Europe's Dirty DU Secret
The uranium enrichment multinational Urenco has come under fire from green groups for exporting thousands of tonnes of depleted uranium to Russia, in spite of Russias appalling safety record and the fact that dumping is technically illegal.
Urenco, whose plant at Capenhurst in Cheshire enriches uranium for use in the UKs power plants has exported more than 75,000 tonnes of DU to Russia since 1996. The importation of nuclear waste into Russia for the purposes of storage is illegal, but Urenco and other European uranium enrichment and reprocessing firms bypass this by arranging the return of some reprocessed material. However, around 98% of the waste has not been returned and is now being stored at four sites across Russia.
The containers used to transport the uranium waste do not meet current International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) standards and pose a serious risk during the thousands of kilometres journey to the Russian disposal sites, where they are illegally dumped. Once there, the containers, each of which contains up to 10t of gaseous DU are left in the open air to slowly corrode. A large proportion of the waste is in the form of hexafluoride crystals, which react violently with water leading to dispersal of toxic gases, including hydrogen fluoride.
In Russia, Greenpeace has filed a case in the Moscow district court against the Russian government nuclear export company, Tecksnabexport. According to paragraph 3 of article 48 of the federal law of 2001 On Environmental Protection, import of nuclear waste and foreign nuclear materials to the Russian Federation for the purpose of its storage or disposal is prohibited.
The nuclear industry is opting for the cheapest, dirtiest and most dangerous option dumping in Russia, said Vladimir Tchuprov of Greenpeace Russia in La Havre. Russia already has a nuclear waste crisis, and yet EDF, EoN, and all other European nuclear utilities are making the situation worse. Disposal and even storage of foreign nuclear waste in Russia is illegal, said Tchuprov.
The waste is sent to Sverdlovsk-44, Angarsk, Krasnoyarsk-45 and Tomsk-7, one of the most radioactive sites on Earth and a centre for plutonium production.
Read more articles about The Nuclear Industry and the Production of Depleted Uranium
Page last updated: January 28, 2003