We, the children of the 21st century, are not left in peace by the glory of our ancestors, who left us a rich heritage of mythology. Unfortunately, our age has no Homer to call its own. People have changed, and subjects as well. The ancient Greeks created myths to glorify their gods and their native Hellas. Modern mythmakers create them in order to absolve themselves of all responsibility and to sell off their own country more cheaply.
The myth of how Kazatomprom suddenly saw the light.
In the year 2001 A.D., Kazatomprom [Kazakhstan’s state nuclear power company] had a sudden revelation: the country faced a severe problem of radioactive contamination, which had to be solved.
Evidently, Kazatomprom’s bureaucrats are suffering from a loss of memory. How else can one explain the fact that they seem to have suddenly remembered this problem, while the entire country knew about it already at the beginning of the 1990s? At that time, the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Kazakhstan passed Resolution No. 1103, “On Urgent Measures for Improving the Radiation Situation in the Republic of Kazakhstan,” on December 31, 1992. The resolution should have served as a guide for immediate action. Instead, however, the state agencies mentioned in the resolution probably took it as a New Year’s greeting—there is no other way to explain the cause of their modest silence, when the question the results of its fulfillment are raised (1).
Why were the laws “On the Use of Atomic Energy” (1997), “On Environmental Protection” (1997), and “On the Radiation Safety of the Population” (1998) passed? Why was the 1996 government resolution “On Procedures for Maintaining a State Cadastre [List] of the Burial of Hazardous Materials, Radioactive Wastes, and Discharges of Wastewater and Minerals” on the territory of Kazakhstan adopted? Finally, why was the National Action Plan for Environmental Hygiene for the Republic of Kazakhstan created in 2000, including the section “Radiation Safety of the Population”?
Moreover, in the 1998 law “On the National Security of the Republic of Kazakhstan,” in Article 21, “Guaranteeing Environmental Security,” it is stated that “the prevention of radioactive and chemical pollution and the biological contamination of the country’s territory” is “the obligation of the appropriate state bodies and organizations, regardless of the form of property, officials, or citizens involved” (2).
However, the “appropriate state body” saw the light only in 2001. It turns out that the country is in danger! In order to save it, however, Kazatomprom, rather than suggesting that the existing laws be carried out, proposed amending them.
The time has come to think: where is the real environmental threat coming from? From radioactive wastes left without sufficient attention, or from utter disregard for the country’s laws?
The myth of Kazakhstan’s fantastic poverty.
In order to earn money for to solve the problem of its own radioactive waste, Kazatomprom proposes importing and burying waste from other countries, since Kazakhstan has no money of its own!
To do this, the country’s existing legislation needs to be amended to permit the import and burial of foreign radioactive waste. The supporters of such imports believe that cleaning up Kazakhstan’s radioactive contamination will require $1.11 billion (3).
It’s true that announcements that the country has no money are already a surprise to no one. Far more interesting was hearing a chorus of voice saying, “There is money!” “The country does have money,” admitted deputies, specialists, scientists, and virtually all those present at the conference “The Import and Burial of Radioactive Waste in Kazakhstan: A Dialogue Between Government and Civil Society,” on October 29-20, 2001.
The aforementioned Resolution 1103 of 1992 had already prescribed that “The State Committee on the Economy and the Ministry of Finances of the Republic of Kazakhstan, in developing their annual predictions and budget plans, will stipulate the allocation of funds to for targeted financing of environmental work on radioecology” (Pont 2).
On July 25, 2001, Resolution No. 1006 of the Government of Kazakhstan, “On Confirmation of the Program for Conservation of Uranium-Mining Enterprises and Liquidating the Consequences of the Working of Uranium Deposits for 2001-2010” was issued. The resolution indicated that “the chief source of financing for all work for the conservation of uranium-mining enterprises and liquidation of the consequences of working of uranium deposits is the state budget. This does not exclude, however, the possibility and the need to attract non-budgetary funds, particularly targeted funding from uranium-mining and processing companies.”
Furthermore, in 2001 150 million tenge were allocated from the state budget, which constitute “100% of the stipulated annual plan,” “for the conservation and liquidation of uranium mines, as well as for the burial of man-made wastes” (4).
Finally, in 2001 the National Fund of the Republic of Kazakhstan was created, which currently contains $1.6 billion (Kazakhstanskaya pravda, May 9, 2002). Why not use its money for the benefit of future generations and solve a painful problem?
All the same, Kazatomprom insists on the import and burial of waste! There argument? We need money!
Why aren’t there enough funds for burying our own waste? Because they mysteriously disappear. Just like in a fairy tale, also the reason is far from magical: the shadow economy, corruption, and flat-out theft. Evidently, in Kazakhstan it’s easier to import radioactive waste than to get rid corruption, which has reached alarming levels (5).
However, it should not be forgotten that there are not that many around the world who want to stain themselves with radioactive money. Even a tiny country like the Marshall Islands refused to allow the construction of a plant for processing radioactive waste from other countries, even though it has no large oil reserves, no coal, and no other mineral resources, our country’s countless reserves of which are trumpeted on every street corner (Marshall Islands Journal, April 8, 1998).
The myth of Greeks bearing gifts.
Kazatomprom claims that the burial of foreign radioactive waste will bring Kazakhstan enormous revenues.
It predicts that over the course of 30 years, the burial of foreign radioactive waste could yield on the order f $30-40 billion (Panorama, April 26, 2002).
Why on earth do our nuclear officials’ colleagues overseas so easily refuse to take advantage of such a profitable business? Because the hopes of receiving enormous profits are entirely illusory.
Isn’t this a case of Greeks bearing gifts?
Virtually all countries having a nuclear industry take care of the burial of their own radioactive wastes. At the same time, in the opinion of the authors of the Nuclear Encyclopedia, not one country in the world to date had buried wastes from elsewhere on its own territory (6). The world market for low- and mid-level radioactive wastes, cited by Kazatomprom and the parliamentary deputies initiating the amendments (7), simply does not exist!
However, even though the world lacks any such cases, the supporters of waste imports are easy to understand. The simply can’t forget about the gift of Prometheus. They cannot stand not to capture the “glow” of radioactive waste on the investing Olympus and bring it to their own people. Only—what kind of investment reputation will be formed about a country after such an operation, and what kind of international precedent might be created? About this, unfortunately, they have not taken the time to think.
It only takes stepping onto this path even once, and the radioactive trail will last for many, many generations to come… And, as usual, the full weight of the burden will lie on the shoulders of ordinary people, not the initiators of the imports!
To date, not even the technological and economic grounds for the project have been presented for consideration by parliament, nor have the results of environmental expertise. All calculations, according to specialists, have been done hastily, literally “scribbled on someone’s knee.” After all, even Russia, which has high technology and the necessary staff of specialists, in the opinion of experts, cannot hope to receive $20 billion from the reprocessing of other countries’ spent nuclear fuel (8).
The myth of a miracle.
The money received as payments for the burial of waste will go toward improving Kazakhstan’s socio-economic situation.
Dear readers, if you seriously think that, please let us ask you one single question. If enormous sums of money have disappeared in our country thus far, what will keep them from disappearing this time? Even the World Bank has begun to reconsider its conditions for providing aid to Kazakhstan, making them directly dependent on the implementation of political and institutional reforms and transparency in the management of oil revenues. Therefore, its has developed three possible scenarios for the provision of credit to Kazakhstan (9): first—the money will disappear as before; second—it will disappear, but not so quickly; third—it will hardly disappear at all. In the third case, evidently, it is presumed that a miracle will have occurred!
The myth of the strict observance of the law.
In order to observe the strictest possible legality in resolving the aforementioned problem, a number of parliamentary deputies have put forward a new definition of “law.”
Dura lex, sed lex—“the law is harsh, but it is the law,” the ancient Romans believed. A group of deputies—the initiators of the new amendments—have developed a new definition; the law is “a formal limitation.” This is the point of view from which they look at the articles of current laws that prohibit the import and burial of foreign radioactive waste (3). Will these “formal limitations” be removed or not? It looks as though this question is increasingly devoid of meaning, since the legal acts previously passed to guarantee the population’s radiation safety have not been fulfilled. Moreover, the people in charge prefer not even to remember them.
How far democracy has come in our country! Another step, and we will be unable to distinguish democracy from anarchy, or from arbitrary rule!
The myth of creation, or how Kazatomprom knows better than anyone else!
Kazatomprom has not even left its opponents the hope for an alternative solution to the problem of radioactive waste. Where does such lack of appeal, such self-confidence, come from? Does Kazatomprom really know the situation with radioactive waste so well? Is there really a possibility of quickly and effectively dealing not only with our own waste, but with that of others as well?
Truth does not vanish, however, and eventually it comes to light. And the remarkable fact is revealed that “there are no enterprises performing the licensed burial of radioactive waste in the republic. At the present time, the sole licensed enterprise for the temporary burial of radioactive waste (ampoule sources of ionized radiation) is the Baikal-1 site in the city of Kurchatov” (10). It turns out that Kazakhstan lacks any cadastre of contaminated territories. In the opinion of some experts, there are not even the technology and specialists necessary for dealing with waste in a civilized fashion (8).
Will it or no, the question arises: what is Kazatomprom counting on? Is it thinking about repeating the divine act of creation, bringing into being in a week or two the most advanced technology, the specialists, the necessary information, comfortable laws, and “an obedient people”?
Incidentally, dealing with the people may be easier. The head of Kazatomprom has announced that he is against holding a nationwide referendum on importing waste, since the number of informed people greatly exceeds the number of informed ones, and he does not have enough time in his entire life to spend explaining the essence of the issue to each one (The Globe/Vremya po…, October 23, 2001).
Myths are one thing, but the reality may turn out to be far more prosaic. More than once already in our country, the illegal actions of certain “interested persons or agencies” have been legalized by the passage of amendments to existing legislation. In doing so, both the laws’ creators and legislators have demonstrated miraculous flexibility in finding grounds for changing the law.
Is the situation repeating itself this time? Might Kazatomprom already be pursuing some kind of operation, violating state atomic energy policy and the country’s laws? Might its efforts be aimed at legalizing these actions? Perhaps that is why our atomic agency is not hurrying to account for its actions to improve the radiation situation in Kazakhstan?
And is that the reason why its bureaucrats do not want to hear about the human right to a healthy environment, the observance of which would be a serious obstacle to the blossoming of their agency?
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References (in Russian):
1. Resolution of the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan No. 1103, “On Urgent Measures for Improving the Radiation Situation in the Republic of Kazakhstan,” December 31, 1992.
2. Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan No. 233-1, “On the National Security of the Republic of Kazakhstan,” June 26, 1998 (amended in accordance with Law of the RK NO. 45-II, April 28, 2000).
3. Explanatory note to the draft Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan “On Introducing Amendments and Additions to Certain Legal Acts of the Republic of Kazakhstan on Issues of Radiation Safety,” 2001.
4. Report of the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan on Fulfillment of the Republic Budget for 2001, Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan, May 14, 2002.
5. “‘Transparency Kazakhstan’ Presents the Index of Perception of Corruption for 2001,” Toward a Society Without Corruption, 2001, no. 1(6), pp. 4-7.
6. Nuclear Encyclopedia. Moscow, 1996.
7. From an interview with Aleksei Yablokov. Aleksei Yablokov is a doctor of biological sciences, a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and an honorable foreign member of the American Academy of the Arts and Sciences. He is a former advisor to the President of Russia and chairman of the Inter-Agency Commission of Environmental Security of the Security Council of the Russian Federation.
8. From an interview with Vladimir Kuznetsov. Vladimir Kuznetsov is a member of an association of independent experts on the safe use of atomic energy in the Russian Federation, an expert for a number of committees of the Federal Assembly State Duma of the Russian Federation. He is an engineer and thermal physicist, a former employee of the Chernobyl nuclear power station and head of the inspection service for nuclear and radiation safety of the Russian Federation.
9. Kazakhstan: Priority Areas for Development and a Proposed Action Program for the World Bank, September 2001, pp. iv, v.
10. Resolution of the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan No. 1006, “On Confirmation of the Program for Conservation of Uranium-Mining Enterprises and Liquidating the Consequences of the Working of Uranium Deposits for 2001-2010,” July 25, 2001.
The Anti-Nuclear Campaign of Non-Governmental Organizations of Kazakhstan.
Kaisha Atakhanova – Eco-Center, Karaganda,
tel.: (3212) 56-29-22, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gulsum Kakimzhanova – IRIS, Semipalatinsk,
tel.: (3222) 62-40-62, 62-25-91, E-mail: email@example.com
© Ecological Society Green Salvation, 2002.
Translated by Glenn Kempf
Translated September 17, 2002