This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
The Russian office of environmental activist group Greenpeace has voiced concern that Russia has again begun accepting uranium tails, a by-product of enriching uranium, from abroad.
Citing German government documents, Greenpeace and anti-nuclear group Ekozashchita (Ecodefense) said the nuclear waste, coming from enrichment company Urenco at its German Gronau facility, poses a risk because it is radioactive and toxic.
The Urenco contract with Russian nuclear-fuel giant Teksnabeksport (Tenex), an affiliate of the state-run nuclear corporation Rosatom, is from 2019 to 2022 and foresees the shipment of 12,000 tons of uranium tails to Novouralsk, near Yekaterinburg.
Since May, Urenco has so far shipped 4,000 tons of uranium enrichment waste to Russia.
Greenpeace said that Russia in total has amassed around 1 million tons of uranium tails and that it doesn’t have a plan to utilize such a large amount in the future.
In a statement cited by TASS news agency on October 23, Tenex called Greenpeace’s statements “absolutely inconsistent with reality and are disinformation.”
The company insisted it was not importing “radioactive waste.”
Tenex said it enriches the depleted uranium and sends it back overseas.
“The material left after enrichment (the so-called ‘secondary uranium tailings’) is temporarily stored on special sites of Russian concentration plants for further use in nuclear and other branches of industry,” the company said.
Urenco has shipped uranium tails to Russia under previous contracts dating to the mid-1990s.
International and local environmentalists contend that the low-level radioactive yet still highly toxic residual material is stored in open-air containers.
Russian law allows for the import of nuclear material for enrichment purposes and its return to the foreign supplier.