Vladimir Mikheyev: Danger equivalent to 500 Chernobyl catastrophes is stored in Siberia

Today’s guest is director of the Civic Center for Nuclear Non-proliferation (in the Russian city of Krasnoyarsk), Vladimir Mikheyev. He was born in 1955 and has a higher education. Has been working on nuclear safety problems since 1989. He is also a founder of the Ekologichesky Vestnik (Ecological Bulletin) newspaper, which was the first ecological newspaper on the territory of the former CIS. The first issue of the newspaper was illegally printed on October 14, 1989. Since 1989, Vladimir Mikheyev has been one of the leaders of the Krasnoyarsk public ecological organization Green World. In February of 1990, he was one of the organizers of the regional ecological movement, and in 1994, he was elected chairman of the movement. The ecological movement organizes actions to inform the population of the consequences of the processing of nuclear waste. Vladimir Mikheyev, together with independent experts, initiated expeditions on the Yenisei river for the analysis of the river’s radiation pollution. The information was then published in the mass media. He is the author of several publications on the problems of nuclear pollution and the processing of spent nuclear fuel.

- There is not so much information about the activity of the Civic Center for Nuclear Non-proliferation that you lead. Tell us about the main objectives of the Center. - Our main objective is informing of the community and mass media of nuclear security problems, the consequences of processing spent nuclear fuel and nuclear non-proliferation. For this purpose, we publish books and booklets, constantly update our official site, and organize press-conferences. We also provide information about nuclear problems for people concerned; our public library is open for everyone.

- What is nuclear security for Russia ? - “Do no harm” is the key principle of nuclear security for Russia. It means that all plans of the Russian Ministry for Atomic Energy are to be clear for the population; they are also to be approved by the people of the regions where the construction of new nuclear power plants or depositories of spent nuclear fuel are planned.

- We have been witnesses of a long discussion between supporters and opponents of the import of spent nuclear fuel to Russia. Spent nuclear fuel is already being transported to the ghost town of Zheleznogorsk. Officials of the Ministry for Atomic Energy say that this is a way to earn $20 billion, which is to be spent on the solutions to vital ecological problems of Russia. For many people, the explanation is rather agreeable. - First of all, the sum of $20 billion was officially published for the first time by a representative of Non-Proliferation Trust, Inc. (America) at the beginning of 1999. You may find articles about it on our official site. Second, the sum of $20 billion is the total cost of the project, from which all expenses are to be deducted. Russia’s Minister for Atomic Energy, Rumyantsev, said in Krasnoyarsk on July 13, 2001 that Russia would get only a part of the sum. Even the minister does not know the exact amount. This is to be the sum after the deduction of the project’s net cost (transportation, construction of depositories, and other expenses) from the earnings. Our center expects that Russia will earn only $350 million within 40 years. Third, it is not ruled out that a part of the sum will be stolen in Moscow, as the ministry is personally interested in obtaining the money. The resignation of ex-minister for Atomic Energy Yevgeny Adamov in March 2001 was caused by his commercial activity in his private interests. The Duma has already published documents that reveal the existence of corruption in the Ministry.

- But not only our own and imported spent nuclear fuel poses a threat to nature and the population of the Krasnoyarsk region. What are other most threatening problems ? - Reprocessing spent nuclear fuel is the most dangerous operation in the nuclear fuel cycle (from uranium production to radioactive waste disposal). Ninety-five percent of noxious discharge falls during reprocessing. That is why, as the ministry plans to import spent nuclear fuel, it will also reprocess. The ministry plans to launch its RT-2 plant by 2020. As of now, radioactive wastes and spent nuclear fuel with the activity of 3.7 billion curie are stored at the depository in the town of Krasnoyarsk-26. For reference, after the catastrophe in the Ukrainian city of Chernobyl, about 59 million curie were discharged. That is why we may say that a catastrophe 74 times larger than that one of Chernobyl is being stored at the mining chemical plant in Krasnoyarsk-26. The ministry plans to construct a new dry depository for spent nuclear fuel with a capacity of 33 000 tons for imported and domestic spent nuclear fuel. This is a great additional loading at the rate of 20 billion curie. If the existing depository is expanded, the loading will gain 3 billion curie more. If the ministry’s plans succeed, the loading of the mining chemical plant in Krasnoyarsk-26 will make up over 25 billion curie by 2010-2015 (or a discharge equivalent to 500 Chernobyl catastrophes). Therefore, we may say that the depository may become the most contaminated place not only in Russia but in the whole world within the next 10-15 years.

- During the period ofperestroika, ecologists played a very important role. However, today, we observe no mass protests even against most detrimental projects. What is the reason for it ? - There are two reasons for it. The population is preoccupied with the settlement of everyday, routine problems; the society’s activity has decreased. Russia’s ecological organizations carve out a miserable existence because no support is obtained from local authorities.

- Which public organizations and political parties does the center cooperate with? - We try to avoid politics. The center has close contacts with Russian and foreign public organizations, which allows us to obtain efficient information and organize joint-campaigns.

- Tell us about the rich history of the ecological movement. - The creation of the regional ecological movement was accompanied by demonstrations the population of the Krasnoyarsk region against the construction of platform #27 in the summer of 1989. The peak of the population’s activity fell at this very period. Several ecological anti-nuclear meetings supported by writers Viktor Astafiev and Roman Solntsev were organized. The joint efforts helped save the land where the Ministry for Atomic Industry (today’s Ministry for Atomic Energy) planned to construct platform #27, an enterprise for the storage and processing of spent nuclear fuel. That very event is considered to be the organization’s birth. However, there was no information about the activity of the mining chemical enterprise in the town, and the ecological movement aimed at informing the population about the enterprise’s work and its harmful consequences. The examination of the nuclear production was the key objective of the movement’s work at that time. The movement wanted the people to know the truth about the harmful production, but the authorities of that time prevented the mass media from publishing such information. Then, we decided to publish our own ecological newspaper, and Ekologichesky Vestnik newspaper illegally issued on October 14, 1989 for the first time. We published seven issues illegally before the newspaper was officially registered.

In the newspaper, we published exact information about radiation pollution of the Krasnoyarsk region caused by the mining chemical enterprise. The movement organized several ecological expeditions on the Yenisei river to examine radiation pollution of the water.

The Krasnoyarsk public ecological organization Green World was founded in the summer of 1989; on its basis, the Krasnoyarsk regional ecological movement was created in 1990. The organization collected over 50 000 signatures against the construction of the RT-2 plant in the region.

Then, the regional ecological movement, together with the Krasnoyarsk regional administration, organized three international radiological conferences on conversion and nuclear security problems. The Civic Center for Nuclear Non-proliferation was created then to continue the work of the ecological movement.

- And let us speak about the future now. What may happen within the nearest time if nuclear security problems are not settled in Russia and other countries ? - Several catastrophes of Chernobyl extent may occur…

- Most part of information about the environment is top-secret, as it is connected with the defense complex. However, the government protects the sphere rather strictly (we may judge about it by the court’s verdict on the case of journalist Grigory Pasko). How does the center settle the problems that arise in this connection? We know that the center works on the creation of a system for public control over the activity of the mining chemical enterprise in Krasnoyarsk-26. - We have been working on the problem since 1989. Different kinds of pressure from the KGB, Federal Security Bureau, and Federal Intelligence Service have been exerted on the organization, but we still keep on working on the problem. The center has opened its subsidiary in Krasnoyarsk-26.

- Tell us about the future plans of the Civic Center for Nuclear Non-proliferation and the Krasnoyarsk regional ecological movement scheduled for 2002. - We plan to work on informing the community and mass media of the danger that may be caused by the further development of the plutonium industry in the Krasnoyarsk region and the construction of an international depository of spent nuclear fuel. One of the main objectives is also to increase our professionalism in opposition to the popularization of the Ministry for Atomic Energy.

- They say that two classes of ecologists exist: pessimists and well-informed optimists. How do you characterize yourself ? - I belong to the second type of your classification.

- Do the Russian authorities and the society understand the importance of ecological problems ? If not, how should we achieve this? - There is no understanding of this kind so far, which is why we should exert pressure on the authorities to achieve it.

Vladimir Mikheyev was interviewed by Andrey Lubensky PRAVDA.Ru

Translated by Maria Gousseva

Read the original in Russian: http://www.pravda.ru/main/2002/01/09/35396.html

Subscribe to Pravda.Ru Telegram channel, Facebook, RSS!

Author`s name Editorial Team