Vladimir Mikhailovich Kuznetsov graduated from the Institute of Energy in 1980. From 1979, he worked at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in various positions, from an operator in the reactor department to senior engineer for reactor management. He completed graduate studies at the I.P. Bardin Central Scientific Research Institute for Ferrous Metallurgy. From 1987, he worked for the State Atomic Inspection Service, occupying posts from engineer-inspector in the environmental inspection service for supervision of safe exploitation of atomic power stations in the Administration of the Central Region of the USSR State Atomic Inspection Service, to head of inspection for supervision of the nuclear and radiation safety of atomic energy sites for the State Atomic Inspection Service of the Russian Federation. He was the youngest head of inspection in the entire history of the State Atomic Inspection Service (36 years old). Together with his colleagues, he spoke as an initiator for the closure of more than 10 Russian atomic energy sites, in connection with the dangers of their further exploitation. As a result of pressure from above, he was forced to leave the Russian State Atomic Inspection Service in 1992.
Vladimir Kuznetsov is the director of the program for nuclear and radiation safety of the Russian Green Cross (RGC), a member of the Higher Environmental Council of the Russian State Duma’s Committee on the Environment, a member of an association of independent experts on the safe use of atomic energy in the Russian Federation, a member of the International Technical Committee for Standardization of TK-322 (“Atomic Technology”), and an active member of the Russian Environmental Congress.
He is the author of the following books:
State Radiation, published in Russia and Great Britain in 1994 with the assistance of the International Chernobyl Safety Foundation;
Russian Atomic Energy, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: A Look by an Independent Expert, published in 2000 with the assistance of the National Press Institute;
The Chief Problems and the Modern State of Safety of Enterprises in the Nuclear Fuel Cycle, published in 2002 with the assistance of the Russian Green Cross, and the Center for Journalism of War and Peace.
He is also the co-author of the following books:
A Guide to Guaranteeing Radiation Safety During the Localization and Liquidation of Radiation Accidents and Catastrophes at sites in Russia, published in 1997 with the assistance of the Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations;
The Radiation Legacy of the Cold War, published in 1999 with the assistance of the Russian Green Cross;
Floating Atomic Power Stations: A Threat to the Arctic, the World Ocean, and the Regime of Nonproliferation, published in 2000-2001 with the assistance of the Russian Green Cross and the Center for Environmental Policy.
He has published more than 120 articles in the Russian and foreign press, devoted to the problems of the safe use of atomic energy in Russia and beyond.
Question: Can you comment on Kazatomprom’s drive to introduce amendments to current legislation, with the goal of legalizing the import and burial of radioactive waste from other states on the territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan?
Answer: In 1992, my first book came out, in which there are some interesting figures. I juxtaposed information on stores of radioactive waste with data from the last census. It turned out that in Kazakhstan for every member of the population, including infants and elderly people, there are 25 tonnes of radioactive waste. And no one has refuted these figures.
Now, it seems to me that the situation has become even more serious. Such affairs are attracting the interest not of specialists, but of people for whom the financial side comes first. If only these people (not only in Kazakhstan, but everywhere) had at least a vague idea of the level of the problems connected with radioactive waste!
The problem of radioactive waste has always had an impact on the speed of development of atomic energy in a country. If this problem is solved, then atomic energy will develop. In Kazakhstan, apart from the BN-350 plant that operated in the city of Shevchenko (now Aktau) (now it’s no longer in operation), and apart from the factories and installations involved in the nuclear fuel cycle, there are no other atomic energy sites. Nevertheless, there exist serious problems within the country (in Stepnogorsk, in Ust-Kamenogorsk), including those involving low- and mid-level nuclear waste, the storage of over a hundred thousand tonnes of thorium monoxide, and also stocks of metallic thorium. These are very serious problems in and of themselves, and to take on still more problems—I don’t understand it!
First the problems that exist in the country at this stage need to be solved, and only then can we talk, for example, about importing radioactive waste that its territory can accommodate. Incidentally, to do this you need to have regional storage sites, which Kazakhstan doesn’t have. You need to have facilities for processing radioactive waste. There aren’t any such facilities. Even Kazakhstan’s closest neighbor—Russia—has far too few. And we know that in order to build such facilities requires colossal amounts of financing. The fuss that was raised in Russia last summer, in connection with the importing here of spent nuclear fuel, is indicative. There was powerful opposition, but we know how the Ministry of Atomic Energy solved that particular problem. I’m sure that the residents of Kazakhstan don’t even suspect what sums of money were spent. As an example, I can cite the material that was published in the newspaper Novaya gazeta. In this material, data are cited that on the order of $50 million went towards “work” with the corps of deputies, in order for the introduction of the amendments to succeed. At the same time, a strange system exists in both Russia and Kazakhstan—decisions are made by people who have nothing to do with the problems of atomic energy. They have neither the corresponding education, nor the work experience.
For instance, in Russia decisions regarding this issue were taken in the following way. I prepared a report on the problems of safety at enterprises in the nuclear fuel cycle, which I gave to a Nobel laureate, Academician Aleksandr Mikhailovich Prokhorov, to review. After all, he is a physicist, and a Nobel Prize carries a lot of weight. Having examined these documents and my book, Prokhorov wrote his conclusions and send them to Gennady Seleznyov [then speaker of the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament]. In his conclusions (four pages long), all of my materials were dealt with in detail, and it was written in black and white “…to halt the legislative process.” Academician Prokhorov recommended ending the consideration of the draft law until the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) had created a special commission bringing together interested organizations, and until the issue had been studied from all sides and recommendations prepared for the corps of deputies on whether or not to approve amendments to the law. The Academy of Sciences did not examine my report or Aleksandr Prokhorov’s conclusions, although we sent these materials to the Academy in advance. Independently of Greenpeace, we collected signatures on behalf of such organizations as the Moscow Society of Naturalists, one of the oldest environmental societies in Russia, whose history began in 1847. The society is headed by the director of Moscow State University, Academician Sadovnichy, a person who also carries a great deal of weight in the scientific world. He wrote a letter to the Academy recommending what issues it needed to consider. This letter was signed by another ten academicians. However, no one listened either to them or to Academician Prokhorov. The deciding factor was blood ties; therefore, the decision was taken by Myasoyedov, Zhores Alferov, and Robert Nigmatullin—the brother of the former deputy minister of atomic energy…
Question: Doesn’t it seem to you that the amendments passed in Russian legislation, and the campaign launched in Kazakhstan for the passage of analogous amendments, are links in a single chain?
Answer: In that regard, Kazakhstan is going even further than Russia. If amendments on spent nuclear fuel have been passed, the new law, which was published literally only two months ago, says that the import, processing, and storage of radioactive waste in Russia is forbidden. After all, the situation in Russia with regard to nuclear waste is rather more serious than in Kazakhstan. Because in Kazakhstan only one facility has lived out its time, and in Russia there are more than thirty active energy blocks, plus processing enterprises, that serve the nuclear fuel cycle. These include Tomsk-7, Krasnoyasrk-26, and Chelyabink-65 (or “Mayak”). However, even so we still have places for the storage of such wastes. In some places there are facilities where they are processed. In spite of that, the problems of radioactive waste are problems that hold back the country’s development of atomic energy. I think that it’s this problem that will hold back the development of atomic energy for the next 100-150 years. We already know what can happen with liquid radioactive waste from the example of the explosion of the storage site at Chelyabink-65 in 1957. We know that Russia doesn’t have facilities for the utilization of radioactive waste; these wastes end up in collector layers, as it’s done in the city of Dimitrograd, at the Institute for Atomic Reactors, at Tomsk-7 and Krasnoyarsk-26. And at Chelyabink-65 radioactive wastes are dumped into the open hydrosystem, the Kechinsky cascade of water bodies. Many in Kazakhstan probably know what’s going on with the Kechensky cascade, since it’s not far from the territory of Kazakhstan.
Question: That is, you think that from a technical point of view the burial of radioactive waste from other countries in Kazakhstan is simply impossible to carry out?
Answer: Kazakhstan has neither the facilities, nor the opportunities, nor the personnel. The trained personnel that were in Shevchenko—both those who worked on the production of the uranium concentrate itself, and those who occupied with the operation of the BN-350—have gradually left. The best-trained specialists transferred to the Beloyarsk atomic power station. There they’re building a BN-800, a more powerful reactor than the one that operated in Kazakhstan, and than the BN-600 (the third block of the Beloyarsk plant). What Kazatomprom is hoping for—I just don’t know. If we draw a parallel with Minatom [Russia’s Ministry of Atomic Energy], the main stumbling block for the Duma wasn’t the technical issues, because none of those deputies knows the whole story either, and that’s a very unpleasant thing. The structure of Minatom’s expenditures, as a rule, is kept under the stamp of secrecy; therefore only six out of the 450 deputies have access to the secret articles describing its spending..
Look at what happened in Russia in November 2001. The Accounting Chamber, headed by Sergei Stepashin, conducted a detailed study of how the state program for radioactive watse and spent fuel had been carried out, how the money for that program had been spent. Money from the state budget. And they came to the conclusion that money had been spent by Minatom inappropriately, and they named a six-digit figure! And that’s in Russia. What can we say about Kazakhstan, where the situation is even worse?
Question: Who profits from the introduction of the legislative amendments regarding the import of radioactive waste, apart from Kazatomprom itself? Perhaps there are other countries interested?
Answer: Of course there might be interested countries, including some in Asia, which are located closer to Kazakhstan. All of them would be pleased as punch to dump their own radioactive waste that exist in one form or another, except, of course, for the gaseous ones.
I’ve been following this information. About a year ago I worked in Ust-Kamenogorsk, and I know the whole system. Kazakhstani customs repeatedly detected contraband imports of nuclear fission materials: both uranium concentrate and radioactive scrap metal. They enter Kazakhstan under the guise of scrap. In reality, this is solid waste. If Semipalatinsk [nuclear test site] isn’t enough for Kazakhstan, if Kazakhstan doesn’t have enough [uranium] tailing sites and storage sites for thorium monoxide in Ust-Kamenogorsk, if the problems in Stepnogorsk and Aktau aren’t enough, let people close there eyes to this and take the decision to store radioactive waste in their own country.
But that’s not the biggest problem. The main thing is that fact that you won’t get anything from this waste except headaches, like the one left over from the Chernobyl accident, from the accidents at Krasnoyarsk-26 and Tomsk-7. Equipment was left contaminated, and it’s lying under the open sky and rusting. Do you really think that if there might be something useful from this waste, this equipment would still be lying around? The wastes that we have would probably have been processed, if we could have gotten something useful out of them. Of course, my opponents might say that on the territory of the Leningrad atomic power station (Sosnovy Bor), a factory was buolt for processing low-level radioactive scrap metal. However, this is the same headache, because that factory hasn’t passed even one expert examination.
I was the chairman of a number of committees for public environmental expertise regarding both floating atomic power stations, and on the atomic heating station at Tomsk-7. Everywhere, it all came down to the fact that it’s not possible to obtain complete documentation and financial accounting for expenditures. Even though they promise to provide full documentation, it was never exhaustive. It’s not enough that these expenses are just “scrawled on somebody’s knee.” Revenues for spent fuel were calculated the same way, and as a result, there appeared the figure of $20 billion, which we will allegedly receive.
In these calculations, analogies are drawn with the Japanese factories of Kajema or Befeu. If this is the case, however, the sum ought to be three times greater. If Russia will receive $20 billion, the idea of $60 billion simply collapses. The same is true here.
The span of a human lifetime is insignificantly small in comparison with the lifetime of radioactive wastes. These people who are fighting for this—once they’ve gotten their share, they’ll simply flee the country, and they could absolutely care less what happens in their homeland with this radioactive waste. And in 30-40 years, the storage sites will begin leaking and the facilities will cease to exist. The government of Kazakhstan will face the fact that they’ll either need to import foreign spare parts to keep the facilities in working order, or they’ll need to pay for new imported facilities, and those, unfortunately, won’t come cheap. These people won’t be paying for these facilities out of their own pocket.
In making such dangerous plans a reality, independent experts ought to be recruited. Yes, you could say that there aren’t many of these independent experts, that there aren’t enough of them, but they do exist. If you want your work to be reinforced by something, you need to seek out people who will sign off on your ideas. And these should not be specialists from Minatom or the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who will never give a negative conclusion. These conclusions should not be signed by people who stand, as it were, on the other isde of the development of atomic energy. For example, on the one side—Minatom, on the other—Greenpeace. For objectivity, neither the one nor the other should take part in the expertise. These experts should possess a specialized education, work experience, and a spotless reputation for the last, say, 10 years of their activity.
October 1, 2002
Translated by Glenn Kempf
Translated into English November 23, 2002