Russia Trip in 2013

PART A--Why this trip?

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Why did I go to Russia? I was invited to go there by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA, a part of the UN), to take part in a peer review of the safety arguments for the Russian Federation's liquid radioactive waste disposal practice: engineered deep well injection.

The Russian Federation is actively disposing of liquid low-level and intermediate-level wastes by deep injection at three locations. This is a practice started in the 1960s, almost 50 years ago, and it is carefully and constantly monitored.

The IAEA has published a new world advisory standard for disposal of radioactive wastes: INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY, Disposal of Radioactive Waste; Specific Safety Requirements, IAEA Safety Standards Series No. SSR-5, IAEA, Vienna (2011). These safety standards are specifically written as guidance to waste management organizations and their regulators responsible for the long-term and operational safety of facilities for the disposal of solid radioactive wastes.

The Russian Federation, knowing this solid-waste limitation on the IAEA standards, nevertheless requested that the IAEA perform a peer review of the safety arguments being made for the countryís three deep-well injection sites, to judge these arguments in light of the requirements in this new standard.

Their idea was for the review to provide guidance on how their safety arguments could be improved to satisfy the portions of the new standards that could be applied to their liquid waste disposal practice.

The IAEA brought together seven experts from international waste management and regulatory organizations to perform this review, including myself. I was selected in part because I was a contributor to a document that provides guidance for the use of the SSR-5 safety standard, namely: INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY, Geological Disposal Facilities for Radioactive Wastes; Specific Safety Guide, IAEA Safety Standards Series No. SSG-14, IAEA, Vienna (2011). In addition, I have more than three decades of experience in US and international technical work related to evaluating the safety of deep geological disposal facilities.

The review required several weeks of reading and formulating questions before traveling to Russia to discuss these questions with the disposal projectís scientific staff. The visit took place over an eight-day period, with no breaks for the weekend and several evening sessions. The results of the review, just like the documents reviewed, are considered confidential unless the Russian Federation decides to allow the IAEA to make them widely available.

The IAEA shared travel expenses with the US government. The US participated in part because it is US policy to assist in assuring the safe disposal of radioactive waste in other countries.

The Russian trip was not all work, however. The Russian hosts provided for three short excursions into Russian culture: an operatic performance of the Bolshoi Ballet company, a tour through the treasure rooms of the Kremlin, and a visit to a working Russian Orthodox Monastery.

Thrown out of the country: A Lesson Learned--

 I was surprised to be turned away by the border guards when I tried to enter Russia at the airport at Samara, Russia, near to which city the review team was to see one of the three active disposal facilities.  Unbeknownst to me, when one travels to Russia using an Official Passport, meaning one is on official government business, one must enter the country through one of twelve gateway cities listed on the visa provided by the Russians.  The same goes for official travelers from Russia coming to the US.   This meant entering Russia at the medium-sized town where I had gotten off the plane from Frankfurt was not possible, I was detained in the transient lounge, and was locked into a small room whenever flights were leaving during the night, until a flight could take me completely out of the country and then back at a place from which I could legally enter the country. 

I was expelled from Russia, in other words.  My detention lasted 25 hours and ended when a flight could lift me out of Russia. Prague was my destination. From Prague a flight to Moscow got me into Moscow in time for the opening day of the meetings with the Russian experts that would serve to clarify issues and questions raised during reading of materials provided previous to the visit to Moscow. 

If you have a tourist passport and receive a tourist visa, there is no restriction on ports of entry. I was treated courteously and yet firmly, by the border guards at the Samara airport. They did their jobs professionally, they had a sense of humor, but did not tolerate the nonsense I proposed to win myself a bit more freedom. Testing boundaries is human nature. Restating boundaries was the correct response.

GO TO PART B--Quick stop in Frankfurt along the way

GO TO PART C--In detention for visa violation, the transient lounge at Samara airport.

GO TO  PART  D--The Bolshoi Ballet

GO TO  PART  E--The Saint Daniel Monastery

GO TO  PART  F--The Kremlin (Chapter One)

GO TO  PART  F2--The Kremlin (Chapter Two)

GO TO  PART  G--Downtown Moscow walks (Chapter One)

GO TO  PART  G2--Downtown Moscow walks (Chapter Two)

GO TO  PART  H--insights into my ancestry from paintings by Dutch masters

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