Is German Nuclear Waste Contributing to Putin’s Dangerous Military Power?

  • Unesco signed a contract with Rosatom to export nuclear waste to Russia from Germany.
  • Depleted uranium has military applications.
  • 4,000 tonnes of nuclear waste has been exported to Russia from Germany since Spring 2019.

German news outlet zdf.de published an article pertaining to nuclear waste going to Russia. The European subsidiary of URENCO signed a contract with Rosatom to export nuclear waste to Russia. URENCO group is a nuclear fuel company operating several uranium enrichment plants in Germany, the Netherlands, United States, and the United Kingdom.

Urenco was created in 1971 by amalgamating three government companies: Ultra-Centrifuge Nederland NV (Netherlands), Uranit GmbH (Germany), and Enrichment Holdings Ltd ( United Kingdom). The purpose of the amalgamation was to share uranium enrichment technology in the gas centrifuges. A gas centrifuge is a device that performs an isotope separation of gases. A centrifuge relies on the principles of centripetal force accelerating molecules so that particles of different masses are physically separated in a gradient along the radius of a rotating container. The Soviets were already successful in gas centrifuge technology.

Rosatom, the State Atomic Energy Corporation is a Russian state corporation headquartered in Moscow that specializes in nuclear energy. Since the spring of 2019, over 4,000 tonnes of nuclear waste has been sent to Russia from Germany.

Furthermore, a copy of the signed document appeared on the Greenpeace website. It states it is in line with federal laws pertaining to nuclear waste and radioactive materials. However, if you decipher the laws, the waste is not legal to export in such a format.  Rosatom is risking people’s lives by bringing radioactive materials to Russia. Also, it affects surrounding countries, due to the radioactive material potentially entering waterways and contamination. The deal itself is questionable at best.

Rosatom stated on their website, that the information is not true. Rosatom is a Russian government corporation and the Kremlin does not have a history of being honest. Additionally, Rosatom did confirm German nuclear waste is being exported to Russia, but claim the radioactive levels are below the norm. The question one wonders: if it so safe, why is Germany not disposing of its own nuclear waste? Also, why does Russia want German nuclear waste?

Rosatom started to claim the nuclear waste sent to Russia is depleted uranium. Depleted uranium (DU; also referred to in the past as Q-metal, depletalloy or D-38) is uranium with a lower content of the fissile isotope U-235 than natural uranium. Natural uranium contains about 0.72% U-235, while the DU used by the US Department of Defense contains 0.3% U-235 or less.

Interestingly, depleted uranium can be used in military applications. Military applications of depleted uranium include use as tank armor, armor-piercing projectiles and counterweights in missiles, because depleted uranium is twice as dense as lead. Once a depleted-uranium round strikes its target, the projectile begins to burn on impact, creating tiny particles of radioactive U-238. Winds transport radioactive dust, potentially contaminating the air people breathe. The US used depleted uranium for the first time in the Persian Gulf War in 1991in armor-piercing projectiles and in protective armor on the Abrams tanks.

The Kremlin continues to expand their defense budget and Putin’s military ambitions– including leaving the nuclear treaty. Russia could be using the so called nuclear waste to further build up its defense arsenal. Is Germany contributing to Russian military might? This is a dangerous precedent for European Union security.

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Christina Kitova

I spent most of my professional life in finance, insurance risk management litigation.

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