Staunton, August 20 – Rosatom is acquiring nuclear wastes from other countries, betting that uranium prices will rise and it will be profitable to have such reserves but, in the meantime and longer if those prices continue to fall, transforming Russia into a dumping ground for such dangerous wastes, Lyubov Glazunova says.
The state atomic energy corporation has sold this program as a low-risk and high-profit operation, but in fact, the Moscow journalist says, no one knows exactly how high the risks are because most of the wastes taken in are going to be stored permanently and thus what the real profits might turn out to be (ridl.io/ru/uranovyj-hvost-rosatoma/).
Until 2009, German and other companies exported such wastes to Russia for reprocessing – under the laws of most countries, exporting such wastes for permanent storage is banned – but protests in the West rather than in Russia about this program which in fact involved permanent storage forced it to shut down.
Last year, however, the program resumed with one German firm planning to send 12,000 tons of such wastes to Russia over the next four years. Germany’s Urenco has done so because Russia “is the only country in the world which has agreed” to accept such wastes from abroad, Glazunova says.
The contract calls for recycling and the return to Germany of such reprocessed wastes, she continues; but in fact, there is almost none of that and most of the wastes remain in Russia for what increasingly looks like permanent storage, a violation of German law and a serious potential danger to the Russian environment.
Despite complaints by Russian environmentalists and even some Russian officials, Rosatom justifies the program by arguing that it is building up a reserve that it can ultimately process and then use or sell in the future assuming that demands for nuclear power will increase and uranium prices go up.
At present, the Russian government corporation is storing such wastes in barrels in the open air in Sverdlovsk, Tomsk, Krasnoyarsk and Irkutsk federal subjects. And it is promising to denature them in the coming decades, although given that it is cheaper to reprocess older Soviet Russian wastes than these, that promise appears to be empty.
Moreover, Glazunova says, the Russian bet on rising prices for uranium is likely a losing one. Ever more countries are turning away from nuclear power plants because of the problems involved with storing the radioactive wastes they produce, something that has driven the price of uranium down.
There is little reason to think this trend is about to change. As a result, Russia is now left with tens of thousands of tons of nuclear wastes in rusting barrels that pose an increasing threat to the health and well-being of Russians.