Tuesday, February 02, 2010


A French company dropped off its nuclear waste in St. Petersburg, Russia yesterday.The uranium, from French nuclear giant Areva, is headed for Siberia. It was not the first time depleted uranium from France had been dumped in Russia. It was, also, not the first time that protesters were on hand at both the beginning and the end of the trip.

The following is from the St. Petersburg Times.

Cargo of Toxic Waste Arrives in City's Port
By Galina Stolyarova
A cargo of 650 tons of depleted uranium hexafluoride arrived at the city's port on Monday. The radioactive load, which is due to travel on by rail to the Siberian Chemical Factory in the Siberian town of Seversk for reprocessing, was brought in by The Captain Kuroptev ship, a vessel that has repeatedly come into conflict in the past with ecological groups trying to prevent it from docking.

The French company AREVA, one of the largest exporters of depleted uranium to Russia, along with the German-Dutch holding URENCO, is responsible for the radioactive cargo. During the past 15 years, the companies have jointly sent to Russia nearly 140,000 tons of radioactive material, according to Greenpeace Russia.

Radioactive loads on board foreign ships have been arriving at the port of St. Petersburg on a regular basis for a decade, being sent on by rail to factories in Siberia and the Urals.

The trains carrying the hazardous loads set off from Avtovo railway station — located in the south of the city close to residential areas — according to the local branch of the ecology group Bellona. Bellona's research has shown that most residents in the area have no idea about the risks to which they are regularly exposed as a result of these toxic cargoes.

Ecologists have difficulty monitoring the cargoes, as officials restrict information concerning the transportation of nuclear material, and often prevent independent experts from gaining access to the trains. When volunteers have been able to get close to the trains they say they have often registered increased radiation levels.

AREVA is not the only French company that regularly sends uranium hexafluoride to Russia. EURODIF also continues to send regular shipments of radioactive loads. Russia's contracts with both AREVA and EURODIF expire in 2014, and ecologists are actively campaigning in France against their renewal.

International environmental groups recently organized the screening of a new documentary film focusing on this issue. The screening prompted the French authorities to create a special commission to investigate such shipments.

Ecologists have questioned the ethics of these deals. It has been calculated that it is at least three times cheaper for Western European companies to send depleted uranium for reprocessing to Russia than to do the job at home.

In 2008, Russia also signed contracts with India, Pakistan and China to receive spent nuclear fuel and highly toxic uranium hexafluoride in addition to the regular shipments of radioactive cargoes from Western Europe.

In November last year, environmentalists trumpeted their first major success in years when the German-Dutch company URENCO announced that it would end the practice of sending spent nuclear fuel to Russia for reprocessing and storage.

Ecodefense, Bellona, Greenpeace and other pressure groups argue that the containers containing the waste are not completely leak-proof and that the freight loads across the country are unguarded. Similarly, they warn that the drivers of the trains that carry the dangerous cargoes are typically left in the dark about the radioactive content of the containers.

While the Russian authorities have remained resistant to pressure, the Dutch government has stopped sending radioactive waste to Russia from the Netherlands.

Greenpeace volunteers from across Europe have been campaigning against this practice since the mid-1990s, when the Russian government inked its first contracts with a string of foreign companies to receive uranium hexafluoride and other radioactive material for reprocessing and storage.

"Those contracts were extremely profitable and beneficial for the foreign companies, and humiliating for Russia, as it allowed foreign states to easily dispose of nuclear waste, which is extremely expensive to process and store," explained Vladimir Chuprov, head of Greenpeace's energy program in Russia.

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