The Dump: Nuclear waste
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has ambitious plans for Russia's nuclear energy sector, and they go beyond his bid to become a global supplier for countries that can't enrich their own uranium. In 2001, then-President Putin signed a package of laws allowing Russia to import spent nuclear fuel, opening the door to a trade estimated at $20 billion over the last decade in reprocessing and storing irradiated waste. The country has imported spent fuel from research reactors in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Libya, Romania, Serbia, and Uzbekistan, as well as tens of thousands of tons of depleted uranium from power plants in France, Germany, and the Netherlands. Russia is legally required to ensure that the re-enriched fuel and reprocessed waste is returned or properly disposed of, but only a small percentage of the original material gets sent back. What happens to the rest? An estimated 700,000 tons of radioactive uranium tailings (including waste from Russia's domestic reactors) are being kept in Siberian cold storage, some outdoors in rusting steel canisters at Mayak, Russia's only reprocessing facility and site of a horrific nuclear accident in the 1950s. For environmentalists, Mayak is one of the world's longest-running ecological disasters. For Putin, it's also big business.
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