Nuclear plant near Kaliningrad – bad story that must be ended immediately
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 the Baltic nuclear power plant in Kaliningrad region, located close to the border of the EU member Lithuania, which opposes this project.
Energy demand in Kaliningrad is covered presently for 100%. This is due to new natural gas power plant build just two years ago. And it should not come as surprise that Kaliningrad residents opposed to this nuclear plant. If built, the nuclear plant near Kaliningrad will put people under the risk of a new Fukushima and, additionally, will produce nuclear waste, dangerous for the next million of years. And money will go into the pockets of nuclear industry.
Since 1990, the nuclear industry attempted to lobby for the nuclear plant in Kaliningrad at least three times. But every time local authorities were opposed to nuclear development. That position changed after the federal government in Moscow introduced a political reform. Moscow started to appoint new governors by the decision of president, instead of public elections. And the first governor which came from Moscow to manage Kaliningrad - Georgy Boos - quickly decided to build the nuclear power plant. Three years later he was dismissed as a result of largest political protests in last 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 it changed its mind and doesn’t want to build nuclear plant anymore. It appeared one year later that the local government cheated residents of the region when it signed the agreement with "Rosatom" about the nuclear plant.
Ecodefense asked a special company to conduct a public opinion poll in Kaliningrad which demonstrated 67% opposition to nuclear. It also demonstrated that Kaliningrad residents by vast majority prefer renewable sources of energy developed 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 nuclear facility.
Economics and export of electricity
The latest study of the Baltic NPP has indicated that the local energy system is not capable of transferring the large amounts of energy the Baltic NPP 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 project was conceived as an export scheme, in spite of the fact that the neighbouring countries – EU members Lithuania and Poland – have rejected offers to import electricity from the Baltic NPP. During last 4 years, "Rosatom" and "Inter RAO", a company selling Russian electricity to foreign countries, tried to find a single company in Europe which would be interested to buy electricity from the nuclear plant near Kaliningrad or to invest in this project. All attempts were unsuccessful. But the Russian nuclear industry keeps on trying. In the end of 2012, there was news coming from Germany that "Rosatom" is in talks with German grid utilities on exporting electricity from Kaliningrad. Although that could maybe be true, it’s hard to imagine that Germany, which has enough electricity for own use and to export to other countries, and which is phasing-out nuclear power nationally, may consider to buy nuclear electricity from Kaliningrad.
Although prospectives looks poor right now, the Russian government and its nuclear industry continue attempts to push European countries to buy electricity from the Kaliningrad nuclear plant. This is the whole idea behind this project and big money is at stake. Environmental groups in Russia, Lithuania and Poland must follow this situation and try to prevent lobbying of 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 was not allowed by organizers and police to participate in the official public hearings of this project in 2009. Another public hearing in 2013 – about the second nuclear reactors in Kaliningrad region – limited public participation even more. Organizers announced that local residents must submit written application to participate in the hearing, and must write down what they are going to say there. On the basis of this applications, organizers said they will decide who to allow.
"Rosatom" organized public hearings in only one very small city and refused to hold additional public hearings (in Kaliningrad itself and other smaller cities), even in areas which will be directly affected by the project.
The poor safety record of the Russian nuclear industry is widely known, as well as its complete failure to clean up radioactively contaminated territories inside of Russia. Many corruption scandals in "Rosatom" over the past two years clearly demonstrated that the Russian nuclear industry can not 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. Even after the Chernobyl catastrophe in 1986, the Russian nuclear industry is still continuing to operate Chernobyl-type reactors, even if all countries shut them down forever. There is an on-going radioactive disaster in the Ural region where about 20,000 km² are 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 the resettlement of people.
Poor environmental impact assessment
It should also be noted that the Environmental Impact Assessment of the Baltic NPP does not comply with Russian legal norms. The construction of the Baltic nuclear power plant has been launched and continues without relevant necessary technical and engineering studies or geological surveys. An evaluation of seismic risks at the site has never been performed. It must be mentioned that technical project documentation doesn’t include the plan to treat radioactive waste or a plan for decommissioning of reactors – both required by Russian legal norms.
Although the site of the Baltic NPP falls within the international airway zone to Kaliningrad, the reactor design has never been tested for the case of a large airplane crash. According to the Lithuanian government, the Baltic NPP project has not been subjected to safety testing based on the methodology agreed by the EU and third countries.
To add a last thing, the Baltic NPP near Kaliningrad must get two VVER-1200 reactors which has never been operated in Russia – there is no confirmed safety history for such reactors. This is pretty much an experiment. And let us remember that the Chernobyl catastrophe happened as a result of technical experiment conducted at the nuclear reactor in the night of April 26, 1986.
The Baltic Nuclear Project contains many unresolved issues related to economics, nuclear safety, democracy and negative public opinion. It is clear that it should never be allowed for construction. Because Chernobyl and Fukushima must never happen again – we may achieve it and we should achieve it.
Vladimir Slivyak, co-chairman for Ecodefense, environmental organization in Russia campaigning against Baltic nuclear power plant since 2007