Strategy
for Nuclear Development in 2000-2050," Minatom has proposed the
construction of some three dozen new commercial atomic reactors
in Russia, which it says will create a stockpile of high-grade plutonium
for a new phase of nuclear weapons. Russian environmentalists call
them "dirty nukes."
The Duma's decision flouted the most energized environmental campaign
in Russian history. Environmental groups had gathered 2.5 million
signatures to make the issue a national initiative to be voted on
by the Russian people. The petition campaign garnered a half-million
more signatures than required by Russian law, but the government
threw out more than 600,000 of them due to technicalities.
Russian greens say they were sabotaged. "This was done intentionally
to stop us," says Ivan Blokov, the campaign director of Greenpeace
Russia. "They want to prevent all attempts to save the environment.
Economic interests have been put above all else, including human