The government views the facility as a source jobs and electricity; residents worry about nuclear waste and radioactive emissions.
The signatures were collected among the inhabitants of the 30 kilometer (20 mile) zone around the proposed construction site, in the Navashino district, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) to the east of Russia's capital. More signatures were collected in the nearby town of Murom on the Oka River.
Before handing the signatures to the administration, the environmentalists presented them to the media at the Independent Press-Center in Moscow.
At the press conference, Murom City Council Member Vasily Vakhlyaev said the results of a public opinion poll indicate that 95 percent of the Murom residents strictly oppose the construction of the nuclear power plant so close to their town.
The Murom City Council adopted a decision to hold the public hearings on the nuclear power plant. The hearings are scheduled for September 28, and their results will be delivered to the federal authorities, the media, and Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear energy corporation, whose officials are invited to take part in the hearings.
A rally in Murom against the proposed nuclear power plant drew about 3,000 people on September 1, 2009. (Photo courtesy Ecodefense)
The plant will have two 1,170 megawatt reactors and is designed to generate over 17 billion kilowatt hours a year and employ as many as 1,000 people in the long term. The first reactor is planned for launch in 2017.
Rosatom says the analysis of the power and capacity balance in Nizhniy Novgorod region shows that in 2007 the region was short of 1,800 megawatts while in 2020 it will need as much as 4,000 megawatts of power in addition to present generation.
Vladimir Slivyak of the nonprofit anti-nuclear organization Ecodefense said at the press conference that there are many problems with the proposed nuclear plant.
First, he said, plans for treatment of nuclear waste from the power plant are unclear. "According to the project documentation, spent nuclear fuel will be transported to a 'regeneragion plant' which does not exist and is not planned to be built."
"Thus, said Slivyak, "high-level radioactive waste which will present danger for at least 240,000 years and for which there is no safe disposal technology, may remain in Nizhny Novgorod region forever. So, what is actually under discussion – a nuclear reactor or nuclear waste dumping site? It looks like both."
The proposed construction site is located in a region of karst rocks, shaped by the dissolution of layers of soluble bedrock pitted with holes. Slivyak warns that siting a nuclear power plant there "may lead to karst rocks failures and collapses."
The town of Murom on the Oka River is near the proposed nuclear power plant. (Photo by Steve Smith)
Neither is there a calculation of the emission of such radioactive isotopes as tritium and carbon-14 during regular operation of the plant, they warn.
All this information is an essential part of the Environmental Impact Assessment, but Rosatom found it possible to ignore legal requirements for the EIA, the critics object.
"It's necessary to push federal officials to follow the legislation on public participation," said Slivyak. "In this case, that would mean stopping construction of a dangerous and expensive nuclear plant which will produce nuclear waste and release radioactive substances even at normal operation. Implementation of up-to-date energy efficiency and saving technologies in Russia would save twice more energy that all of country's nuclear reactors produces today."
"Nuclear energy has a direct effect on sickness and death rates," said Professor Alexey Yablokov of the Russian Academy of Science at the press conference. "This is proven by various research data in Germany and other countries."
Yablokov said that a simple nationwide switch to energy-efficient light bulbs would save so much energy that new nuclear reactors will not be needed.
Yablokov called for cancellation of the entire nuclear energy development program in Russia as "dangerous, expensive, and ineffective."
The Russian government held public hearings on the preliminary environmental impact assessment of the Nizhniy Novgorod nuclear power plant project in Navashino on September 4.
The town of Navashino, also on the Oka River. (Photo by Baaobab)
More than 850 people attended the hearings, officials said. Participants asked over 200 questions and received detailed answers from specialists of Rosatom, Energoatom Concern OJSC and Nizhniy Novgorod Atomenergoproekt OJSC.
"Public hearings went off well," said Alexander Tsapin, who serves as minister of internal policy in the Nizhniy Novgorod regional government. "All those who had remarks and recommendations on the project were given the floor."
The population of Navashino has supported the construction of Nizhniy Novgorod nuclear power plant, Tsapin said. "They understand that the project will stimulate the development of the local economy, will give more budgetary revenues and will stop the outflow of young people from the region."
Rosatom communications official Igor Konyshev said the September 4 discussion was just a small part of the public hearings that have been held in the region for two months.
"A month before the hearings the preliminary environmental impact assessment of Nizhniy Novgorod nuclear power plant project was made public," Konyshev said. "For a whole month after the hearings all concerned people will be able to ask questions and to express their opinion on the project."
On September 1, more than 3,000 residents of Murom expressed their opinions by taking part in an anti-nuclear rally where local authorities and Ecodefense activists criticized the proposed nuclear plant and urged local citizens not to be afraid to raise their voices.
The results of a national public opinion survey conducted in 2007 by one of Russia's largest research companies, ROMIR, a branch of the Gallup international, show that 78 percent of the country's residents are negative about plans to construct new nuclear plants. The poll was sponsored by the Heinrich Boell Foundation and Ecodefense.
Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.