The shipment of enriched uranium from Germany to Russia has recently made headlines in many Russian newspapers. Officials said, however, that it was a routine work that decreased the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation. On the other hand, the subject of uranium transportation catches terrorists’ attention. To make matters worse, nuclear garbage endangers the ecological security on the entire planet.
The delivery of over 300 kilos of high-grade enriched uranium from Germany to Russia was a part of the program to reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation. On May 27, 2004 Russia and the USA signed a document titled “The Initiative to Reduce Global Threat.” The agreement stipulates cooperation between the two countries to return the nuclear fuel of research reactors to the Russian Federation at the mediation of the IAEA.
For the time being, the high-grade enriched uranium of US or Russian production is used in research reactors of 40 countries. It goes about the spent nuclear fuel that was delivered to nuclear centers of many countries which maintained close links with the USSR. For example, the above-mentioned cargo of 300 kilos of uranium was delivered to Germany from the Soviet Union in the 1990s within the scope of a bilateral agreement between the USSR and the German Democratic Republic (GDR).
The program gives Russia an opportunity to contribute to the struggle against the proliferation of nuclear weapons and receive considerable income from it. The returned nuclear fuel will be process to low-grade uranium that will subsequently be used for the production of fuel elements for nuclear reactors.
In 2004 Libya returned 16 kilos of enriched uranium-235 to Russia. The USSR sent the fuel to Libya in the middle of the 1980s.
About 186 kilograms of enriched uranium have already been delivered to Russia from Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Libya, Uzbekistan, Latvia and the Czech Republic. Sixteen shipments of spent nuclear fuel are to be conducted during the forthcoming four years.
The recent delivery of 300 kilos of uranium from Germany has given rise to many rumors saying that Russia is becoming a radioactive dump. This is a very serious problem indeed, although one should not mix up such notions as “unspent enriched uranium” and “nuclear wastes.”
The nuclear industry counts 60 years of history. However, none of 34 countries using nuclear energy in their economies know the answer to the problem of nuclear wastes. The spent nuclear fuel maintains its radioactive capacity for up to 240 thousand years. This fuel needs to be isolated from the Earth’s biosphere. Burying the wastes deep under the ground has become the only solution of the problem nowadays. However, earthquakes or other natural disasters may break the isolation and 12,000 future generations may find themselves in serious danger. Millions of tons of radioactive wastes will be accumulated underneath the Earth’s surface.
Translated by Dmitry Sudakov