Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Uses ‘Infamous’ Ship to Move Spent Nuclear Fuel Even as It Announces Plans to Build More Nuclear Power Plants Abroad

Paul Goble

Staunton, June 15 – Russia’s Atomic Energy Corporation is using a refitted ship that became “infamous for dumping liquid radioactive waste from the Soviet ice-breaker fleet in the Barents Sea,” Barents Observer reports today, even as Moscow announces plans to dramatically expand its involvement in the construction of atomic power plants abroad.
The “Serebryanka,” the news agency reports, has picked up “the first load of spent nuclear fuel from the run-down storage facility” near the Norwegian border without Russian officials informing Oslo in advance as they had pledged to do (www.barentsobserver.com/first-shipment-of-highly-radioactive-waste-from-border-area.4793260-116320.html)
Eldri Holo, an official at the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority, told the news portal that “we expect to be informed about the dates for shipment of spent nuclear fuel.” But she added that the first she had heard about this move was from the news agency rather than from the Russians.
After its unfortunate role in dumping nuclear waste into the Arctic was exposed, the “Serebryanka” was rebuilt “to carry containers with spent nuclear fuel from the Russian navy’s storage sites along the coast of the Kola Peninsula,” Barents Observer reports, although the removal of nuclear waste from near the Norwegian border was no slated to begin until 2012.
If the Russian ship has been upgraded, the storage site at Andreyev , 60 kilometers from the Norwegian border, apparently has not. Its facilities have fallen into such decay that Russian engineers had to put a floating crane to load the containers of spent nuclear fuel, a local news agency reports (www.b-port.com/news/archive/2010-06-11-19/).
That news agency reported, Barents Observer says, that “the loading operation was carried out jointly by personnel from Atom lot and Servo,” both of which “have experts on nuclear safety.” It added that “before the containers were loaded into [the] ‘Serebryanka,’ they were repacked onshore.
This report, which suggests that at least some of those involved in Russia’s nuclear energy area continue to operate in ways that recall the Soviet past, comes as Rosatom’s chief Sergey Kiriyenko has announced plans to expand his agency’s involvement in the construction of nuclear facilities through the world (vremya.ru/2010/99/8/255619.html).
Among the places where Russian nuclear power specialists are involved or seeking to become involved in the construction of nuclear power stations are Iran, Turkey, Taiwan, Vietnam, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, and Ukraine. In some cases, Russia will serve as a contract builder, but in others it will be a part owner.
Kiriyenko has said that Moscow is especially interested in the latter possibility and believes that the future is bright for such a program. “We consider that the market for atomic energy is a global market and not a market of an individual country,” the Rosatom chief said last week (versia.ru/articles/2010/jun/07/jadernaja_politika_rossii).
Because of Iran has relied on Russian assistance in building the reactors that Tehran appears to want to use to develop nuclear weapons, many governments around the world are concerned about the risks of such an expansion of Russian nuclear programs, all the more so because the states where such reactors are built could also misuse them.
. The United States Department of State recently declared that “the expansion of Russia in the area of nuclear energy could involve the appearance of new danger zones in the world.” Moreover, the department said, “it can lead to a new arrangement of forces in Europe, Asia and Africa and thus put at risk the strategic interests of the United States.”
In a commentary on the “Novaya Versiya” portal, two Russian commentators suggest that “such a sharp American reaction is the result of the fact that Moscow has taken the initiative away from Washington not only in the constructi6on but also in the planning of nuclear power stations.”
However that may be, one can only hope that any future Russian involvement in the construction of atomic power plants abroad will be more focused than has been the case up to now on protecting the environment from the dangers of radiation and on ensuring that these plants will not be used to develop nuclear weapons.

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