BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Science/Nature  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Thursday, 21 November, 2002, 02:16 GMT
Kazakhstan eyes EU N-waste
Stand-off in demonstration   AP
Nuclear wastes excite passions, as here in Germany

Kazakhstan, a country deeply scarred by the legacy of the nuclear arms race, plans to import other countries' civil nuclear waste.

It hopes to earn enough from the trade to pay for the disposal of its own waste stockpile.

But it has no depository able to accept any waste consignments from abroad.

And it appears ready to flout international regulations on nuclear waste treatment.


You will look in the eyes of the entire world not only eccentric, but half-witted

Professor Alexei Yablokov
To the dismay of many Kazakhs, the country's Parliament is to be asked to amend the existing law banning the import and burial of foreign radioactive waste.

The company responsible for running the import programme, assuming it is approved, is Kazatomprom, the national nuclear company.

Its president, Mukhtar Dzakishev, says cleaning up the country's own nuclear waste mountain of more than 220 million tonnes will cost $1.1bn, a sum Kazakhstan says it cannot afford.

He believes importing waste could earn Kazakhstan $30-40bn over the next 30 years.

Risk refuted

Mr Dzakishev said: "We will charge $5,000 per 200-litre barrel of waste, giving us a profit of $4,000.

Blast at Semipalatinsk   AP
A final explosion ends Semipalatinsk's career
"We'll be dealing only with low- and intermediate-level waste, which will become harmless in 1,000 years.

"None of the wastes will contain plutonium, and we can bury them temporarily in shallow pits, old uranium mines, until a depository is built for them at Aktau on the Caspian."

Nirex, the UK's nuclear waste disposal company, says intermediate waste may include spent reactor fuel which contains plutonium.

That has a half-life of 200,000 years, and in the UK any such waste must be buried in deep depositories.

The main Soviet nuclear test site during the Cold War was in Kazakhstan, at Semipalatinsk.

Nearly five-hundred nuclear bombs were detonated at Semipalatinsk, the world's biggest nuclear testing ground, during its working life, and the Kazakh Government estimates that more than a million people were exposed to radiation as a result.

Many people living near the site suffered birth defects or cancers because of the tests, although they were not told what was happening at the site.

International controls claim

Semipalatinsk, which was so secret that it did not even appear on maps of Kazakhstan, was closed in 2000.

Mr Dzhakishev said cancer rates in Kazakhstan had risen by 8.3% in the last five years.

Nuclear waste train   AP
French nuclear waste heads for Germany
He told BBC News Online: "It will take six months to a year before parliament can amend the existing legislation on waste imports.

"Then we shall be able to announce we have sites conforming to international standards for these categories of waste.

"The trade will be controlled by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The imports could start within a year of the parliamentary vote."

Russian rival

The IAEA, which is based in Vienna, said it had discussed the issue of importation with the Kazakh Government, but added: "It cannot be said that the IAEA has encouraged Kazakhstan to pursue importing radioactive waste."

The role at the IAEA was to explain the international safety regime and the requirements for disposal, the agency said.

Professor Alexei Yablokov is a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and president of his country's Centre for Environmental Policy.

He said he thought Kazakhstan's neighbours would refuse to allow waste imports to cross their territory.

He said: "It's a big problem. You will look in the eyes of the entire world not only eccentric, but half-witted."

Last year, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, signed a controversial law on nuclear imports, paving the way for thousands of tonnes of spent fuel to enter Russia. But Kazakhstan hopes to beat him to it.

See also:

Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Science/Nature stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Science/Nature stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes