Russians are getting over radio-phobia

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Tatyana Sinitsyna) - Residents of Zheleznogorsk, a city with a population of 100,000 in the Siberian taiga, have written a new page in the history of the national nuclear power industry.

Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of Rosatom, the Federal Atomic Energy Agency, reported that for the first time in the agency's history, it received a complaint about plans to decommission a nuclear reactor rather than protests against its construction.

"Our city is used to clean air and white snow in winter, but the authorities are shutting down nuclear reactors, and building a thermal power plant, which will operate on coal." This complaint was written by the representatives of the city's research and public organizations. They emphasized that "there is no doubt that nuclear power plants are better for the environment than thermal or hydro power plants." Protesting against the construction of the thermal power plant, the city's residents insist on the preservation of the nuclear reactor operating at the mining and chemical plant, or the construction of a new one.

But this nuclear reactor will have to be put out of operation before 2010 in line with the 1997 Russian-American agreement on the conversion of dual-purpose plutonium reactors. This is not so easy because the reactor is not only producing weapons-grade plutonium, but also supplying energy for the city's infrastructure (and that of the neighboring city Sosnovoborsk). The Americans are willing to pay for the construction of the alternative thermal power plant, which is being so emphatically opposed by the city's residents who believe that this would be a step back. Moreover, its location was a bad choice - all the winds will blow into the city along with the plant's discharges.

This fact shows that the Russians, who were suffering from acute radio-phobia for more than 20 years are gradually getting over it. Zheleznogorsk is not the only example. Large-scale public opinion polls conducted by different agencies show that this is a general trend; the reputation of the nuclear industry, which seemed to have been desperately damaged by the Chernobyl tragedy, has been rapidly improving in the last two years.

This situation is largely explained by society's support for the nation's development as a great energy-producing power, which was launched by President Vladimir Putin at the turn of the century. The overwhelming majority of Russians believe that the priority development of the power industry meets national interests. Almost half of them do not see any alternative to nuclear power as a source of energy when oil and gas reserves run out.

This nuclear renaissance, encouraged by the global energy crisis, has played a serious role in the development of the nuclear industry. The recent monitoring of public opinion by the sociologists from the Levada-Center has shown impressive results - a mere five percent of Russians are adamantly anti-nuclear. The overwhelming majority of them stand for preserving the nuclear power industry at its current level or actively developing it (72%). Only two years ago, this figure was three times smaller.

The government has made a rational decision to build a nuclear power plant in Kaliningrad, Russia's western exclave. A large-scale public opinion poll was conducted before April 16, when Rosatom head Sergei Kiriyenko and Kaliningrad Governor Georgy Boos signed a relevant agreement. It appeared that 64% of residents favored its construction.

Incidentally, this change is assuming global dimensions. In Finland, 88% of citizens support nuclear power engineering, and in France the relevant figure is 80% (87% of electricity is generated there by nuclear power plants). The ratings of nuclear projects are as high in Britain, South Korea, China, and Japan.

However, some countries have a different opinion. This applies to Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, Denmark, and Ireland. Only the future will show which opinion is right.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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