Author: Vladimir Slivyak is the co-chairman for Ecodefense, a Russian environmental organisation which has been campaigning against the Baltic nuclear power plant since 2007.
For the first time in Russian history, the national nuclear corporation Rosatom is attempting to build nuclear reactors not for domestic supply but for the export of electricity to foreign countries. This is the case with Baltic nuclear power plant in the Kaliningrad region, located close to the border of the EU member Lithuania, which opposes the project.
Since 1990, the nuclear industry has lobbied for a nuclear plant in Kaliningrad at least three times. But every time local authorities were opposed. That changed after the federal government introduced political reform. Moscow started to appoint new governors by the decision of the president instead of public elections. And the first governor who came from Moscow to manage Kaliningrad – Georgy Boos − quickly decided to build the nuclear plant. Three years later he was dismissed as a result of the largest political protests in the past 20 years in Kaliningrad.
Ecodefense, Kaliningrad's first independent and the most established environmental group, started to campaign against the proposed nuclear plant in 2007. After several protests, the local government declared that it had changed its mind and didn't want to build the nuclear plant any more. One year later the local government cheated residents of the region when it signed the agreement with Rosatom for a nuclear plant.
Ecodefense commissioned a public opinion poll in Kaliningrad which demonstrated 67% opposition to the nuclear plant. It also demonstrated that Kaliningrad residents overwhelmingly prefer renewable sources of energy instead of nuclear power. But the local government abandoned the plan to build a wind power plant after Rosatom came to the region to build a nuclear plant. Energy demand in Kaliningrad is 100% covered due to a new natural gas power plant built two years ago.
Economics and export of electricity
The latest study of the Baltic nuclear plant has indicated that the local energy system is not capable of transferring the large amounts of energy the Baltic nuclear plant is slated to produce. It also concluded that the project is too expensive and that the price of energy from this plant will be higher than from other market suppliers in the Baltic region. The July 2012 study, 'Challenges of ensuring energy security of Kaliningrad Region', was conducted by Yury Zlobin, former chief of energy department in the Kaliningrad government, and Bulat Nigmatulin, former deputy minister for atomic power in the Russian government. It is posted at http://tinyurl.com/a6hdgkd
The project was conceived as an export scheme in spite of the fact that the neighboring countries – EU members Lithuania and Poland – have rejected offers to import electricity from the Baltic NPP (for more information on Poland's decision see bellona.org/articles/articles_2011/poland_lithuania). During the past four years, Rosatom and Inter RAO, a company selling electricity from Russia to foreign countries, tried to find a company in Europe which would be interested in buying electricity from a nuclear plant near Kaliningrad or investing in the project. All attempts were unsuccessful. But the Russian nuclear industry kept on trying.
At the end of 2012, there was news from Germany that Rosatom was in talks with German utilities about exporting electricity from Kaliningrad. Although that may be true, it's hard to imagine that Germany, which has enough electricity for its own use and for export to other countries, and which is phasing out nuclear power, may consider buying nuclear electricity from Kaliningrad.
Although prospects look poor right now, the Russian government and the nuclear industry continue to push European countries to buy electricity from Kaliningrad. This is the whole idea behind the project and big money is at stake. Environmental groups in Russia, Lithuania and Poland must follow this situation and try to prevent the Russian nuclear industry in the areas around the Baltic Sea.
Problems with democracy
From the beginning, the Russian nuclear industry ignored democratic principles of public participation. A large number of local citizens were not allowed by organisers and police to participate in the official public hearings in 2009. Another public hearing in 2013 – about a planned second nuclear reactor in Kaliningrad – restricted public participation even more. Organisers announced that local residents must submit written applications to participate in the hearings, and must write down what they planned to say at the public hearings. On the basis of the applications, organisers said they would decide who to allow to participate.
Rosatom organised public hearings in only one very small city and refused to hold hearings in Kaliningrad itself and other smaller cities, even in areas which will be directly affected by the project.
The Baltic nuclear project near Kaliningrad involves two VVER-1200 reactors − reactors which have never been operated in Russia and for which there is no confirmed safety history. This is an experiment.
The poor safety record of Russian nuclear industry is widely known, as well as its complete failure to clean up contaminated territories in Russia. Corruption scandals involving Rosatom over the past two years clearly demonstrate that the Russian nuclear industry cannot be trusted to produce quality equipment for nuclear plants. In February 2012, for example, a Rosatom-owned company was accused of selling shoddy equipment to nuclear plants inside and outside Russia (bellona.org/articles/articles_2012/podolsk_corruption).
Even after the Chernobyl catastrophe in 1986, the Russian nuclear industry is still continuing to operate Chernobyl-type reactors. There is ongoing radioactive contamination in the Ural region where about 20,000 sq kms of land is contaminated as a result of the explosion at the Mayak nuclear facility in 1957. Local citizens are still living in the contaminated area and Rosatom doesn't want to spend money on resettlement of people.
Poor environmental impact assessment
The Environmental Impact Assessment of the Baltic nuclear plant does not comply with Russian legal norms. The construction of the plant has begun and continues without relevant necessary technical and engineering studies or geological surveys. An evaluation of seismic risks at the site has never been performed. Technical project documentation doesn't include plans to manage radioactive waste or a plan for decommissioning of reactors – both required by Russian legal norms.
Although the site of the Baltic nuclear plant falls within the international airway zone to Kaliningrad, the reactor design has never been tested for the case of a large airplane crash, as acknowledged by Ivan Grabelnikov, chief engineer of the project, during a roundtable discussion in Kaliningrad in July 2009. According to the Lithuanian government, the Baltic nuclear project has not been subjected to safety testing based on the methodology agreed by the EU and other countries.