|Author (Person)||Coss, Simon|
|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||Vol.8, No.36, 10.10.02, p10|
RUSSIAN foot-dragging is holding up an EU-backed scheme to make safe a huge stockpile of nuclear waste which experts fear could easily fall into terrorist hands.
The European Commission, along with Sweden, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands Norway and Russia itself, launched a €110 million project in July to tackle major environmental problems, the legacy of the break-up of the former Soviet Union.
Around two thirds of the budget for the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership (NDEP) has been set aside for dealing with nuclear waste belonging to Russia's navy in the Barents Sea ports.
But Moscow is yet to sign an accord with its partners on how the atomic clean-up will work in practice. Financial issues are also delaying the vital work.
'At present, countries that exported equipment to Russia to help tackle this problem would have to pay Russian VAT when the equipment goes through customs and it is not yet clear how they would be able to claim that VAT back,' one EU expert working on the NDEP initiative told European Voice.
Nils Bohmer, a nuclear physicist working for Norwegian environmental campaigners Bellona, summed up the problem rather more bluntly. 'The Russians are trying to get income from help that's being offered to them,' he said.
The partner countries are also divided over who would be responsible if an accident happened when a Russian operator was using equipment provided by one of the other NDEP countries.
The Russians say donor countries must ensure their equipment is in good working order; everyone else says the Russians must be responsible for the equipment, as they will be operating it.
Several Russian ministries - including defence, atomic energy and finance - have a direct interest in the Barents Sea waste problem and their differing priorities are an added complication.
However, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), which is coordinating the NDEP, remains hopeful that work can begin soon on dealing with Russia's nuclear waste stockpile. 'I hope we will have an agreement soon, perhaps in weeks because this is really in Russia's interest,' a senior EBRD official said.
According to the European Commission's Tacis Nuclear Safety Programme, there are around 200 reactors sitting in 110 decommissioned nuclear submarines in Barents Sea naval bases. Some 20,000 spent fuel elements from dismantled submarines are stored in poor conditions.
On top of that, waste from nuclear-powered icebreaker ships is also causing serious concerns.
The Lepse, for instance, has been docked in Murmansk for over 15 years and is threatening to sink. Its hold contains around 500kg of severely damaged spent nuclear fuel.
Worries about the Russian nuclear waste are particularly acute in the EU because the Barents Sea is so near to the Union's northern borders.
Green campaigners warn that unless the storage problem is tackled soon, there will be a major leak that would have catastrophic consequences.
There is also concern that a terrorist group could obtain the waste. 'It would be ideal material for making 'dirty' bombs,' Bohmer confirmed. These are conventional explosives surrounded by radioactive material, which is dispersed over a wide area when they are detonated.
'Much of the material appears to be poorly guarded and in any case no clear inventory seems to have been taken of just how much waste is there.
'The only way you could tell if any was missing would be when it blows up in London or Paris or wherever,' added Bohmer.
Russian foot-dragging is holding up an EU-backed scheme to make safe a huge stockpile of nuclear waste which experts fear could easily fall into terrorist hands.
|Subject Categories||Energy, Environment|
|Countries / Regions||Russia|