MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Tatyana Sinitsyna.)
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has taken another significant step on the road toward non-proliferation of sensitive nuclear technologies and chosen Moscow as a venue for the International Conference on Multilateral Technical and Organizational Approaches to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Aimed at Strengthening the Non-Proliferation Regime, hosted by the Federal Agency for Nuclear Power on July 14-15. The 227 participants from 22 countries continued discussions on how best to dispose of nuclear waste.
"The Moscow conference is only the beginning of the road, and the main thing is that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that we start moving towards meeting a noble goal," IAEA deputy director Yuri Sokolov said.
The aim was to summarize the results of discussions lasting more than a year of IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei's proposal to create an international procedure for the group of states that have the technology to produce and use nuclear fuel, as well as experience in building nuclear power plants, to guarantee fuel supplies (and processing and storage) to states developing nuclear power, FANP head Alexander Rumyantsev said.
"So these countries are offered the benefits of nuclear power engineering in pure form," he added.
Russia has experience of many years of guaranteed supplies of nuclear fuel and fuel returns for storage and processing. Research nuclear reactors built in 17 countries - including former Soviet states, former socialist countries in Eastern Europe and the Far East, plus Libya and Egypt - were designed in the Soviet Union. ElBaradei's proposal will allow Russia to retain its competitive edge on the nuclear-fuel market. According to Sokolov, "The IAEA regards Russia's experience in this sphere as valuable and important."
It is hard to imagine that 1.6 billion people still have no access to electricity. For example, Ghana consumes a mere 80 watts per head a year - roughly the power of an electric lamp in a Russian house. Development forces humankind to seek reliable sources of energy, but thus far nuclear power has no serious rivals. "Clean" renewable sources (solar power, wind power, tidal power, etc.) cannot compare with the power of a fissionable atomic nucleus.
Countries pursuing a nuclear-power program today include Nigeria, Morocco, Algeria, Indonesia, Vietnam, Turkey, and Poland.
"Solving the problem of waste for small states with limited nuclear power capabilities is not very effective on a national scale," Rumyantsev said. "For the industry to pay its way, a country should have 8-10 nuclear reactors of 1,000 megawatts each. Iran has been given calculations proving this. And the servicing of the entire cycle is not a heavy burden on a country's economy."
The main problem is creating security mechanisms. One of the key problems at the Moscow conference was how to ensure effective and inexpensive access to peaceful uses of nuclear power, while making it impossible to develop a military nuclear capability. In a nuclear reactor fuel rods are irradiated, uranium decays and plutonium is accumulated. The result could well be a nuclear bomb. Many countries today may develop uranium enrichment technologies, and they could bypass international export control regulations and launch a nuclear program. Thus, a mechanism is sought to restrain the spread of nuclear technologies.
Curiously, Greenpeace representatives declared that a "secret purpose" of the conference was to establish an international storage centre for nuclear waste in Krasnoyarsk Territory (Siberia). Russia does not hide the fact that it is going to take part in a tender for a right to build a nuclear waste storage, and that the mining plant in the town of Zheleznogorsk is considered as a potential site. FANP experts consider that tens of thousands of tons of irradiated fuel from around the world can be stored in Krasnoyarsk Territory. In 2001, the State Duma even passed a law to create the legal conditions. Russia's budget will gain about $1 million for every ton of stored nuclear waste, while Zheleznogorsk will be paid good sums to deal with environmental problems (up to 25% of the profit).
"The Moscow conference does not set itself the goal of deciding where exactly the storages will be located and what countries will monopolize the delivery of nuclear waste. The answers will be determined by the political will of states and an IAEA decision," Rumyantsev said. He stressed that, for a public concerned about radiation problems, it is important to know the amount of nuclear waste that has been accumulated in the world during the 50-year history of nuclear power.
"It is not very big, and could easily be housed in a four-storey three-entrance underground building. It only has to be done reasonably."