2.5 MILLION RUSSIANS SAY NO TO RADIOACTIVE WASTE IMPORTS AND CALL FOR NATIONAL REFERENDUM
Moscow 24 October 2000 - Russian nuclear industry plans, submitted to the Duma (the Russian parliament) at the end of last month, to revoke the law forbidding the import of spent nuclear fuel and nuclear waste were dealt a severe blow today with the submission to Regional Election Committees of 2.5 million Russian signatures calling for a national referendum on the legal change.
The Russian constitution dictates that if the President receives two million signatures he must set a date between two and four months for a national referendum. If he chooses not to call a referendum the matter is transferred to the Constitutional Court, which has 30 days to accept or reject the President's decision. The referendum will allow people to vote on three questions: importing foreign nuclear waste, the establishment of an independent environmental protection agency and an independent State Forestry Service that were closed by President Putin's decree in May.
Greenpeace, in cooperation with seven other Russian environmental organizations* formed an initiative group which has collected 2.5 million signatures, since July 26th, which will now be examined by the Regional Election Committees before being passed to the national Election Committee in Moscow. It is believed that up to one fifth of the signatures could be rejected by the Committee's on technical grounds before being passed to President Vladimir Putin.
The legal change being promoted by Russia's cash strapped Atomic Ministry (MINATOM) is designed to allow Russia to become the world's nuclear waste dump. MINATOM believes that over the next decade it could import up to 20,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel from a range of countries -- including Japan, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Taiwan, Korea, China -- in contracts worth up to $21 billion.
While Valentin Ivanov, MINATOM first deputy Minister, claims that the contracts would be for temporary storage and or reprocessing. A MINATOM document, released by Greenpeace earlier this year, revealed that Russia would also be offering final disposal. MINATOM argues that by taking the world's unwanted radioactive waste it will be able to; upgrade its own nuclear waste storage, remediate some heavily contaminated land, and expand its nuclear reprocessing operations at the Mayak nuclear complex, 2,500 km east of Moscow in the Ural mountains.
Mayak is the world's largest nuclear complex and one of the most radioactively contaminated sites in the world. According to a statement in 1998 by G.J. Dicus, a commissioner for the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission :"As a result of early operational practices and some accidents at Mayak, workers at the plant and populations around the site were exposed to unusually large amounts of radiation and radioactive materials. In many cases, the doses were comparable to those received by survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings."
Mike Townsley of Greenpeace International said : "While it would be easy to reject as absurd, the idea of countries sending their radioactive waste to Russia, the growing crises in nuclear waste management world-wide is forcing the nuclear industry to pursue more desperate and dangerous schemes."
"The international community should face up to the problem of growing stockpiles of radioactive waste with each country managing its own waste rather than dumping it on a cash strapped country with an extremely poor record of managing its own nuclear waste."
For further information: Mike Townsley ++31-621296918 or Jon Walter on ++31- 653504731 or Ivan Blokov on ++7095-257 4118 or the Greenpeace International website at www.greenpeace.org/~nuclear/waste/russianwaste.html Pictures and video of radioactive contamination around the Mayak nuclear plant are available through the Greenpeace Communcation - John Novis, photo editor, Mim Lowe, video editor. ++31-20-5236222
* World Wide Fund for Nature; Social-Ecological Union; Centre for Wildlife Protection; Ecological Guard of Sakhalin; Baikal Wave; Committee for the Rescue of the river Pechora; Ecological Centre "Dront'.
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