UPDATE: Russian anti-nuclear activist arrested and jailed in Belarus for distributing nuclear info at public hearing

Publish date: October 11, 2009

Written by: Galina Raguzina

Translated by: Charles Digges

KALININGRAD - Andrei Ozharovsky, an activist and physicist with the Russian environmental group Ecodefence was last week arrested by Belarussian authorities during a public hearing on the building of a nuclear power plant in the country’s Ostrovets Grodno Region and sentenced to seven days in jail for spreading nuclear literature and allegedly striking OMON special forces police officers.

As of the most recent information, he is still in jail, and a local activist, Tatyana Novikova, and a lawyer she brought are waiting to speak with him. According to local police comment relayed to Bellona Web, he is scheduled for release at noon on Friday, October 16th Minsk time.   

Ozharovsky is one of the authors of a report entitled “Critical Commentary on the State Environmental Impact Study for the Belarussian Nuclear Power Plant (NPP)” in which the nuclear plant project is declared untenable.  He also contributes frequently to Bellona Web’s Russian and English pages.

While in jail, Ozharovsky has not been allowed access to a lawyer. Local lawyers he has thus far tried to hire have refused to take the case.

The event was something of a repeat of the detention of Ozharovsy and Ecodefence co-chairman Vladimir Slivyak, who were plucked out of a public hearing on Russia’s prospective Nizhny Novgorod Region Nuclear Power Plant. The two, who were carrying literature on what the plant would mean in an ecological sense for the region, were held at a local precinct without charge until the hearings were over.

“It’s clear that the nuclear industry does not plant to limit the audacity or the places it spreads its illegal and insolent and audacious fight,” Ozharovsky told Bellona Web.

Criticism gets sent to court
During his arrest, 96 copies of “Critical Commentary on the State Environmental Impact Study for the Belarussian Nuclear Power Plant (NPP)” were confiscated.

He was arrested while handing out printed material that were in a packet. As Novikov, editor of the Belarussian green web portal, environmentalists had planned to distribute “Critical Commentary” in the hall were the public hearings were taking place. When Ozharovsky exited the hall to get more copies of the report, he was not let back in.

He said that, “two uniformed policemen came up to me and a man who identified himself by his last name Svirid, who introduced himself as a representative of the firm building the nuclear power plant.”

“He told me that is was forbidden to carry materials critical of the construction of the nuclear power plant through the hall,” he continued. At that point his hands where put behind his back and he was shoved into a police car.

After four hours at the local police precinct – which in and of itself is illegal, environmentalists say – Ozharovsky was charged with violating the Belarussian law “On disorderly conduct."

At 7:30 that evening, the Ostrovetsk Regional Court found Ozharovsky guilty of the crime and sentenced him to seven days in jail. 

There were seven witnesses against Ozharovsky in court, five of whom were members of the local police. The others were two young women who were among the organisers of the public hearings.

In Ozharovsky’s defence, there were three witnesses, whose presence the court was shut down when the judge said that, “because such testimony with the aim of averting the violator’s responsibility is either to mitigate his responsibility for factual criminal conduct, because they did not see the entire event and are acquaintances of the violator.”

Having thus cast aside the objectivity of the testimony that could be offered by Ozharovsky’s witnesses, the court decided that “there doubtless occurred a disturbance of order in a public place, and the activities of the violator continued for some 15 to 20 minutes,” Ozharovsky told Bellona Web about the court appearance. 

Public hearing nothing but hot air
Ozharovsky commented on the results of the day at the hearing from the courtroom 10 minutes before the sentence was pronounced, according to those who were present. 

“It is scandalous that the document under discussion was a substitute – the actual document is some 3000 pages long. At the hearings, a 131 page document was presented. As such, the public environmental impact hearings were not public and cannot be considered the subject of a hearing because we did not see the document and were not able to consider it,” he said.

“I would call this manipulation, when a sham is presented relative to the absence of content that fairly voices criticism and when it further becomes clear that the genuine accounting was not presented to the public,” he said.

“In other words, there was no hearing in Ostrovets because what was supposed to be discussed was not present,” he continued. “There was a discussion of a document that was pronounced by the public to be phony, which it turned out to be. The public commentary relative to the document that was presented for public evaluation is to be found in the 96 copies of the brochures that I left at the Ostrovets police station.”

Ozharovsky went on to explain that entitled “Critical Notes on the State Environmental Impact Study for the Belarus NPP” was prepared by independent experts in Russia and Belarus, had been presented publicly, to the media, and representatives of the Ministry of Energy, Environmental Ministry, the directors of the Ostrovets NPP and to the Orkhussky Centre of Belarus in Minsk on September 21st.

According to experts, the absence of a full and objective scientific evaluation of the effect of a construction project, its eventual operation, possible accident scenarios and decommissioning plans of an NPP on the surrounding environment within a state environmental impact study make them invalid for the purposes of public discussion. According to environmentalists familiar with the documents, data on the release of radionuclides should an accident occur at the planned plant are reduced by several hundred if not thousands of times. Therefore the evaluation of fallout in the Beyond Design Basis reports has been reduced 320 times in comparison with reports an analogous nuclear power plant – America’s Three Mile Island. 

The State Environmental Impact Study also includes no information about the defence of the population and how to minimise the consequences of a possible accident at the NPP. Also absent is a description of regional wildlife and a historical and cultural description of the local population and how the construction and operation of the NPP would affect them. There is also no description of systems for dealing with radioactive waste, the impact of possible accidents while dealing with spent nuclear fuel on the environment and heath of the population, and no description of storage for spent nuclear fuel.

“One of the most important conclusions (of the hearings) I would like to note on my behalf is the fact that Alexander Glukhov, as a representative of Rosatom (Russia’s state nuclear corporation), underscored that Russia will not take Belarus’ radioactive waste on to the territory of his storage repositories uncompensated,” said Ozharovsky during his address in the courtroom. “In that event, waste transports will be sent back to Belarus. This means that the question of the construction of repositories still remains, or the delivery of waste to outside Belarus.”

Nokikiova said the designers must in the proscribed manner prepare a new environmental impact study, taking into consideration all of the environmental community’s commentary.
“But then it will be clear that building the NPP is impossible and that this dangerous project must be refused,” she said.

Hearing turns to farce
Citizens who had gathered for the hearings began to be let in the building that had been sealed off by OMON special forces police at 10 am local time. Those who wished to attend the hearings were searched. Members of many groups, however, such as those who represented local enterprises that hold a stake in building the plant, had been let in much earlier than the appointed registration time.

Participants in the hearing were given glossy informational booklets entitled “We are for the NPP. We are for Work. We are for Pay,” which were nearly exact duplicates of campaign pamphlets from Rosatom that were distributed at the public hearings on the Nizhny Novgorod NPP, the Baltic NPP and other prospective NPPs in Russia.

According to Novikova, any kind of understanding of regimen or format that are to govern public hearings were ignored. Only five representatives of independent public organisations and political parties were able to get into the hall were the hearings were being held. They were allowed to speak as 10 others spoke before them, affirming that the NPP would be built.

“After my speech, in which I focussed on if the NPP were so safe, then why had Ozharovsky’s criticism been confiscated with out any warrant, I went out of the hall, and was not permitted to go back in,” said Novikova. 

“I am now in a state of shock and surprise. After all, so much time had been spent on setting up a dialog with the authorities so they could hear, so that the Environmental Ministry and the contractors understood what the public recommends,” Novikova continued. “Today, these contacts that had been developed with so much labour were dashed with the stroke of a pen.”

Nikolai Ulasevich, an activist of the group “Ostrovets Atom is a Crime” from a village in the Vornyan Ostrovets region got into the hearings with difficulty.

“I had to use great pressure to force my way into the hall and get the right to speak,” he said in an interview with BelaPAN, “Without the help of Ivan Kruk, who yielded his right to speak to me, I would not have had the possibility,” he told the news agency. “

He said that, “Through general effort, we were nevertheless able to express our point of view, but I was only allowed to say half of what I had prepared(…) in short, there was no discussion with the pubic, only within (Rosatom’s) own circles.”
Ozharovsky noted in the courtroom that he had not been present during the hearings.

“I rather saw what happened prior to their beginning. In my view, judicial decisions to refuse those who wished to speak and not observing the regimen collapsed the basis of the entire event if the decision of the Presidium stops the hearings,” said Ozharovsky.