RUSSIA: Rosatom exporting deadly nuclear technologies

Nov 9, 2020

Rosatom is a Russian state-owned transnational corporation that builds and operates nuclear power plants in Russia and globally. It deals with all aspects of the nuclear technological chain, from uranium mining to managing nuclear waste and spent fuel, creating problems all the way.

Russia and Rosatom’s Nuclear Plans

In 2016, the Russian government announced its plans to build 11 new nuclear reactors by 2030. In August 2019, Rosatom’s current investment plan reportedly received preliminary approval, to the tune of some US$13 billion in funding up to 2035. The company’s plans include prolonging the life of outdated reactors, building nuclear waste and spent nuclear fuel repositories in various parts of the country, and importing nuclear waste from other countries. .

Rosatom is also ramping up exports of its deadly nuclear technologies, and building nuclear power plants in other countries with plans to re-import their hazardous nuclear waste, which will remain a threat within Russia for thousands of years. 

Social and Environmental Threats  

The state-run nuclear industry in Russia has a long history of nuclear crises, including the dumping of liquid radioactive waste into the Techa River, the Kyshtym (Mayak-Ozersk) disaster in 1957, and Chernobyl in 1986. In the 1957 disaster, a liquid waste storage container exploded at the Mayak plutonium plant in Ozersk, in the Ural mountains. Within ten hours, radioactive clouds had spread over more than 20,000 square kilometers, exposing more than half a million people to radiation. Many people, including the third generation of irradiated people, still live in contaminated areas without recognition or proper compensation. 

In 2017, evidence of a radiation leak 1000 times the annual allowed limit of emissions of ruthenium106, emanating from the region where the Mayak plant is located, threatening the communities within several kilometers of the site. Altogether, Mayak is estimated to have dumped the equivalent of four ‘Chernobyls’ worth of radiation into the environment, but it continues operations as a reprocessing plant for spent nuclear fuel from nuclear plants and nuclear heritage sites across Russia. Even more recently, in August 2019, Rosatom confirmed that an explosion had taken place in the Arkhangelsk region, during a test of a liquid-fuelled rocket engine. Five staff died and radiation spiked briefly at up to 20 times the normal level in the nearby city of Severodvinsk. Similar situation repeated in 2020 with an unknown source of radiation over Northern Europe.

Rosatom’s Dangerous Global Expansion

This ongoing catalogue of errors is alarming, given Rosatom’s global expansion plans. A key example is the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant construction in Bangladesh, which Rosatom says it is accelerating. Serious concerns have been raised about the lack of public consultation and safety related to Bangladesh’s first nuclear power plant, especially since Bangladesh is particularly prone to natural disasters that can trigger nuclear accidents. The return of nuclear waste to Russia, mandated by the Russia-Bangladesh nuclear agreement, also poses a significant threat to people living along transport routes and Russia, where it will probably be sent to Mayak.

Threats to Environmental Defenders 

It continues to be highly risky for Russian activists to criticise Rosatom. Russia’s Foreign Agents law has been used to target and close down NGOs in the ‘national interest,’ limit access to information, prevent public discussion, and threaten anti-nuclear activists with espionage charges. In 2015, shortly after her organisation was labeled a Foreign Agent, Nadezhda Kutepova, one of Rosatom’s most active critics, had to flee the country to protect her family because she faced accusations of espionage.

By 2020, only ten of the thirty-two environmental NGOs labeled under the law were continuing their work. The focus is also shifting from organisations to individuals. For example, in May 2019, authorities in the Kaliningrad region of Russia initiated five criminal cases against Alexandra Korolyova, Director of Ecodefense, and continuing. She was also obliged to flee the country. Other activists are also being persecuted in many places across Russia.

Russian Social Ecological Union Demands Justice

The Russian Social Ecological Union (RSEU)/Friends of the Earth Russia calls on the Russian government to change course. It needs to protect its people, respecting universal human rights and continuing its support for the negotiations towards the UN treaty on transnational corporations and human rights. 

This has practical implications in Russia: We demand justice for those whose lives will never be the same because of nuclear disasters and other corporate crimes, and protection for environmental human rights defenders, including those critical of Rosatom’s policies. 

The government should end its subsidies for the nuclear industry, stop Rosatom developing new nuclear projects in Russia and elsewhere, and support nuclear-free climate agreements. Public investment needs to be redirected to promote social and environmental well-being, including through the development and implementation of renewable energy solutions, and compensation to victims of the nuclear industry.

Read the full story on page 16 of our ‘Defending territories, Defending our lives’ report.

Find out more in RSEU’s new report Anti–nuclear resistance in Russia: problems, protests, reprisals.  

For for information contact:
Emma Harvey,
Communications Coordinator
Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific

Vitaly Servetnik,
Russian Social-Ecological Union / Friends of the Earth Russia

In the last few years, Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific’s member groups’ staff, activists and supporters have been beaten, kidnapped, jailed and even murdered while fighting for environmental justice. Our report exposes these injustices and highlights the ongoing struggle for those on the frontlines.

Find out more in our report
Defending territories, Defending our lives: Protecting human rights and the environment in Asia Pacific through system change.

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Rizwana Hasan (FoE Bangladesh), Vitaly Servetnik (FoE Russia) Abeer Butmeh (FoE Palestine) on the repressions against EHRDs .

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