The organisers of the protest from Murmansks Nature and Youth presented the Murmansk Region with a symbolic gift—a huge mock-up lock with which the governor could close the aged reactors at the nuclear power plant (NPP). It was accepted on the governors behalf by his assistant, Aleksei Barabanov.
As announced by the Murmansk prosecutors office, extending the life-spans of reactors No. 1 and 2 at the Kola NPP (KNPP), which was granted by the Russias nuclear regulatory body within the Federal Service for Energy, Technological and Atomic Oversight (FSETAN) was fundamentally illegal: No state environmental impact studies were carried out, nor any public hearings on the issue held, as required by law. Protestors carried placards and banners that read Open the truth—shut the reactor.
The reactor that exploded at Chernobyl was brand new and had been in operation for barely two years. The now-extended first generation reactors and old. Their operation cold turn into a catastrophe any day, said Bellona researcher Igor Kudrik.
The Nos. 1 and 2 reactor at the KNPP went online in 1973 and 1974 respectively and are part of Russias first generation of reactors (the VVER 440/230 type). They were designed to work for 30 years. Correspondingly, they should have been shut down in 2003 and 2004.
But this did not happen. Instead, their operational life-spans, with a few upgrades, were granted. The licence for the their five-year operation extentions—granted by Russias civilian nuclear regulator Gosatomnadzor, FSETANs predecessor—were issued without conducting an obligatory state environmental impact study. Conducting such federal level studies is mandated by the law On environmental impact studies in article 11.
It should be noted that the first extension for the old reactors was issued in summer 2003—almost precisely after former Deputy Minister of Atomic Energy Andrei Malyshev was installed as Gosatomnadzors chief.
He replaced Yury Vishnevsky at this post. Vishnevsky had been an outspoken critic of the former Ministry of Atomic Energy, now known as the Federal Agency for Atomic energy, or Rosatom.
In April 2005, the Murmansk Regional Prosecutor issued a recommendation to annul the violations surrounding the reactor life-span extensions and force regulatory bodies and Rosenergoatom, Russians nuclear power plant operational conglomerate, to carry out the environmental impact studies. But none of these structures did as they were ordered.
The Murmansk Prosecutors again ordered the state structures to fulfil the earlier order, but got only the run around in return. In the near future, the Regional Prosecutor will send documentation on the case to the Prosecutor General in Moscow after a possible court petition regarding the non-compliance with the prosecutors recommendations.
|The Murmansk Prosecutors Office letter on the illegality of prolonging the operating life-spans of the KNPPs Nos. 1 and 2 reactors. The letter was received by Bellona in response to an inquiry filed by Bellonas Environment and Rights magazine for information used in an earlier article The Highway to the Forbidden Zone.|
In Bellonas opinion, as expressed in its recently released The Russian Nuclear Industry—The Need for Reform report, extending the operating life-spans of reactors is a dangerous practice performed at the expense of western donors, and yet another indication of crisis within the nuclear industry.
The most defective reactors—including the KNPPs first two blocks, and two reactors at the Leningrad NPP—were singled out for operational extensions. All of these reactors have fatal construction and engineering flaws that are impossible to correct with the help of so-called complex measures for prolonging resources and extended operations, the official terminology for such operations.
By Rosatoms account, the safety of this generation of reactors (primarily those that are slated to receive extensions) is achieved mainly by increasing the quantity of safety systems and systems of limiting the escape of radioactivity and more stringent requirements for equipment and personnel.
As a result the NPP becomes more and more complicated, expensive and unreliable. It could be said that, by the current received wisdom about safety, atomic energy is close to its terminal economic level: Further build-up of safety systems will lead to the decrease of the nuclear industrys competitive edge.
In the mid 1990s, Russia signed an agreement with the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) within the framework of the Nuclear Safety Account, in which obligations to take first generation reactors out of service were fortified. However, after Russia had received financial resources from this programme, authorities refused to hold up their side of the bargain.
Between 1991 and 2005, TACISs nuclear safety programme spent a $500m. But in 2004-2005 Norway, reacting negatively to supporting the life-span extensions of the KNPP reactors, decreased its financial support of the KNPP. But Europe continues to buy electricity produced by, among others, the reactors at the KNPP, thereby supporting the practice of reactor life-span extensions.
Bellonas 2001 Arctic Nuclear Challenge report refers to the fact that even in 1989 the Gosatomnadzor Commission concluded that the KNPPs Nos. 1 and 2 reactors should be operated at a more sparing regime, limiting their power to 50 to 75 percent in order that these reactors smoothly end their life cycle. Unfortunately, the Commissions demands were never met.
Operating the two first generation VVER 440 reactors, the KNPP is, according to the opinion of the Gosatomnadzor commission, as well as of several Swedish and Finnish specialists, one of the most dangerous nuclear power plants in Russia.
A half-step from an accident
They are conducting an absolutely illegal experiment on extending the operation life-spans of reactors that were designed to operate for 30 years at one of the oldest NPPs in Russia, said Vladimir Slivyak, co-chairman of the environmental group Ecodefence!.
This could lead to a nuclear catastrophe as reactor Nos. 1 and 2 are of the first generation of Soviet reactors, comparable to the safety level of Chernobyl. The prosecutor is obliged to punish the management of the NPP for its to-hell-with-it attitude toward the law and secure the cancellation of the extension licence.
Even as far back as June 11th 1992, the acting minister of safety, Nikolai Glushko, wrote a memo to then Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, saying: Urgent is the question of further operation of VVER-440 energy blocks, which operate at the Novovoronezh and Kola NPPs, and which do not satisfy contemporary safety demands. At the same time, the conclusions of Minatom specialists about the reactors reconstruction are not economically reasonable.
In 1993, the KNPP found itself on the brink of the most serious accident in its history. As the result of a fierce storm, the station lost all electrical power, which almost led to the loss of control over the reactor, which could have resulted in a serious accident.
|A young activist named Margarita hands out leaflets about what to do in case of a radioactive accident.|
Plans proclaimed by Rosatom include completing construction of reactor No. 5 at the Kursk NPP, reactor No. 3 at the Kalinin NPP, and reactor No. 2 at the Rostov NPP. The Kursk NPP reactor is a Chernobyl-style RMBK-1000. The construction of the Kursk units was started in the 1970s and is now 60-70 percent complete. According to Rosatom the cost of the construction is going to be about $1m per unit.
International experts, however, say that the building of a new 1-giga-watt reactor costs from $1.5 to $2.8 billion.
With such estimates, even the three units where construction was halted can scarcely be built in the next five years, to say nothing of the proposed units. Realizing that the reactors construction is unprofitable and impossible economically, Rosatom turns to extending the operational life-spans of existing reactors.
One of the reasons for extensions, according to the Rosatom representatives, is the lack of any real funds for NPP decommissioning and spent nuclear fuel management. Thus, the dismantling of four shut down reactors at the Beloyarsk and Novovoronezh NPPs that were taken off the grid for safety reasons before the end of their service lives in 1981, 1984, 1989 and 1990 is moving very slowly. The spent nuclear fuel from the Novovoronezh NPP was ready to be shipped from the plant only after more than a decade of work, in 2003.
|Activists bring a symbolic gift to the administration of the Murmansk Region.|
Moreover, according to the Russian Audit Chamber, the decommissioning fund has not even been created yet, in violation of Russian law. So, it is unclear whether the decommissioning funds have been allocated at all. It is furthermore quite possible that the responsibility for dismantlement problems will be shifted to Russias regional governments where the plants are located.
In the 2001-2005, the operational life-spans of seven reactors were extended: reactor Nos. 3 and 4 of the Novovoronezh NPP, reactor Nos. 1 and 2 at the Kola NPP, reactors Nos.1 and 2 at the Leningrad NPP. All reactors continue to operate, producing radioactive waste.
No approach has yet been developed for soil and water rehabilitation near the Mayak reprocessing plant in the Chelyabinsk region, or for the decommissioning of the highly radioactive waste stored there. It is precisely to Mayak, though, that radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel are sent for reprocessing. Owing to the plants reprocessing work, a permanent radioactive catastrophe is in the works, including the continued discharge of liquid waste into open water bodies and reservoirs.
Charges were brought by the Prosecutor General against Mayak this year and an investigation is underway.
Aside from that, Russias regulators admit that the country has created no state system for auditing and accounting for radioactive substances and waste, and that there is no unified system for dealing with radioactive waste.
Every day, reactors produce radioactive plutonium with the half-life of 24,000 years, said Nature and Youth nuclear expert Ozharovsky. For thousands of years this plutonium will present a danger. We have no right to send such a parcel to future generations.
It is apparent that in the coming years Rosatom will have to start decommissioning NPPs. And the sooner expired reactors are shut down the fewer problems there will be during NPP dismantlement and radioactive waste storage.
|Vitaly Servetnik, Nature and Youth coordinator.|
A program for decommissioning the Kola NPP must be developed in the Murmansk region as well as a strategy for energy savings and the development of wind power.
At present, energy abounds on the Kola Peninsula. Realising this, Rosatom is lobbying for the construction of an aluminum factory in Kandalashka in order to have an argument against closing the dangerous reactors. The factory would presumably supply the ailing reactors with parts.
A similar initiative was undertaken to justify the extension of the LNPP reactors, however public protest and the lack of any economic benefit from the project brought it to a halt.
The energy power of the Kola NPPs reactors No. 1 and 2 comprise 880 MWts.
The energy lost by taking these reactors of the grid could be temporarily compensated for by thermoelectric energy, as well as with the help of wind energy.
Just using the existent hydropower, windmills could be installed with a power output of 550 MWts, Valery Minin, laboratory chief at the Kola Scientific Centre in the town of Apatiti, told Bellona Web in an interview.
All the prerequisites for joint use of hydroelectric power and wind power are there: The biggest consumption of thermal and electrical energy comes during the winter, and with winter comes maximum intensity winds and minimum flow in freezing rivers. By the same token, both forms of energy could compliment one another.
The yearly wind energy potential on the Kola Peninsula, according to the Kola Scientific Centres data, is 350 TWts per hour. This corresponds to a wind park with a general established power level of 120,000 MWts. The technical resources of wind energy along a narrow seaboard strand (some 15-20 kilometers wide) where the average yearly wind speed is 8 kilometers an hour has been established as producing 125 TWts per hour a year, which constitutes a 40,000 MWt wind park.