Nations, Their Territories and Waste Management: Any National Trends?

Introduction

It is a truism that humans now produce more waste faster, than ever before.(1) In March 2000, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Dr Mohamed Elbaradei attended an international conference on nuclear waste in Cordoba, Spain and stated:

The solution generally proposed [for nuclear waste storage] is the use of deep geological repositories comprised of natural barriers and an engineered system designed to provide primary physical and chemical containment of the waste. It is the dominant opinion of specialists that such geological disposal can be implemented safely, economically and in an environmentally sound manner, using technologies that are already available.(2)

This paper is the first of a series aimed at identifying trends between nations, their territories and waste management. Here we focus on high-level, civilian nuclear waste and trends in exporting it for recycling and storage. More specifically, this paper summarizes the relevant laws in place the Russian Federation. Subsequent papers will examine Canadian, French and United States legislation and practises.

Russian law

The Russian Federation (Russia) has recently received significant attention from Canadian media given the agreement between the two states to transform plutonium into reactor fuel.(3) While this agreement and the waste transfer is not strictly relevant to waste management, it does imply the cross-border movement of unwanted nuclear weapons fissile materials which may be characterized as waste processing. Inasmuch as Atomic Energy Canada Limited (AECL), a Canadian Crown Corporation, obtained from Transport Canada, a Government department, the right to transport the plutonium capsules into Canada from the United States by helicopter, this acceptance of foreign nuclear materials was legal.

Relevant to the purpose of this paper is whether or not there are any Russian laws or Russian legal processes that express Russia's will to deal in a certain manner with its own and foreign nuclear waste.

In Russia, Federal Law No. 170 FZ, On The Use of Atomic Energy (4) devotes Articles 44 to 48 to the handling of nuclear materials, radioactive substances and radioactive waste. In turn, Article 45 of this law makes reference to "the legislation of the Russian Federation in the area of environmental protection." Article 50 of this cited law, the Federal Law on the Protection of the Environment, prohibits the storage of foreign nuclear materials.

But Article 47 of the Atomic Energy Use law also states that the "storage of radioactive waste shall be regarded as a definite stage in their preparation for processing or burial. The used-up fuel shall be processed for the extraction of valuable components out of it in conformity with the legislation of the Russian Federation." Article 48 Atomic Energy Use law explains that the storage or burial of radioactive waste "shall be safely isolated from the environment and the present and future generations of people and biological resources shall be protected against radiation over and above the levels fixed by the standards and rules of using atomic energy." Storage and or burial shall be in "specially intended storage points", and according to a procedure to be "determined by the Government of the Russian Federation in accordance with the legislation of the Russian Federation."

Finally, Chapter XIV of the Atomic Energy Use law governs the transfers of radioactive substances, and specifically article 64 which reads in part: "The importation of used-up nuclear fuel from foreign states to the territory of the Russian federation with the aim of its processing shall be effected in the order prescribed by the legislation of the Russian Federation and international treaties and agreements of the Russian Federation." Breaches of these provisions trigger fines, administrative and criminal sanctions, detailed in Chapter XIII of the Russian Federation law on the Use of Atomic Energy.

A cursive analysis of the above articles and laws can credit substantial discretion to the Russian Federation Government, especially the words "treaties and agreements", which leave open the question of popular participation in the decision-making process.

Russian method

According to a Michael Dobbs, Moscow correspondent for The Washington Post, the Russian government and the "political pendulum" are ready to alter Russian legislation to enable the processing and storage of nuclear waste.(5) The Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy (Minatom) does not deny its commercial interests in this waste processing market. In fact, it has recently lobbied the Russian Parliament, the Duma, to alter article 50 of the Federal Law on the Protection of the Environment, to allow the processing and storage of foreign, processed nuclear fuel.(6) In addition, Minatom officials estimate that the processing of nuclear fuel and its eventual storage is a US$ 21 billion business over ten years.

Current processing capabilities of spent nuclear fuel worldwide is approximately one twentieth of the need, which will undeniably grow. More precisely, according to Minatom Minister Evgeni Adamov, the planet's nuclear stations produce approximately ten thousand (10,000) tonnes of nuclear spent fuel per year.

The market value of this waste processing service corresponds to US $10-15 billion per year; sixty percent of this market being currently controlled by United States interests, who charge twice as much as the Russian services.(7) The latter charge one thousand dollars per kilogram of processed fuel. Despite these market realities, Minatom's attempts to alter the environmental laws of the Russian Federation however have so far failed, and processed nuclear waste must be shipped back to the originating state.

Conclusion

In keeping with Pluri Vox Media Corp.'s objectives, this paper has analysed two voices on a given issue: the transfer and storage of nuclear waste. The undisputed facts are that thousands of metric tonnes of high-level nuclear waste are being produced by 436 civilian reactors worldwide every year. International processing facilities lag behind waste production. Thus processing and, ultimately, permanent storage are an increasingly marketable services. Storage, as indicated by IAEA Director General Elbaradei, will most likely be underground.

A trend linking a nation-state to its tolerance for accepting underground storage of nuclear waste may therefore begin as legislative attempts to alter the legal landscape to facilitate such transfers. A separate question is the definition of storage. Does it mean delimited temporary storage or does it also include the processing time and by-products ? These and other questions, including local, grassroots resistance movements, will be addressed in subsequent Pluri Vox analyses of how nation-states treat waste.

© Pluri Vox Media Corp.


1. See inter alia, R. Gottlieg & L. Blumberg, War on Waste: Can American Win Its Battle with Waste? (1989); Isaac Azimov, Where Does Garbage Go? (1992).

2. http://www.iaea.or.at/worldatom/Meetings/Planned/2000/infcn78.shtml

3. Carl A Beard, "How the Plutonium Lift helped the World", The National Post, 21 January 2000; Wallace Immen and Colin Freeze, "Plutonium Slips into Canada", The Globe and Mail, 5 January 2000,

4. Promulgated on 21 November 1995.

5. Michael Dobbs,"Russian Proposes to Store Spent Nuclear Fuel" The Washington Post, 11 March 2000, p. A13

6. Ekaterina Vladimirova, "Greenpeace Attacks Minatom" Utro, 4 April 2000, available at http://www.utro.ru/articles/accidents/2000/04/04/200004040078220703.shtml?2000/04/04

7. United States's policy vis-à-vis its own waste will be discussed in a subsequent Pluri Vox paper, but background materials including the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (1982) is available at http://www.fe.doe.gov/remarks/speeches98.html&ti