Mr Nikitin, thank you very much for giving this interview to the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. One of the fields that the Environmental Rights Centre “Bellona” is working on is the nuclear programme. Which of its aspects are of your concern now? Can you please tell us about the project on civilian oversight of radioactive waste management, which was supported by the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum?
Thank you for the attention that the Civil Society Forum is paying to our centre. Last year, together with our partners, we implemented a project that dealt with the problem of radioactive waste management in Russia and the EU member states. The goal of the project was to study the experience of the EU member states with regard to the radioactive waste management and to study work of both public groups and organisations, as well as individual activists in the European Union. We have set the goal to understand whether we can adopt their experience in Russia, and, if so, to what extent. After all, Russia accumulated a huge amount of radioactive waste – about 500 billion cubic meters – during the period when nuclear energy was used for peaceful and military purposes. Now we are facing the question of bringing radioactive waste to safer conditions than that in which it currently is. And it was important for us to know how such states as Finland, France, Germany, Sweden manage to cope with it, and it was these countries that we went to.
First of all, we were interested in people representing public organisations and groups, their methods of work, opportunities, experiences. From my point of view, and from the point of view of our partners, the project proved to be quite successful. We gathered a lot of information and experience. We prepared a synthesis report, which was presented several times at various events in Moscow and St. Petersburg. We presented it to those people and structures that deal with radioactive waste and problems related to it, including its disposal, as well as groups of activists and public organisations that work in this field. We learnt a lot of interesting things that you can work on and what you can implement in Russia. At the same time, we see that the Russian reality looks a little different, and the legislation, the public, and the Russian administration work differently than in the EU member states, and it is impossible just to mechanically transfer this experience. According to my calculations, the problem of radioactive waste management in Russia will be solved for at least another 50 years.
We are now talking in St. Petersburg. There is a Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) 90 kilometers away from the city. Recently there have been some alarming news about the experimental floating nuclear power station in the centre of St. Petersburg. Is it possible to use the experience that your organisation has gained during the project’s implementation in such cases? What can be applied?
Concerning the floating nuclear power station, it is still under construction in the centre of St. Petersburg. In this case, we argue against any nuclear hazardous works at that venue. The shipbuilding plant can make the bulk of this station, but everything that is connected with nuclear materials and the performance of potentially nuclear hazardous works should not be conducted in the centre of a city like St. Petersburg. There are other specially equipped bases for these purposes.
Concerning the Leningrad NPP, it was one of the first nuclear power plants built a long time ago, and since its construction it has generated a lot of radioactive waste. The question is that it is necessary to decide how to proceed with radioactive waste that has been developed and is now stored at the Leningrad NPP and around the station. This question is being discussed, and the experience of Sweden, Finland and other countries that we visited is, of course, priceless. We are using it to make the right decision on the waste accumulated at the Leningrad NPP.
Moreover, the Leningrad NPP is located on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, and this is the Baltic Sea: Both Finland and Sweden are vitally interested in security …
Yes, this is the common Baltic Sea, and on its shores there are nuclear power plants and storage facilities not only of Russia, but also of Finland and Sweden. In Finland, we saw what kind of storage pool is being built there – not only for radioactive waste, but also for nuclear waste, spent nuclear fuel (SNF). The storage facility is being constructed under the Baltic Sea bed, and the experience of Finland, the experts’ arguments, although they say it is safe enough on the shore of the sea, should be studied and taken into account when decommissioning the Leningrad NPP-1 and when tackling the issue of radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel.
The Environmental Rights Centre “Bellona” is a member of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. Why is it important for your organisation to be in the Forum?
Membership in the Forum has become especially important to us recently, under the circumstances of those interstate relations between the EU and Russia that we have been observing since 2014. Residents of the EU and Russia should not enter the level of relations that now exist between the official structures. They must maintain friendly relationships, people-to-people communication for a safe world. So, we will make every effort to continue to stay in the Forum.
Which challenges in your opinion do the relations between the EU and Russia pose for your organisation?
Despite all the decisions that have recently been made by the Ministry of Justice concerning the well-known topic of "foreign agents", our organisation continues to work. The whole ideology, the entire strategy, all the projects that we have been implementing, we continue to implement. We find ways and opportunities to do this, despite the various bureaucratic obstacles that we see. In any case, no matter what laws are adopted, whatever goals our opponents may set, cooperation between social groups cannot be stopped just as it is impossible to stop communication between ordinary people who want to continue cooperation for the sake of good purposes.
What would you like to wish to the members of the Forum?
To strengthen the cooperation I have talked about. To increase the number of projects that yield fruitful results, first of all, in the field of environmental security, human rights protection, helping those people, whose rights are being prejudiced. This is the task of the Forum.
Thank you very much for this interview.
The interview was recorded on 22 June 2017 by the Secretariat of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum in St. Petersburg, Russia.