Saturday, July 13, 2019

Environmental Protests in Russia Increasingly Focusing on Nuclear and Chemical Wastes

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 12 – Protests against Moscow’s plans to dispose of its trash in the suburbs or in the Russian North have grown in strength and attracted international attention. But a related kind of environmental protest, against the disposal of radioactive and toxic chemicals, in the Middle Volga and elsewhere is only beginning to do so.

            In a report on this develop cleverly entitled “The Orange Shadowing of the Green Protest,” commentator Igor Dmitriyev says that protests against plans to set up special dumps for radioactive and highly toxic wastes have already taken place in Udmurtia and in Saratov, Kirov, and Kurgan oblasts (

            The seven sites which Rosatom plans to build by 2025 will have an enormous annual capacity – the ability to take in up to 50,000 tons of such wastes every year – an amount that Russian ecological activists say means that Moscow will be sending to these places not just radioactive and chemical wastes produced by Russian outlets but foreign wastes as well.

            Such importation of these extremely toxic wastes is permitted under the terms of the Basel Convention which Vladimir Putin signed in 2007. It is enormously profitable for the Russian powers that be given that European countries don’t want to store these wastes on their territories but a serious threat to the health and well-being of the people who will live near them. 

            That is all the more likely because the sites are being developed close to major cities and along water routes. If there are leaks, not only those living near by but those living downstream from the sites could suffer serious health consequences, including a dramatic increase in the incidence of various forms of cancer.

            As information about these Moscow plans has spread, many local people are furious. A protest meeting took place in Izhevsk last week; and people there have formed a movement called “Kambarka is Not Chernobyl!”  Kambarka is the site of the planned disposal site; Chernobyl of course is where the 1986 nuclear accident occurred.

            Russian officials say there are no plans to store nuclear wastes there permanently, but that declaration isn’t very reassuring given that Moscow makes a distinction between permanent storage sites which it does not have many of and “temporary” storage sites where such wastes can be left for decades under the Russian understanding.

            Moscow has been importing nuclear wastes from Europe for at least two decades and it has been able to do so by declaring that they are being stored “temporarily,” a representation that allows Rossatom to avoid having to declare just how long the materials will be kept but that does nothing to prevent the wastes from contaminating the land and harming the population.

            The Udmurt activists are seeking a referendum but officials have dug in against that, further angering the population. Their petition for such a vote on the storage of nuclear and chemical wastes already has 80,000 signatures. Meanwhile, protests in Russia against nuclear and chemical wastes are spreading far beyond the borders of that republic.

            There have been large public protests in Kirov where 50,000 people have signed an analogous petition and in Kurgan.  And a protest against the storage of such wastes is scheduled for Saratov on July 25.

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