You’re Not in Switzerland Here: The Dirty Secrets of the “Clean Country”
The building of trash incineration plants is portrayed to Russians as the victory of advanced world technologies over barbarism and dirty landfills. The project is thus named, “Clean Country”. There is no argument – Russian dumps are truly terrible. But “Clean Country” has its own dirty side – inherent in the project is environmental damage that will cost an astronomical sum with nine zeros. And the Swiss-Japanese company that project backers love to cite is in no hurry to take responsibility for what they build in Russia.
Collect at Once and Burn
Moscow and the surrounding regions are buried in garbage – and this is not just a metaphor. The domestic solid waste landfills of Moscow’s suburbs barely have capacity to cope with the trash from the suburbs themselves, not to mention the capital city. So far, almost all of Moscow’s garbage disappears to “nowhere” – at least, this is what follows from the territorial plans for waste management in Moscow and the region: places for its disposal are simply not provided. In reality, this turns into multiple overloading of existing landfills and “garbage riots”. Moscow’s garbage is so dense that it literally spreads across the country, already reaching the faraway Arkhangelsk region. It is followed by the “garbage riots”: nobody wants to see millions of tons of strangers’ garbage outside of their window. A simple and quick solution for this situation is wanted.
Such a solution exists, President Vladimir Putin told Russians during his “Direct Line” event on June 15, 2017. It was then we found that the decision was made to build incinerators: four in the Moscow region and one in Kazan. This should be handled by “our company RosTec.” This government arms company had already engaged in incineration technologies, had it not? It doesn’t matter, there are “good Japanese technologies, in my opinion, Hitachi,” the president added.
However, it cannot be said that this speech was a spontaneous presidential decision. The head of RosTec, Sergei Chemezov, had already lobbied for waste incineration for a long time. “The governor of the Moscow region, Andrei Vorobyov, and I together wrote a letter to the president about our analysis of all the technologies that exist in the world and came to the conclusion that the best was the Japanese company Hitachi,” Chemezov said in 2015.
A public discussion about how to deal with garbage, of course, didn’t happen. Maybe, it would first be worth establishing different collection and processing streams, as in the majority of European countries? There was also no open competitive process where companies could be measured by their merit. However, presidential patronage today means more than such “trifles.” And so it began…
RosTec (until June 23, 2014 known as “Rostekhnologii”) is a Russian government corporation created at the end of 2007 for the development, production, and export of high-tech products. The head of the corporation is Sergei Chemezov, longtime friend and colleague of Vladimir Putin from their time working in the GDR. The primary focus of RosTec’s work is military technology, which in 2014 resulted in the company and its director appearing on the sanctions lists the of U.S. and many European countries which were adopted in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. However, RosTec also does not hesitate about the “citizen” production. Perhaps one of its most famous projects, associated with its name, is the “Platon” system, which levies tolls on truck drivers. The system was created and operated by the company “RT-Invest-Transport Systems” of which RosTec is a founding member. The introduction of the “Platon” system caused a movement of truckers, unhappy with this new extortion, to come to life – protests have been rolling across Russia’s regions for more than a year.
Hitachi is a Japanese corporation, which for its history of over a century has been engaged in the production of almost everything – from consumer electronics to ships. At the same time, as was later found out, the talk was about the Swiss-Japanese company Hitachi Zosen Inova. The companies Hitachi and Hitachi Zosen had already split in 1947. And Zosen, in Japanese, in fact means “shipbuilding”. After the main shipbuilding business of the Hitachi Zosen Corporation began incurring loses, the Japanese decided to try their hand in the sphere of garbage incineration and in 2010, bought shares in the Swiss company Inova, which at the time was not in the best financial position. It was Inova that was involved with incineration technologies as a part of business. The rescued company received the name Hitachi Zosen Inova and it continued to do the same work, delivering its solutions to consumers in Switzerland and other countries. However, now the company is not only fixated on incineration but is actively pursuing a new direction – recovering biogas from garbage.
16 Billion of Damage
It was decided that the project of cleansing Russia from garbage by fire would be called “Clean Country.” Under this framework, four incineration thermoelectric power plants (each calculated to eliminate about 700 thousand tons of waste per year) should appear in the Moscow region by 2022: “Solnechnogorsk”, “Noginsk”, “Voskresenk”, and “Naro-Fominsk” stations.
It must be said that many residents of the Moscow region do not believe in clean incinerators and are actively protesting their construction. They are convinced that these new plants will poison their surroundings, turning their lives into hell. This is understandable: to anyone who has tried to burn the remnants of a picnic in a fire it is clear that burning garbage is not such a harmless thing. All of the four planned plants will take 700 thousand tons of garbage annually. Will the Swiss-Japanese technologies in RosTec’s service be able to cope with the difficult task of cleaning the smoke from the garbage fires with a capacity of almost 2 thousand tons of waste per day?
One of the protests against building an incinerator in the Moscow region. Photo: Vadim Kantor
Legally, the construction of the “Clean Country” plants in the Moscow region was formalized in a 6 July 2017 agreement between and the “AGK-1” company (“Alternative Generation Company”), and one of the owners appears to be RosTec. We managed to familiarize ourselves with this document – and found out something interesting.
The meaning of the agreement, in brief – the Moscow region provides the “AGK-1” company four sites for the construction of incinerators. The company undertakes the construction of these plants and the utilization of 2,800 thousand tons of garbage annually. And in order to make the business profitable, the region will impose special tariffs on garbage collection and electricity. With the help of these tariffs, the builders should cover their own costs, pay off their loans, and begin making a profit. That is, in sum, all the project costs (125 billion rubles) and its owners’ profits are covered by the pockets of Moscow region residents – apparently, the experience of implementing “Platon”, which shifted the maintenance of roads onto truck drivers, was not for nothing. Of course, the payments at the expense of local residents will cover a sum of 96 billion rubles, which the project should bring to the regional and federal budgets.
And now, the cherry on top: 16 billion from the sum of budget payments makes up the payment for damage to the environment. This is more than 1 billion for each year of operation of the four incinerations.
Fragment of Agreement No. 118 from 6 July 2017 between the Moscow regional government and “Alternative Generation Company-1” LLC, “On ensuring the implementation of a large-scale investment project for the construction of generation facilities, functioning on the basis of using waste from production and consumption – plants for the thermal disposal of municipal solid waste on lands rented to “AGK-1” LLC without an auction process” (available at the publisher’s disposal)
Simple words: air pollution has already been incorporated into the project. And the sum that Moscow regional residents will pay to the treasury – in fact, for the damage of their own health – is a part of higher tariffs. This alone seems crazy, but yet another question arises: how is it that the most advanced technologies have been applied and the damage is still calculated as a figure with nine zeroes?
New – not forgotten old?
It needs to be said that, for Russians, incinerators are not news. Over the past 15 years, several incineration plants have been working in Moscow – which has not gone unnoticed by Muscovites. Or, more precisely, not unsmelled.
“Practically every night, our region’s air is filled with a caustic burning and nasty smell, inducing couching, nausea, and serious upper respiratory tract and lung diseases among residents in the area. The low height of the plant’s smokestack allows this enterprise to release a plume of poisonous smoke through the windows of residences on the upper floors of buildings in the neighborhood,” says the petition for the closure of Incinerator-2 in Altufyevo, which collected over a thousand signatures.
Now the petition is closed. Also closed is Incinerator-2, which caused the displeasure of residents. But Incinerator-4 in Rudnevo continues to operate, despite the protests of local residents. Not long ago, the plant came under the control of Igor Chaika, the son of the Prosecutor General known throughout the country. He just found himself at the epicenter of yet another scandal after the Fund to Fight Corruption published information about the permission given to the plant to release more than 530 tons of harmful substances into the atmosphere.
In this context, it is especially interesting – how much cleaner will the “Swiss” plants be than the “Prosecutor’s”?
Breathe Deeply, You’re Excited
If you look more closely at the technologies imposed on Moscow regional residents and compare already existing incinerators with one of the new plants, which should be built in Naro-Fomisk, even a non-expert would question – where, exactly, are the innovations here?
Indeed, the technologies of the closed Incinerator-2 in Altufyevo and the “newest” incinerator are surprisingly similar. Moreover, in general the project is most similar to the increase in scale of Incinerator-2, whose work has been stopped. If we compare the technological characteristics of the incinerator in Naro-Fominsk with Igor Chaika’s Incinerator-4, the comparison seems to favor the latter – not to mention the plant in the Swiss city of Lucerne, to which we will return.
Source of information: http://www.rosteplo.ru/Tech_stat/stat_shablon.php?..., EIA materials on the Naro-Fominsk incinerator, presented at public hearings, http://trud.bobrodobro.ru/9339, https://knowledge.allbest.ru/life/2c0a65625a2bd68a..., http://www.hz-inova.com/cms/wp-content/uploads/201...
The first impression is not deceiving: from the EIA materials submitted to the public hearings, it follows that the Naro-Fominsk plant will release 2,378 tons of toxic substances into the atmosphere in a year, compared to 530 tons from Incintertor-4 and 200 form Incinerator-2.
Sources: EIA materials on the Naro-Fominsk incinerator (available at the publisher’s disposal), http://www.eco-pro.ru/images/sz-2-sz4.doc, the harmful substances list for incinerator-4, approved by the state environmental control (available at the publisher’s disposal), https://www.infox.ru/news/271/economy/company/1880...
If you compare the emissions of Incinerator-2 and Incinerator-4, already well-known by Muscovites, to those of the newest project in Naro-Fominsk, then even when adjusted for the volume of waste being destroyed, it becomes clear: the technologies do not strongly differ. Moreover, the toxic emissions from Moscow plants 2 and 4 turn out to be noticeably lower, especially for toxic substances in the first hazard class.
Should Russians feel sorry for the Swiss?
At a public hearing held in April 2018 in Naro-Fominsk, the general director of the incineration plant in Lucerne (Switzerland, designed by Hitachi Zosen Inova), Ruedi Kummer, calmed residents who are afraid of toxic emissions: measurements around the Lucerne enterprise show minimal readings for emission of harmful substances, writes “Kommersant”. But, maybe, thousands of tons of poison in the atmosphere is customary for the Swiss, and only spoiled Russians are sounding the alarm?
Obtaining information directly from the Hitachi Zosen Inova company turned out to be unexpectedly difficult – and we’ll talk about this separately. Nonetheless, in open accounting of the Lucerne plant for 2017, there are at least data on several main pollutants, making up the lion’s share of the total emissions volume. Also given were the plant’s hours of operation in fact and the total volume of gases emitted into the atmosphere. This allows us, using simple calculations, to estimate the annual emissions of major pollutants into the air.
Concentration of emissions of main pollutants is according to information from the plant operator https://www.renergia.ch/__/frontend/handler/docume..., the estimate of tons per year is based on Hitachi Zosen Inova’s technical data http://www.hz-inova.com/cms/wp-content/uploads/201..., the figure for other pollutants is estimated
The Swiss plant turned out to be just perfect – at least, compared to its fellows in Russia.
Its emissions are:
- carbon monoxide – 23 tons versus 510 tons in Naro-Fominsk (a difference of a factor of 22)
- sulfur dioxide – 3 tons versus 732 tons (a difference of a factor of 244)
- nitrous oxides – 45 tons versus 752 (a difference of a factor of 17)
If we assume that the ratios for other types of pollution are similar, then we can estimate the total atmospheric emissions of the Swiss plant to be about 83 tons of harmful and dangerous substances a year versus 2,378 tons from the “innovative” incinerator in Naro-Fominsk. It turns out that one Russian plant is equivalent to the emissions of almost 30 Swiss plants!
In order to better understand the scale, we tried to show the emissions of all plants in one image:
It turned out like this. Comments here appear unnecessary.
Interestingly, Valerii Sosnovtsev, lecturer at the National Atomic Research University, Ph.D. in physical and mathematical sciences, independently arrived at similar conclusions. In his report he compared emissions in terms of other parameters and came up with these results:
Illustration from the report of Valerii Sosnovtsev on the site IA Regum
Valerii Sosnovtsev: “Look at the funny situation we’re getting. For sulfur dioxide, the excess emissions at the proposed plant in Mogutovo exceed by a factor of more than 30 the designed maximum emissions for the plant in Perlen. For particulates – a factor of 30, for mercury – a factor of 10. If the estimated emissions of the Naro-Fominsk incinerator (which, with a probability of 100%, will be higher in reality) are correlated with the actual emissions from a Swiss plant, the ratio increases by an order of magnitude.”
In general, we don’t need to worry about the health of the Swiss. Especially the residents of Moscow and the Moscow region, near whose houses and dachas “innovative” trash burners will soon appear.
But how does it happen that Swiss technologies mutate so heavily when transferred to Russian soil?
Economic considerations must be discarded immediately: an analogous incinerator in Switzerland costs 200 million francs. According to the media, every plant designed for the Moscow region will cost 35 billion rubles, that is 600 million francs. If we take into consideration the volume of garbage processed, it turns out that the cost of the plant is equivalent to the Swiss one, and it also grows directly in proportion to the volume of garbage.
Maybe it has to do with the fact that in Switzerland, more than half of waste is sorted and recycled, unlike in Russia?
Or maybe, there is only one name left in this project from Switzerland? A curious detail: the designer of the Naro-Fominsk incinerator is Novosibirsk company “KOTES” is indicated in the EIA materials, and Hitachi Zosen Inova is mentioned only as the creator of the mysterious “base project”, and in order to learn the details of the “innovative” project, activists and experts have to go through the courts.
The construction of incineration plants in Russia by Hitachi Zosen Inova was actively promoted by its former president, Franz-Josef Mengede. In June 2017, he even took part in a press conference in Moscow, where he spoke of the large benefits of incineration. However, he was unable to answer the question, “why, then, is Europe moving toward recycling?”
However, shortly after the press conference, on 8 September 2017, Franz-Josef Mengede was fired by the Japanese owners – apparently without officially explained reasoning.
Since then, no one from the top management of Hitachi Zosen Inova has publicly confirmed their cooperation with Russian “RT-Invest”. The company’s website is also silent even though the construction of several large plants at once in Russia is a significant event, and the company proudly publicizes a webpage about similar projects in different countries to all visitors.
As for the Hitachi Zosen Inova company itself, it did not want to clarify the situation regarding their involvement in the project, and all questions from Activatica.org were redirected … to the press services of the “RT-Invest” holding company in Russia. This can hardly be considered a normal practice, especially since no Swiss participation could be detected in the Russian company. Why are the Swiss so stubbornly unwilling to comment on their own (sort of) idea?
An unexpected turn took place after studying Swiss export legislation: on the list of people who are under a sanctions ban the name Sergei Chemezov came up – the very same person who controls RosTec and was at the forefront of “Clean Country” already back in 2015.
This suggests that the Swiss simply do not want to risk coming under their own sanctions. But if this guess is correct, and the cooperation of Hitachi Zosen Inova with the Russian side is effectively frozen, then what are they going to build near Moscow in the name of the Swiss-Japanese company?
All infographics in this material – Ekaterina Savushkina
Translation – Lilya Lvovna Morevna