Moscow: Russia`s nuclear power plants are dangerously under-prepared for earthquakes and other disasters, said a state review conducted after Japan`s Fukushima accident and obtained on Thursday by a news agency.
The unusually candid survey was presented to a council chaired by President Dmitry Medvedev on June 09 and initially reported on its website by the Oslo-based Bellona environmental organisation.
Russia has until now steadfastly defended its 10 nuclear power plants and 32 reactors against criticism.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on April 30 pronounced the country`s nuclear safety system "the best in the world".
But the State Council review revealed more than 30 weaknesses including reduced disaster safety standards and a lack of a clear strategy for securing spent nuclear fuel and other radioactive waste at many plants.
"The strength (stability) of engineering structures of most nuclear power plants does not meet current regulatory document requirements for stresses that occur from extreme natural impacts," the report said.
The report was released to senior government officials and a select group of Russian non-governmental organisations but not published in the state media.
Rosatom nuclear agency chief Sergei Kiriyenko mentioned recent improvement recommendations over the weekend and said the various fixes would cost around five billion rubles (USD 180 million).
But a spokesman for Rosatom called the readiness level of country`s nuclear power plants "more than sufficient" and angrily denied suggestions that this was the report presented at the June 09 meeting.
"We do not consider this paper as official," Rosatom spokesman Sergei Novikov said by telephone. "It was not considered by the State Council."
Sources said the nuclear readiness portion of the report was prepared not by Rosatom itself but a different state agency.
Environmentalists applauded the paper for the first time acknowledging Soviet-era shortcomings that have been criticised by watchdogs and Russian neighbours such as Norway for many years.
"We knew everything" in the report, Bellona`s Russian nuclear programme director Igor Kudrik said.
"But this is honest information from Rosatom itself that there are problems, and we are kind of surprised that they admitted it publicly in such a dramatic manner," he said.
The study pinned specific blame on some nuclear power plants while revealing weaknesses in the country`s overall approach.
It noted "an absence of a single science and technology policy for handling radioactive waste at several new nuclear power plant reactors" and a shortage of qualified safety inspectors.
The Leningrad plant near Russia`s second city of Saint Petersburg and the Kursk facility near the Ukrainian border were singled out for specific blame.
It said the solid radioactive waste storage facilities at both plants were more than 85-percent full and in need of a clear strategy for operations once they reach capacity.
"At the moment, none of the nuclear power plants has a full range (of equipment) for dealing with liquid radioactive waste," the survey added.
It also pointed to a lack of back-up in case of power outages -- the main problem experienced at Fukushima -- and insufficient protection for workers should leaks occur.
Bellona`s Kudrik said the findings confirmed that Russia has never before tested its plants for calamities such as earthquakes or hurricanes and other severe storms.
"The most important thing here is that none of the nuclear power plants have been tested for potential impact. And impact here can mean not only earthquakes but also natural disasters such as strong wind," said the nuclear safety expert.
Countries such as Norway have been particularly concerned by the Kola plant in the northwestern Murmansk region. A severe storm knocked out its power and produced a small leak that led to an emergency shutdown in 1992.
Kudrik said the plant at the time had experienced "a near meltdown".