Russia Builds Nuclear Power Capacity, Relicenses Chernobyl Era Reactors
MOSCOW, Russia, December 21, 2004 (ENS) - Russia's power grid got an infusion of nuclear energy Thursday when the Kalinin nuclear power plant's third generating unit was commissioned. The event drew Russian President Vladimir Putin to the reactor, located in the village of Udomlya in the north of the Tver region, 330 kilometers (205 miles) from Moscow.
The new unit is a 1,000 MW pressurized water reactor that is estimated to have cost 40 billion rubles (US$1.4 billion) to build.
President Putin went to inspect the new generating unit and chaired a meeting of the State Council at Udomlya that focused on the problems of Russia's nuclear industry.
At the meeting, the President told journalists that two more nuclear power plants would be put into operation before 2010, and 10 older nuclear power stations in the country would have their service life extended.
Operating license renewals will be given to the 10 old nuclear reactors, which are the first generation of Soviet designed units (RBMK-1000 and VVER-440). The Chernobyl reactor that exploded and caught fire on April 26, 1986 in the world's worst nuclear disaster was a light water graphite reactor of the RBMK design.
The decision to delay the shutdown of old reactors and grant new licenses for the Leningrad, Kola and Novovoronezh nuclear plants is considered dangerous by anti-nuclear citizens groups.
"The decision to continue operation of first generation reactors in Russia is the most dangerous political step since Chernobyl tragedy. Russian authorities learnt nothing out of largest catastrophe at nuclear facility in the history of humankind," said Vladimir Slivyak, co-chairman of Ecodefense, a Russian anti-nuclear organization demanding the immediate shut down of old reactors.
"Allowing nuclear industry to keep Chernobyl-type reactors in operation is no less than global threat to whole Europe," Slivyak warned.
All 10 units were designed and built long before the Chernobyl catastrophe, and it is not possible to bring their safety level up to modern standards, he said.
Chernobyl-type RBMK reactors have already been shut down in Ukraine, Slivyak said.
The last two RBMKs exist in Lithuania where the first unit will be shut down and decommissioned by the end of this month, while the second unit is expected to be taken out of operation by 2007.
A first generation VVER-440 has already been shut down in Bulgaria, and dates to shut down the rest of the older nuclear units in Eastern Europe are fixed.
President Putin emphasized the "need to observe stringent safety requirements over the entire process."
He pointed to the importance of "work to steadily minimize the negative effects of nuclear production and facilities on the environment, including through the adoption of modern technologies to reprocess nuclear materials."
At the State Council meeting, for the first time in history, Putin announced that the amount of solid radioactive waste accumulated at Russian facilities is nearly 70 million metric tons.
For a long time, environmental groups have demanded open information on the amount and condition of the radioactive waste accumulated in the country, but the nuclear industry has kept those numbers secret.
But the figure of 70 million metric tons announced by Putin does not include liquid radioactive waste, and its amount remains unknown to Russians, Slivyak said.
The stockpile of spent nuclear fuel from Russian civilian nuclear power plants alone is close to 17,000 metric tons of the overall amount, Putin said.
Existing Russian infrastructure is not able to cope with this amount of waste. The planned construction of a huge specialized storage facility and reprocessing plant in Zheleznogorsk, outside Krasnoyarsk in Eastern Siberia, will help to solve the problem, Putin said.
Putin said that facilities where radioactive waste and nuclear materials are stored must be better protected, a position supported by Russian environmentalists. They have been repeatedly calling on authorities to improve control over stockpiles of materials that may be used in nuclear weapons or dirty bombs.
A number of statements by President Putin calling for higher security at nuclear sites did not result in any improvements in 2004, Slivyak said, presenting the question of whether the nuclear industry management can guarantee safety and adequate level of protection for its sites.
But Russia is now committed to limit its greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol which will come into force February 16, 2005 because of Russia's ratification. Nuclear power plants emit no greenhouse gases, so although waste is a problem, they appear desirable to the Russian government.
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