As work started on LAES-2, a complex of six power station units with VVER-1200 reactors that is due to complement the existing four 4 RBMK-1000 units of Leningrad Nuclear Power Station (LAES), environmentalists began a protest campaign against what they call an illegitimate and potentially hazardous construction.
The project’s estimated cost is $10 billion.
Environmentalists at the St. Petersburg branch of the international environmental pressure group Bellona say the simultaneous operation of the existing and new plants will have a strong negative radiological and bacteriological impact on the population of the town of Sosnovy Bor, 80 kilometers south of St. Petersburg, where the station is located. The Bellona experts' allegations include a claim that the stations’ cooling towers could spread dangerous toxic microorganisms into the nearby Gulf of Finland.
Bellona members stress that there has not been an independent analysis made of LAES-2 and that the analysis carried out by the state was biased.
“Our organization has been trying in vain to get access to documentation relating to the construction of LAES-2,” said Rashid Alimov, who heads Bellona’s office in St. Petersburg and is the editor of the Russian-language environmental news site www.bellona.no. “Proper public hearings have to be arranged and an independent analysis done before construction advances.”
LAES’ management has made a series of reassuring statements claiming that safety standards at the station and for the construction of the new plant are fine and should not be questioned.
“I would like to remind the residents of St. Petersburg that until the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Russian officials used to say that nuclear reactors were so safe that they could be placed on Red Square,” Alimov said. “So why should we believe the officials now, especially if they refuse to allow an independent pressure group to conduct their own analysis? It smells fishy.”
Bellona’s activists are collecting signatures for a petition to send to President Dmitry Medvedev urging the Russian leader to ratify the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Espoo, 1991) that allows citizens of foreign countries to engage in open discussion of any industrial projects implemented by other countries that could potentially have a negative impact on the common environment.
In the meantime, ecologists from the Greenworld environmental group based in Sosnovy Bor are accusing authorities at the plant of financial mismanagement and routine safety violations.
Greenworld’s experts claim, among other things, that there have been numerous incidents of theft of non-ferrous metals from the station, including “important functional components for 40 operating safety control devices.”
Greenworld further alleges that drunkenness among workers is widespread. Sergei Kharitonov, who worked at the plant from 1973 until March 2000, and who is now a Greenworld council member, argues that “there have not yet been serious fires at LAES, but that is just sheer luck.” He said that more than 100 fire-safety violations are registered at the plant every year.
The ecologists say that the west should stop providing financial support for LAES projects, especially a plan to prolong the lifespan of LAES’s four RBMK-1,000 Chernobyl-type reactors.
LAES officials insist that the plant is safe, none of the violations are significant and that generally, a high level of safety has never been questioned.
The plant’s officials point out that LAES is inspected annually by the Russian State Nuclear Inspectorate, or Gosatomnadzor, and by official delegations from neighboring countries such as Finland and Norway.
There have never been grounds for a scandal, the plant’s press-office says, and although the plant’s management receives a list of recommendations after inspections, these are nothing more than minor reprimands.
Many Russian and international environmental groups have called for Russia to follow the example of some Western countries that have dismantled their nuclear reactors in recent years.
Vladimir Slivyak of the Russian environmental group Ecodefense points out that Germany is committed to decommissioning all of its nuclear reactors by 2020. Sweden’s nuclear industry will be shut down by 2010.
“The absurdity is that while the West is giving up nuclear energy because it is expensive and dangerous, Russia, which finds itself in dire financial straits is planning to construct new reactors,” Slivyak said.
LAES supplies approximately 40 percent of St. Petersburg’s electricity. It employs more than 10,000 people.