SMH: Dining on yellowcake with the devil

[Today, before his speech at the Syndey Summit on Russia, Grigory Pasko published the attached op/ed article in the Sydney Morning Herald]


Dining on yellowcake with the devil Grigory Pasko Russian nuclear power stations account for 16 per cent of the country’s electricity production. Last year the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, demanded the proportion be increased to 25 per cent by 2030. These ambitious plans have already raised a storm of indignation from environmentalists in Russia. First and foremost because Russia is doing practically nothing to develop alternative power sources, following a path of least resistance and imperial desire to develop an industry that will be useful for military purposes as well. Meanwhile, the press has already reported that economically viable reserves of uranium in Russia are enough to last only until 2015. To fulfil exports and to supply its own nuclear plants, Russia has to buy uranium from other countries. The founders of Atomenergoprom, the state atomic holding company, do not rule out partnerships with Western investors to develop uranium deposits in Russia. In their opinion it is possible that companies such as Japan’s Mitsubishi, Canada’s Cameco, and Australia’s BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto may eventually become minority shareholders. Vladimir Smirnov, the head of the nuclear import-export company that forms a part of Atomenergoprom, has already reported to the media on negotiations with the Australians, confirming meetings were held during a visit to Australia on October 13 to October 20 last year. Smirnov underscored that there was great interest by Australian companies in working with Russia. A working group has been created in Australia under the leadership of the Prime Minister, John Howard, to conduct an analysis and prepare a report on the prospects of developing nuclear energy in Australia. The Russians have proposed Australia take part in the work of the International Centre for the Enrichment of Uranium in the Siberian city of Angarsk. The first participant, with Russia, is Kazakhstan. So Australian intends to sell uranium for the Russian nuclear power industry. In the words of the Australian Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, the countries have achieved “substantial progress” in negotiating the agreement. In fact Howard and Putin are expected to sign the deal this Friday. How should we react to such agreements? If we look at them strictly from a business aspect, then our reaction should be positive. After all, Australia possesses one of the richest deposits of radioactive minerals in the world, but does not have its own nuclear power plants. But we cannot allow ourselves to forget that Australia is dealing with not just any country, but with Putinite Russia. Those politicians and businessmen who want to have dealings with today’s Russia need to always remember they are working with a country where human rights are trampled on and the principles of democracy are violated. If this does not faze the Australian gentlemen, then I suppose they have the right to do business with anyone they please, even with the devil himself. One argument heard in favour of a possible deal is that Russia has split up its military and civilian nuclear programs, and has placed its peaceful nuclear facilities under international monitoring. Downer says this has become decisive in influencing Australia’s decision to conduct new negotiations with Moscow. Who will verify this separation between military and civilian programs on the ground and how? Australian law bans the sale of uranium if it can be used for military purposes. Is Australia absolutely sure that Russia will not use Australian uranium in its weapons programs? I have grave doubts about Angarsk being “totally civilian”. At any rate, journalists are not allowed there, just like before. I tried to arrange a visit to this “open” enterprise, but got nothing beyond promises. Even when I actually travelled to Angarsk, I was not allowed beyond a “prohibited” sign on the road well before the entry gate to the plant. As for nuclear waste, how exactly is it going to be processed and disposed of? Russia can also export the uranium it buys. Where is the guarantee it will not sell uranium to Iran? Nowhere. Instead we have a statement by the deputy head of the Federal Atomic Energy Agency, Nikolai Spassky, about how Iran “has the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes”. He said: “Any country, according to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, can develop potential in the realm of the peaceful atom. Iran, after settling its problems with the [International Atomic Energy Agency] and answering all questions, also has this right”. After all this, are Australian politicians and officials still not concerned about the imminent deal with Russia? Grigory Pasko is a Moscow journalist and environmentalist. He was named an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience after being jailed for treason in 1997. He will address the Sydney Summit on Russia today.