Last year, despite the protests of environmental groups and the smouldering discontent of Russians, the law on the importation and processing of spent nuclear fuel was passed in Russia. Officials from the RF Nuclear Ministry persistently persuaded people of the project’s economic advantage. It was said that Russia would earn $20 billion within the next twenty years by processing spent nuclear fuel. It was said that the money could be spent then on the development of nuclear power enterprises. However, the questions regarding the protection of the earned money from theft remained unanswered.
The scale of the project is rather impressive. Deputy Nuclear Minister Valery Lebedev said in an interview to ITAR-TASS that spent fuel from nuclear power plants in Iran, India, and China “will certainly make its way back to Russia.” In addition, those plants are being built by Russian specialists, and they will be supplied with fuel from Russia. According to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, this fuel is to be returned to the country of origin.
The construction of a nuclear power plant in Iran is to be completed by the end of 2004 to the beginning of 2005. By that time, special installations with nuclear fuel will be delivered there. Each installation is to be delivered back to Russia for reprocessing when its life expires. Similar operations will be performed at the nuclear power plants in India and China. Russia has signed three contracts, according to which nuclear power plants are to be constructed in these countries. Two reactors will operate at each of the plants.
This means that Russia will not greatly profit from the reprocessing of the spent fuel delivered from the countries mentioned above. However, Western countries are paying special attention to the project. Germany is very attractive from this point of view. The German government decided to gradually close all nuclear power plants on its territory. Trains with spent fuel from Germany are likely to be transported to Russia soon.
However, the problem of the importation of spent nuclear fuel is still pressing for most people in Russia. Opponents tried to organize an environmental referendum, but the failed: according to the law, not less than 2 million signatures need to be collected to initiate a referendum; the ecologists collected 2.5 million, but 600,000 of them were rejected as defective by the RF Central Election Committee. As a result, the case was submitted to the European court in Strasbourg. If the court takes the environmentalists' side, the referendum may still take place.
However, nothing hampers the importation of spent nuclear fuel to Russia so far. The hypothetical sum of $20 billion is extremely tempting. However, the money is not easy to earn, as the market has been shared long ago. And Russia still fails to conclude an agreement according to which it will see real money.
Vasily Bubnov PRAVDA.Ru
Translated by Maria Gousseva
Read the original in Russian: http://www.pravda.ru/main/2002/02/14/37051.html