TED Case Studies

Environmental Threats of Russian Nuclear Trade



CASE NAME: Environment and Russian Nuclear Trade

I. Identification

1. The Issue

Russian/Soviet history is cluttered with nuclear accidents and mismanagement that have thrown dozens of eco-systems into turmoil and threatened thousands--if not millions--of human lives. In December, 1994, Russia signed an agreement with India to build a 2,000 Megawatt nuclear power plant in Kudankulam, India. This agreement may have been the first in a series of attempts by Russia to mobilize its long experience with nuclear technology for the promotion of its post-Cold War economic recovery. If Russia pursues the economic benefits of nuclear trade by importing nuclear waste for storage and the exportation of its nuclear technology--and along with it a history of dubious safety practices--environmental disasters will not only continue in Russia but will occur in other countries as well.

2. Description

The breakup of the Soviet Union cast a pall over the economic trade between India and Russia. The collapse of the ruble was the primary factor in the tumble of trade. In 1990, before the fall, trade between the two nations reached $5.5 billion. Within the following year, trade tailed off nearly $1.5 billion to $3.5 billion. This in turn forced India into serious debt default. Now that both nations have shed the weighted hand of socialist planning, trade between them has steadily risen over the past few years. Trade is expected to rise between 1995-96 from a low of $1.4 billion to over $3.5 billion (1). Although much of this turn around will be due to non-nuclear trade in items such as tea, soymeal and medicines, Russia and India have not ignored the financial potential of nuclear technology exchange. In a series of meetings during December 23-24, 1994, India agreed to pay Russia $2.6 billion in currency and credit to supply it w/ two 1,000 MW nuclear energy units. The pact will employ over 1,000 Russian workers for an 8-year period and help India address its horrific energy problems. Further, Russia has agreed to import and store on Russian territory the nuclear waste produced in these Indian reactors (2)

The danger presented by the deal lies not in the exchange of nuclear technology, but in the potential human and disaster environmental that could occur. The end of the Cold War has revealed secrets of Soviet nuclear mismanagement. In November 1994, Russian nuclear scientists confessed to having pumped into the ground nearly half of all the nuclear waste produced by the Soviet Union over a 30 year period (3). Most of this dumping was done near major rivers and water sources. The well-known catastrophe at Chernobyl is one of many Soviet/Russian nuclear disasters. Off the coast of the Kola Peninsula near Norway, 135 nuclear reactors from 71 decommissioned Soviet submarines were scuttled in the Berrents Sea during the Cold War. In addition, the Soviet Union dumped nuclear waste at 10 sites in the Sea of Japan between 1966 and 1991 (4). Russia continues to practice poor management techniques of nuclear waste handed down by the Soviet Union. Bellona, a Norwegian environmental group has tracked the nuclear waste management practices at the submarine ports of Zapadnaya Litsa, Vidyayevo, and Gadzhiyevo and reports that workers continue to be poorly trained and inexperienced, inviting an environmental tragedy. India has also recently suffered a breakdown in its nuclear waste management. Between 1993 and 1995, India suffered 124 "hazardous incidents" at nuclear units. Although none has reached the proportions of the Soviet Union's Chernobyl, a leak at the Tarapur plant near Bombay went undetected for nearly two months in 1995. The leak was determined to have been insignificant, but the nuclear plant was shut down. In addition, the Worldwatch Institute reported in 1992 that India's record of nuclear reactors was among the worst in the world. The Institute reported India's reactors run only 40% of the time and produce merely 2% of the energy needs despite billions of dollars invested in them.

The nuclear agreement between India and Russia has set a precedent. In 1995, an agreement between Russia and Iran IRANNUKE was made to build two nuclear reactors in Bushehr, Iran created a political uproar between the United States and Russia. The United States contended that the nuclear technology transferred to Iran would not be used merely for the peaceful purposes Iran claimed, but would assist Tehran's development of a nuclear weapons program. Both Russia and Iran claim the reactor agreement is legitimate under the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1969 and continue to assure the United States that technology and materials will not be diverted to weapons production.

"Chernobyl" CHERNOB is the word most often associated with the Soviet/Russian nuclear program. The disaster (which took place on what is now the Belorussian- Ukrainian border) is universally considered the greatest nuclear accident in history. The town of 150,000 people was exposed to millions of curies of radiation before evacuation. Poor training and management practices are generally cited as the cause for the 1986 catastrophe. The unpreparedness of the Soviet government for such a disaster is evident in recent speculation that the construction built to contain the radiation spewing from Reactor 4 is quickly deteriorating. Further, the end of the Soviet Union and centralized planning has not yielded significant improvement in Russian nuclear management. In 1993, two serious radiation accidents occurred in the nuclear cities of Chelyabinsk and Tomsk-7. New standards and safety programs, however, were not implemented following the crises (5). Vladimir Kuznetsov, the former director of the inspectorate of the Central Region of the State Atomic and Radiation Oversight Committee of Russia, notes "time is passing, and nothing is changing (6). An investigation in 1994 by Kuznetsov's committee showed that "the state of nuclear and radiation safety in the Russian Federation as a whole cannot be deemed satisfactory" (7). Kuznetsov claims that in Russia today, "every single nuclear reactor and facility is operated in accordance with safety norms that were drawn up 15 to 20 years ago." (8)

The Russian government's management of nuclear affairs has been affected by several cultural trends. During the Soviet Union's hasty efforts to build a formidable nuclear program, mistakes in planning and construction were made. Bellona points out that the submarine ports of Zapadnaya Litsa, Vidyayevo, and Gadzhiyevo that line the Kola Peninsula's coast were built by poorly trained workers under pressure from Moscow for timely completion (9). The inadequate planning and discipline of workers is reflected in facilities which house a significant portion of the radioactive waste of the Northern Fleet. In addition, the Soviet military was often the primary custodian of nuclear materials and kept a tight net of security around related facilities. As a result, civilian agencies and committees were unable to monitor the construction and operation of most waste- related facilities. According to Bellona, "rules with respect to public health and other standard documents were kept secret and remained unavailable to either the public or the pertinent monitoring agencies" (10). This characteristic continues in the post-Soviet era. The Russian state radiation protection authority, Gosatomnadzor, is not permitted access to Northern Fleet nuclear-related activities. Although President Yeltsin attempted in 1994 to open the naval bases to civilian monitoring, the Russian navy refused to adhere to the order. In 1995, Yeltsin rescinded the order. The Russian nuclear security and safety policies also suffer from two other cultural trends: apathy and denial. Die Zeit reported in World Press Review in 1995, that the Russian bureaucracy's arrogance and indifference are major contributors to the environmental problems that have arisen in Russia. "The few officials who do understand the extend of the problem are so overwhelmed by it all that they keep their hands in their pockets" (11). In 1991, the Soviet government prepared a report on the effects of Chernobyl for the International Atomic Energy Agency. The report stated that "significant health disorders, not caused by radiation, were observed among inhabitants. . .but no health disorders directly related to radiation exposure were observed" (12). In the face of significant evidence that the Chernobyl-type reactors are unstable, A. Vasilyev, the head of operations for fast reactors at Russia's Rosenergoatom has claimed that the modernization of such reactors has been thorough enough to overcome previous design flaws (13). Sergei Gorev, the chief specialist with the Russian State Committee on Emergency Situations proclaimed that the population of Tomsk-7 was exposed to no radioactive danger after the 1993 accident. However, reports have labeled the accident as "the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl." (14). This evidence suggests that over time, a culture of denial over the poor conditions of their nuclear power facilities has developed in Russia.

Efforts to protect Russia's environment after the fall of the Soviet Union have been impressive on paper but not in action. In July 1994, the Russian Duma adopted a law dealing with radioactive waste in order to ensure safety for the Russian people and the environment. The law, entitled "On Environmental Protection", would hand down criminal punishment to those who operated nuclear waste facilities outside established standards. In addition, the law bans the importation of nuclear waste from other countries to Russian soil. The wording of the law appears firm but has received little consideration. The reactor agreements with both India and Iran followed the passage of the law and the continuing effort by Russia to solicit nuclear waste contracts from European nations indicates its has little intention of upholding the 1994 statute. To further frustrate law-makers interested in environmental preservation, a familiar cultural trend exists in Russia.

Nuclear policy implementors during Soviet times developed a tradition of maneuvering outside the confines of nuclear regulations. For example, in 1991, the manager of the Chelyabinsk Metallurgical Plant secured special legislation from the local soviet for lower air emission levels because he was friends with the chairman of that body (15). Today, the current economic troubles in Russia have forced the government to ignore environmental regulations. Debt from environmental violations is often waived or subsidized by the government. Further, facility managers are primarily concerned with paying wages and not with environmental protection measures (16). As Russia's financial problems grow, there will be less funding for monitoring and enforcement.

Thus, it is evident that the disastrous nuclear policies of the Soviet Union have created a culture and pattern which today's Russia seems unwilling to disavow. Unsafe waste management procedures do not seem to have been replaced with modern safety formulas. The military continues to conduct nuclear operations unchecked and the Russian government is lack-luster in its efforts to assert environmental legislation. Economic urgency and a significant international demand for nuclear technology and waste storage have set Russia's course. The speed at which Russia mobilizes to accommodate this demand, in light of its historical inability to plan and manage nuclear power facilities and waste suggest that countries that contract Russia for such services may expose themselves to the legacy of Russia's nuclear carelessness.

3. Related Cases

JAPANPL- case #38

KOMI - case #265

CHERNOB - case #228

JAPANSEA - case #255

NUKESMUG - case #271

IRANNUKE - case #163

KOMSO - case #267

TEMELIN - case #223

MOCHO - case #176







4. Draft Author:

Mark A. Scheuer (July, 1996)

II. Legal Clusters

5. Discourse and Status:


The issue of effects on regional environments as a result of Russian exportation of nuclear materials to Third World countries has become more poignant following the 1995 Russian-Iranian agreement on light water reactors at the Bushehr site in Iran. The promise of continued Russian activity in the nuclear materials market in the future categorizes this issue as one that is unresolved.

6. Forum and Scope:

RUSSIA and MULTIlateral/regional

Under the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1969, Russia is permitted to sell peaceful nuclear technology and materials to treaty signatories. The potential for Russian sales, therefore, is limited by NPT status and not geography. Further, because the issue is directly linked to proliferation of Russian safety and security issues at home, any nation located near a Russian nuclear production/waste facility falls under the scope of the issue.

7. Decision Breadth:

TWO (Russia and India)

8. Legal Standing:


Russia has acceded to several environmental preservation treaties aimed against waste disposal in international waters. In addition, since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has indicated a desire to advanced the environmental causes promoted by the West by passing legislation of its own to strengthen environmental regulations.

III. Geographic Clusters

9. Geographic Locations

a. Geographic Domain: Asia

b. Geographic Site: South Asia

c. Geographic Impact: India

10. Sub-National Factors:


At least three sub-national factors contribute to this issue. First, Soviet nuclear safety and waste disposal operating procedures were inherited by Russia (as well as the entire Former Soviet Union) and continue to be practiced today. Second, Russia's pursuit of nuclear fuel re-processing and waste storage is based on economic motivation. Third, Russia's desire to preserve its "Great Power" status can be facilitated by creating a regional dependence on its nuclear technology and capabilities.

11. Type of Habitat:


This issue may affect all habitats. Storage of nuclear waste in Russia could be located in the more isolated regions in the north or on the temperate plains of southern Russia. Transport of waste will probably be oceanic and Russia's KOMSO disaster and JAPANSEA dumpings are evidence that the ocean is at risk as a result of this agreement.

IV. Trade Clusters

12. Type of Measure:


13. Direct v. Indirect Impacts:


14. Relation of Trade Measure to Environmental Impact

a. Directly Related to Product: YES, Nuclear

b. Indirectly Related to Product: NO

c. Not Related to Product: NO

d. Related to Process: YES, Radioactive

The implementation of Russian nuclear storage and disposal procedures have directly affected the environmental deterioration of habitats in the seas off the Kola Peninsula and the air, water and population around Chelyabinsk. Similarly, the habitat around towns and cities which invest in Russian-built facilities and procedures may be directly affected to the process.

15. Trade Product Identification:

NUCLEAR technology and materials

16. Economic Data

Although Russia has yet to reap profit from its agreement with Iran, it has imported spent nuclear fuel for re-processing. The future sale of nuclear technology and materials in addition to contracts to build the facilities and train its operators as well as continued re-processing of spent fuel could provide Russia with billions of dollars in the future.

17. Impact of Trade Restriction:


Aleksei Yablokov estimates it would take at least $26 billion over ten years to raise Russian nuclear safety levels to Western standards (17). Most of this funding, it can be anticipated, would have to be in the form of Western assistance.

18. Industry Sector:


19. Exporters and Importers:

Russia and India

V. Environment Clusters

20. Environmental Problem Type:


Two problems exist. First, Soviet/Russian civilian and military nuclear weapons programs have had a poor record of environmental protection. As the country expands its trade of materials and know-how, importing nations may run the risk of repeating such environmental negligence. Second, Russia has limited storage capacity and limited resources to expand that capacity. In contrast, however, the nation hopes to push forward its re-processing industry which will create greater amounts of nuclear waste. Based on its record, Russia is unlikely to be able to accommodate safely for these increased waste stockpiles.

21. Name, Type, and Diversity of Species


Damage to wildlife resulting from Soviet practices such as the military's repeated dumping nuclear reactors from retired submarines may never be calculated. Nuclear dumping from the Mayak facility in Chelyabinsk into the Techa River and then Lake Karachai has relegated those bodies of water incapable of sustaining life. The starkest effect of Soviet nuclear mismanagement may be in the number human deaths. Predictions of Chernobyl-related cancer deaths hover between 18,000 and 50,000 (18). In 1957, an explosion at Chelyabinsk exposed 270,000 to 2.1 million curies of radiation and although no acknowledgments of fatalities was ever made, the CIA confirmed a "tremendous number of casualties" at local hospitals. (19). The proliferation of poor waste containment and disposal with sales of Russian nuclear technology and training places the wildlife and human risks at extraordinary levels.

22. Resource Impact and Effect:


23. Urgency of Problem:


Because Russia is experiencing such rapid decentralization of control, a condition that may have seemed desperate at the end of the Soviet empire is compounded today. The end of the Cold War has left military nuclear materials unaccounted for and placed pressure on the civilian nuclear industry to compete in the global market. Accelerated efforts to compensate for loss of state funding and general economic depression may not permit the civilian nuclear industry the time necessary to reform its safety and disposal procedures. Even immediate and vigorous action, supported by billions of dollars, would not yield significant effects for 25 years in some areas. (20)

24. Substitutes:


Nuclear energy is deemed by some as a clean alternative to oil dependency. As the world becomes more committed to nuclear sources of energy, market competition will grow, encouraging even greater aggressiveness on the part of Russia.

VI. Other Factors

25. Culture:


Russia's desire to remain a Great Power will be reflected in its attempts to create stronger economic ties in its "near abroad" and throughout the Third World. Establishing itself as a major supplier of nuclear technology while developing markets in fuel re-processing (an endeavor rejected by the United States nuclear industry), will reflect pressure from internal Russian forces to reassert the country's role in the international arena.

26. Trans-Boundary Issues:


First, the sales of Russian nuclear technology and methods is an international endeavor which places countries who not only purchase this technology at risk, but those contiguous to such importers as well. If India incorporates Soviet/Russian waste practices, the surrounding area is at risk. Second, Norway and Japan are directly affected by the disposal practices of the Soviet Union--and Russia today. The dumping of 71 decommissioned submarines off the coast of Norway in the Barrents Sea and radioactive waste dumping in the Sea of Japan by the Soviet Union between 1966 and 1991 indicate that its poor waste management could continue in its maintenance of the agreement with India.

27. Rights:


28. Relevant Literature

(1) Reuters North American Wire, October 12, 1995.

(2) "India and Russia Sign Eight Agreements" in BBC Monitoring Service: Far East, December 28, 1994

(3) Broad, William. "Russians Admit Burying Nuclear Waste" in Guardian, November 22, 1994.

(4), (11) & (20) "Russia's Total Mess" by DIE ZEIT in World Press Review, February, 1995 p. 8-12.

(15) & (18) Peterson, D. J. "Chelyabinsk: Environmental Affairs in a Russian City" in Environmental Science Technology, Vol.27 No.4, 1993, p.596-600.

(5-8) Kuznetsov, Vladimir. "Time Is Passing, and Nothing Is Changing" in World Press Review, August, 1994, p. 12.

(9) & (10) Nilsen, Thomas. Bellona Foundation Working Paper 5 Zapadnaya Litsa, 1995. (http://www.grida.no/ngo/bellona/ehome/russia/zapa/zapa1.htm)

(12-13) Vaganov, Andrei. "The Post-Disaster Culture of Denial" in World Press Review, August, 1994, p. 13.

(14) McKie, Robin. "Russia's Nuclear Time-Bombs'" in Observer, November 6, 1994.

(16) Suokko, Kristen and Reicher, Dan. "Radioactive Waste and Contamination in the Former Soviet Union" in Environmental Science Technology, Vol.27 No.4, 1993, p. 602-604.

(17) "Yablokov: Nuclear Program is Unsafe, Too Costly" in The Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press, Vol.XLVI No.39, 1994, p. 6-7.

(19) Ridgeway, James. "Russian Roulette" in Village Voice, April 20, 1993, p. 18-19.

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