LITHUANIA: IAEA BEGAN INVESTIGATIONS AT IGNALINA
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RUSSIAN NUCLEAR WORKERS MARCH ON MOSCOW
By Renfrey Clarke
MOSCOW - Staging a two-week march on the Russian capital, nuclear power workers have
forced the government to agree to pay out large sums in overdue wages, in an episode that
has also focused attention on the dangerous state of the country's underfunded nuclear
Workers from the Smolensk Nuclear Power Plant arrived in Moscow on July 16 after a
360-kilometre hike from their workplace near the city of Desnogorsk, in Smolensk Province
in western Russia. More than 200 people marched along at least part of the route.
Spokespeople for the marchers told journalists they had begun their action on July 3
after funds pledged by the government for repair and maintenance work at the plant had
failed to arrive. At that point, workers said, they had not been paid for three months.
Dressed in their orange work coats, and carrying placards with messages such as "
A hungry operator is a threat to the safety of a nuclear power plant," the workers
received wide television coverage as they neared Moscow. Colleagues from at least four
other Russian nuclear plants joined in. At Obninsk, south-west of the capital, nuclear
researchers from the Moscow region met with the marchers to discuss the grievances of the
Meanwhile, the government's handling of what was clearly becoming a highly popular
protest was aggressive and clumsy. In interviews while the Smolensk workers were on the
march, Nuclear Power Minister Viktor Mikhailov said his department would not
"encourage these egoists" by singling them out to have their back wages paid.
The wage delay suffered by the nuclear workers was "survivable", Mikhailov
argued, since their average monthly salary of about 2 million rubles (US$345) was well
above the Russian average.
Mikhailov was eventually summoned to Russian President Boris Yeltsin's holiday retreat
for what seems to have been a blunt dressing down. The minister was instructed to pay all
back wages to workers at the Smolensk plant by August 10, and to other nuclear power
workers by October 10.
On July 17 the marchers demonstrated outside the House of Government in Moscow, and
their leaders were received by Deputy Premier Boris Nemtsov. Promising to make the safety
of nuclear facilities a "top priority goal" for the government, Nemtsov
announced that 24.8 billion rubles (US$4.3 million) would be transferred immediately for
the workers at the Smolensk plant. A further 123 billion rubles would be assigned in July
and August to pay wages owed to other nuclear power workers, and the wage backlog in the
industry would be wiped out by the end of the year.
As has happened with coal miners in the past, the Yeltsin administration showed that it
has little stomach for a public fight with workers on such unfavourable terrain as the
failure of enterprises to meet their wage bills. Recent surveys have shown the issue of
wage non-payments to be the greatest single cause of dissatisfaction in Russian society.
Early in July Yeltsin was forced to pledge that at least where workers on the state
payroll were concerned, the problem would be overcome by the end of December.
The Smolensk nuclear power workers thus seem assured of finally receiving their pay
packets. Nevertheless, their demands have only begun to be satisfied. All along, they have
insisted that their prime concern is the decaying safety situation at their plant.
Nuclear energy minister Mikhailov was forced recently to admit that the Russian nuclear
sector has received only 30 per cent of the money allocated for it in the 1997 state
budget. Russian nuclear plants are also kept on short rations by the state-controlled
national electricity company United Energy Systems. "UES currently pays us only 1 per
cent of the income from energy sales," Igor Fomichev, chairperson of the nuclear
energy workers' trade union, told the English-language "Moscow Tribune".
"To function normally we need at least 8 per cent."
The result for the Smolensk plant, as the marchers explained to journalists, is that
money is acutely tight even for indispensable maintenance. Reactor engineer Maksim Kataev
told a "Philadelphia Enquirer" correspondent that for lack of funds, the plant
management this year had been unable to replace several broken water meters.
The Smolensk workers are calling on the government to provide funding of 2.7 trillion
rubles (US$467 million), which they say is needed to upgrade safety at their plant and to
replace an obsolete reactor. Posed in this demand, however, are issues that need detailed
debate within broad social circles. Curbing the worst dangers at the plant, and
maintaining its output in the long term, would be extremely expensive. Should the plant be
kept functioning at all?
A study commissioned by the environmental organisation Greenpeace, and carried out by
the Berlin-based Oeko Institute of Applied Ecology, suggests that non-nuclear options
might offer much cheaper ways to meet western Russia's energy needs. Released in June, the
report examines the energy system of north-west Russia, where two nuclear plants are
The report's authors conclude that technical upgrades of existing hydroelectric and gas
or oil-fired power plants could produce 25 per cent more electricity for about one-fifth
of the cost of continuing to use north-west Russia's nuclear reactors. It seems unlikely
that the situation in the provinces further south is fundamentally different.
But if phasing out the Smolensk nuclear plant might well bring savings for Russia as a
whole, that would not provide much comfort to the plant's employees. Their city of
Desnogorsk, with a current population of about 60,000, was founded in the early 1970s
specifically to service the new plant. Today Desnogorsk is a classic example of a
depressed one-enterprise Russian town. Local unemployment reportedly stands at 24 per
cent. Winding down operations at the plant would create thousands more jobless, unable to
seek work in other regions for lack of alternative housing.
Always a bad choice, nuclear power in Russia is revealing some of the long-term costs
it exacts even without Chernobyl-type disasters. The Smolensk marchers have shown that
they will not accept more than their share of these costs without a fight. But an adequate
defence of the interests of these workers implies a much broader struggle.
RUSSIA: LENINGRAD NUCLEAR POWER PLANT PAYS TO DISAGREED WORKER
"Leningrad nuclear power plant must pay salary to Sergey Haritonov at full
amount" - decision of the local court in Sosnovy Bor, small town of nuclear plant
workers, stated. In the autumn of 1996, worker in spent nuclear fuel storage of LNPP
Sergey Haritonov refused to work with high-level radioactive waste what was not his direct
responsibility. Worker wasn't fired and continued to work in the storage but plant'
administration decided to decrease amount of worker's salary. Now decision of the local
court, confirmed by the Leningrad region court, confirmed a worker right to choose. The
program of the compression of high-level wastes of Leningrad nuclear plants, Haritonov
refused to work for, is under implementation at present time. Nuclear engineers wants to
increase capabilities of the storage: 21900 containers with nuclear wastes are stored
there already. This is more than plant was technically allowed to store for approximately
1300 tonn - normally the storage can take no more than 17500 cantainers. Finnish
inspectors just found more than 20 leakages from the cooling pools for nuclear wastes in
the storage of the Leningrad nuclear plant. (Source: Nuclear News of the Russian
"OUR STRATEGY IS TO MAKE RBMK OPERATING 40 YEARS, NOT
30," - said Yury Garusov, a chief-engineer of Leningrad nuclear power plant, on June
13, 1997, during a meeting with safety specialists from 21 countries at LNPP. According to
Garusov, Russia have already spent US$ 600 million to keep RBMK for 10 years over its
normal operating period and will have to spend about US$ 600 million more. European
taxpayers provided Russia with US$ 38 million of above-mentioned sum in form of TACIS'
grant. (Sources: "Vestnik LAES" newspaper, Nuclear News of the Russian
LAKES ZALIEJI EZERAI, LITHUANIA - ABOUT 50 KILOGRAMS OF URANIUM
STOLEN IN 1992 FROM IGNALINA NUCLEAR PLANT have been found near Vilnius at the Zalieji
Lakes area. One day before, on June 10, about 20 more kilos of radioactive uranium,
derived from a nuclear fuel rod assembly were detected in the Lithuanian town Visaginas -
which is a residence of the administration and employees of the Ignalina plant. According
to Lietuvos Rytas daily the uranium tubes in the Zalieji Lakes area were buried at a depth
of a half a meter. The radiometer fixed radiation of 0.15 milliroentgens per hour. The
discovery came from information given by one suspect and checked by organized crime
officials from the security department, prosecutor general's office, and interior
ministry. The team is still searching for uranium which is believed to have been hid in
Vilnius. (Sources: ELTA, TEN)
IGNALINA NUCLEAR PLANT, LITHUANIA - A WORKING GROUP OF THE
INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY (IAEA) BEGAN SAFETY INVESTIGATIONS at the Ignalina
Nuclear Plant on June 2. The team carried out a thorough inspection of the Ignalina plant
in September 1995 and presented recommendations how to improve the safety and
administration of the plant. This time, four IAEA experts are to check, how Lithuania
follows the above-mentioned recommendations. Lithuanian nuclear energy safety inspection
head Saulius Kutas, Lithuanian economy ministry nuclear energy department director
Vytautas Bieliauskas and a group of Ignalina plant experts, headed by its director general
Viktoras Sevaldinas, are also to take part in the inspection work. (Sources: ELTA, TEN)
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Sidst opdateret 8. december 1997