My name is Vladimir Slivyak, I come from Russia where I work with the environmental group Ecodefense.
RWE is considering to invest into the Belene project and I want to know from the company’s Board: Have you thought about where the nuclear waste from this plant will go? I am asking because I am afraid that some of it will end up in my country. The Belene plant is to be built by the Russian nuclear industry. And on the website of Rosenergoatom, Russia’s federal nuclear operator it says: “Russia is taking back spent fuel and this is important competitive advantage of our proposal.”
I am here today to tell you that this is totally unacceptable for Russian citizens. According to the latest public opinion poll, over 90% of Russians are opposed to any kind of import of nuclear waste.
But this would not be the first time that RWE burdens my country with its radioactive waste. Together with E.on, RWE owns 33% of a company called Urenco, which produces uranium fuel for nuclear reactors. Just like any other nuclear company, URENCO produces radioactive waste in large volumes. But unlike many others, it doesn’t store its own radioactive waste. Instead radioactive waste from Urenco’s factory in Gronau are regularly transported to Russia. Between 1996 and 2008, your company Urenco has shipped over 80,000 tons of this waste to Russia. Just this year there have already been 3 transports of uranium waste from Gronau to Russia.
For a long time, this dirty trade was a big secret. This is because URENCO sends radioactive waste to so-called “closed cities”, a legacy of the Stalin times. It’s impossible for citizens to control or even get information about what’s going on here, because the trade in uranium is considered to be a military secret, related to producing material for nuclear bombs, and controlled by intelligence agencies like FSB (ex-KGB). For URENCO of course this is a comfortable solution – dumping its waste to places the army and KGB does not allow anyone to ask questions. The “Closed cities” have up to 300,000 citizens. They are fenced in and no one is allowed to leave or enter without permission from the KGB or the nuclear Ministry. There is no mass media here and no public discussion. They are like jails where nuclear materials are produced, stored and dumped. For many Russians, they have no choice but to live here because the level of economic welfare is extremely low throughout the country and they cannot find a job or house elsewhere.
As a result of the Stalinist legacy and lack of public control, the level of safety at nuclear facilities in the closed cities is extremely low. According to numerous reports, including by governmental regulatory organizations, radioactive waste are stored in very poor conditions. Containers with waste are corroded and still stored in open spaces, without even a simple roof above it.
The transportation of the uranium tails is also a very risky business. We measured radiation during the last transport near Saint-Petersburg. It was 30 times higher than it should have been. According to nuclear industry, if waste from only one uranium container leaks to the environment – it may bring lethal danger to people in 32 km radius. The uranium is stored as uraniumhexafluorid – called UF6. If UF6 comes into contact with air, it releases hydroflouric acid into the air. Even breathing in small amounts of this acid is deadly as it destroys the lungs. The route of transportation passes several large cities where nearly 10 million people are at risk if an accident with major leakage happens.
When Western companies have tried to buy some place in Africa or a small third world island to dump radioactive waste, it’s been always protested around the world and such plans were dropped for ethical and other reasons. But no one ever expected that officials from a former superpower like USSR would sign a deal with German companies to dump radioactive and dangerous waste in this country. And if environmental activists had not revealed this information, the dirty cooperation between Russian military-nuclear circles and the German companies RWE and Urenco would not even be known to the public.
We understand this arrangement is very good for URENCO which doesn’t have to pay for disposal of its waste. But it’s very bad for people in my country who will have to deal with radioactive waste for the centuries ahead, risk poisonous, lethal leakages and live in a contaminated environment.
Over the last 4 years there were over 30 protests in both Russia and Germany against transportation of radioactive waste from URENCO facilities to Russian military sites.
Unfortunately, Russian authoritarian regime doesn’t care about its own peoples’ health and environment. But Germany is a democratic country and many of RWE’s shareholders are citizens and municipalities. I am therefore appealing to you as shareholders of RWE to stop the dirty and dangerous transports of your daughter company Urenco.
In addition, I would like to ask RWE’s Board of Directors the following questions:
- What are the plans on dealing with spent fuel from the Belene nuclear plant in Bulgaria?
- The contract between URENCO and the Russian company Tenex, which includes sending radioactive and toxic waste to Russia, is valid until 2009. Do you expect this contract to be renewed and do you expect these transports to continue after 2009?
- Does URENCO intend to take back radioactive waste it previously sent to Russia? And if yes, how much and when?