To Bellona’s Russian office, 2019 was a year of waste – household waste, hazardous waste and radioactive waste. Nearly all of the appeals to our legal offices in the past year were somehow related to waste. As such, our main successes for the year were, likewise, built on a foundation of waste.
Our long-term work with Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear corporation, produced concrete results. The first portions of spent nuclear fuel housed in the Lepse, the former floating nuclear service ship, were removed. This, according to Alexander Nikitin, the director of our St Petersburg office, is a significant step in eradicating Russia’s radiation legacy and reducing radiation threats in the Barents Sea area. Bellona has been advocating for the safe decommissioning and dismantlement of the Lepse since 1995. The history of this floating radiation hazard can found in our new Russian language report. By the end of 2020, technicians will removed most of the Lepse’s spent nuclear fuel.
Other similar facilities that are holdovers from the Cold War are next in line, sites like Andreyeva Bay, Sayda Bay and Gremikha, all of which, with Bellona’s help, are nearing decommissioning.
Another radioactive topic that arose unexpectedly this year concerns the resumed import of depleted uranium from Germany to Russia. News of the renewed imports, between the German nuclear fuel company Urenco and a subsidiary of Rosatom, ignited a fierce public debate. Is depleted uranium radioactive waste? Is its import to Russia legal? Is it safe to transport? To clarify these issues and ensure maximum transparency for the Russian public while the process continues, Nikitin headed a special working group on depleted uranium within the Public Council of Rosatom. Bellona will continue this work throughout 2020, as the imports continue.
A year-long court case arguing that an independent environmental review be required before a Moscow Region waste incinerator went into operation ended victoriously for Bellona. Last February, the Moscow Arbitration court ordered the incinerator’s owner to provide documentation to facilitate an independent environmental review. The decision will serve as a precedent for other regions where incinerators are planned. Bellona’s lawyer, Ksenia Mikhailova, represented the rights of citizens to the review.
Bellona’s Russian offices also helped organized and facilitate “Pollution Prevention Day.” With help from the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources, Bellona sent letters to polluting industries in the Murmansk area encouraging them to take part in our “Zero Negative Impacts on the Environment” campaign. This campaign aims to have regional polluters stop their hazardous activities for short periods. The campaign also organized environmental seminars.
An important part of that campaign was the Industrial Quiz, which was held at a Murmansk pub on December 2 for the second year in a row. Participants divided into 17 teams that were comprised of representatives from local industrial companies, such as the Kola Mining and Metallurgy Company, the TGK-1 regional power company and many others. Staff from the Norwegian consulate in Murmansk also attended.
With Bellona’s participation and help, a new high-speed electric car charger opened in the Russian-Norwegian border town of Zapolyarny. The new charger represents an important milestone in Belllona’s Arctic Electric Road project, which seeks to line the highways running between Russia and Scandinavia with adequate infrastructure for electric car drivers.
In 2019, Bellona began work in a new area – the safe management of hazardous waste. The organization’s experts will publically monitor RosRAO, Russia’s federal operator for radioactive waste, as it manages class I and II wastes. To study the current waste management conditions in the country, Bellona issued a working document entitled “Handling Hazardous Waste in Russia and Some EU Countries” and a report entitled “Handling Wastes of the I and II Hazard Classes (Current Situation and Prospects).”
Among the significant events organized by Bellona in 2019 was the Forum on Renewable Energy in the North-West of Russia, held on September 25-26 in St. Petersburg. The forum provided a discussion platform for representatives of business, government agencies, the scientific community and public organizations who see prospects in the use of renewable energy sources.
In February, Bellona held a seminar for environmental journalists and activists from Russia and the EU dedicated to the work of investigation hazardous waste. Following the seminar, various articles appeared in Russian and English exposing the dioxin problem in the Russian region of Ufa, the illegal burning of medical waste in Volgograd, and toxic waste dumps in the Altai Territory.
In 2019, Bellona reconvened its school for environmental journalists, holding its first seminar in November in St Petersburg. The school’s aim is to train young journalists who wish to report on the environmental and on the rights of citizens to healthy environmental conditions.
The school of environmental journalism will continue its work in 2020, holding seminars not only in St Petersburg but in other Russia cities as well. Young journalists, led by experienced editors, will have the opportunity to publish their texts on Bellona’s Russian web pages and in its quarterly journal Environment and Rights.
Another of Bellona’s important activities is its environmental education program for schoolchildren. Over the course of 2019, this program expanded into the younger grades in the St Petersburg school system. Over the course of the year, Bellona employees and volunteers taught 227 lessons for more than 5,000 students. We also continue to hold special seminars for volunteers, at which we analyze various environmental issues.
The organization held a competition in 2019 called Eco-Jurist, an annual competition for law students wishing to practice environmental law. Last year’s competition included 1,672 entrants competing from 55 Russian Regions, as well as Moldova and Belarus.
The most active students came from the Tomsk, Volgograd and Bryansk regions. Seminars for the participants of the last competition will be held in 2020. Bellona organized a study tour to France for the winners on the topic of environmental law and activism. During the trip, the students met with French authorities and representatives of environmental organizations.
In addition to its future lawyers competition, Bellona also held a competition for school projects aimed at preserving natural ecosystems in the Baltic and Barents Sea regions, called “B3 Bellona Barents Baltic.” We also held a competition in the field of environmental education, called “EcoSvet.”
Throughout the year, Bellona’s employees and volunteers helped organize a number of environmental events, such as the annual Yabloko Readings in memory of the famed ecologist Alexei Yabloko; the Eco-Losevo Ecological Festival; the Message to Man International Festival; and the volunteer Clean Vuoksa environmental camp, as well as community work days at St Petersburg’s Botanical Gardens, and much more.
We also updated our YouTube Channel, where we post video reports from our environmental campaigns and working trips, as well as live broadcasts from our seminars.
This was another productive year and we hope that we were able to make this world a little better and greener. We are optimistic about the future because ecology is becoming Russia’s number one topic, which means that even more people and organizations will work for the benefit of future generations.