Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Plans for Storing EU Nuclear Wastes Disturbing on Many Grounds

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 7 – Moscow’s plans to store on a permanent basis nuclear waste from atomic energy stations in the European Union at a site near Krasnoyarsk is disturbing -- not only for the usual environmental and health risks but also because of the Russian government’s corruption and track record in nuclear power and because of the history of the site itself.
According to Sergey Putilov, an observer for the “Novaya Rodina” portal, the Russian government has agreed to provide permanent storage for nuclear waste from the atomic energy sites in Europe that are now being closed down as a result of EU policy in exchange for 20 billion US dollars (
Given the potential for environmental contamination and the certainty that most of the money will be “diverted” by Russian officials before being spent either on improved security at the site or protecting the people living nearby, Putilov suggests, that is not an enormous sum in exchange for which Russia will gain “the most radioactive tomb” in the world.
Moreover, there are problems involving the transportation of these nuclear wastes – they must pass through major cities as trains carrying them move from the western borders of the Russian Federation to the closed city of Krasnoyarsk-26 which is located 60 kilometers from the “opne” city of that name on the Yenisey River.
And there is the symbolism involved. The facility was built by slave laborers in the GULAG at Stalin’s direct order in January 1950 Thousands– there were 27,000 there in 1953, of whom 4,000 were women – worked and in many cases died to dig out the inside of a granite mountain to protect Soviet plutonium production against even a direct hit by a nuclear bomb.
There were so many victims of this effort, Putilov continues, that they were buried in mass graves, with little thought given to identifying who was buried where, something that the Russian-EU contract does nothing to rectify, even though many relatives of the victims would like to know where the bodies of their loved ones can be found.
The facility, which was christened Krasnoyarsk-26, was the third Soviet site for the production of nuclear weapons. (The more widely known Chelyabinsk-40 and Tomsk-7 preceded it.) And as in the case of the others, the last inmates of the GULAG were released only in 1964, eleven years after the death of the Soviet dictator.
During the Cold War, Soviet secrecy kept even those who lived nearby from knowing what was taking place. Now, approximately 97,000 people live in the area, but “only with the beginning of perestroika did people begin to receive more or less accurate information about the fact that they in fact are sitting on an atomic bomb,” with their futures very much at risk.
“However,” Putilov says, “the horrors of Soviet times can pale in comparison with the fate that Russian rulers have come up with for the residents of Krasnoyarsk-26 and all our country” because now, as a result of an agreement with the EU, even more radioactive materials will be placed in what may prove to be insecure storage.
Official explanations that everything that can be done to secure the site are accepted by many, although the latest wave of technogenic disasters like the Sayan-Shushen dam collapse are casting doubt on these claims. But the powers that be answer any question from local people, Putilov says, with the question: “Isn’t your pay high enough?”
The Russia-EU program is already well-launched, he notes. The nuclear waste at Krasnoyarsk-26 already has a total radioactivity equal to three billion curies. By next year, that figure is projected to rise to 10 billion curies. And by 2015 – six years from now – it will be more than 25 billion curies – a figure equal to “the explosive of 500 Chernobyls.”
Consequently, Putilov concludes ominously, “over the next ten to fifteen years,” Krasnoyarsk-26, as a result of a deal between Moscow and the European Union “may become the dirtiest place [in terms of the potential for the leakage of radioactivity] not just in Russia but in the world as a whole.”

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