Mutual cooperation or mutual exclusion? Rosatom hears ideas on ignoring environmentalists and brainwashing the rest

Publish date: October 7, 2010

Translated by: Charles Digges

ST. PETERSBURG – The Fifth International Nuclear Forum on nuclear technology with a focus on strategies and financing of its safety held earlier this month in St. Petersburg included a round table discussion on cooperation by the Russia nuclear industry with media and civil society organisations – an issue that still remains thorny.

Alexander Nikitin, chairman of the Environmental Rights Centre (ERC) Bellona, and Lina Zernova, editor of ERC Bellona’s Ecopravo magazine were in attendance at the forum entitled “Safety of Nuclear Technology – Strategies and Economics of Safety,” which ran fro September 27 to October 1. 

From secrecy to technolgy

The Russian public’s relationship with Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom has always been fraught with difficulty. From the moment the nuclear industry was created here, all of its actions were classified. Only toward end of the 1980s was there any information release for judgement by the public. But, despite the any advances made over the last nearly quarter of a century, it is still far too early to speak of Rosatom as a transparent organisation.

The second factor that pressured nuclear information into the public sphere was the Chernobyl disaster. Setting right the consequences of the nuclear catastrophe of 25 years ago is something the nuclear industry will hardly succeed at. But the nuclear industry’s inferiority complex toward the end of the 1990s allowed it to cloak its aggressive PR campaign, which, in all its splendour, blossomed  during the tenure of Yevegy Adamov, former head of Minatom, Rosatom’s former name. Such coarse approaches led to a definite dischord in relations with green groups and other social groups suffering from the nuclear legacy.

But working with the public is necessary – such are contemporary demands, including those of the international nuclear technology markets in which Russia is tryig to position itself as a big player. And to simplify the dialogue, the last years have seen technology as the centre piece. Such are the impressions of a civil society organisations trying to cooperate with Rosatomm on safety issues.

Indeed, on the one hand, Rosatom devotes considerable attention to work with public opinion. The industry has created new departments for work with Russia’s regions targeted on “cooperation with local authorities and civil society organisations in regions where nuclear power installations are located for the creation of a favourable socio-political and socio-economic climate.” Under the patronage of this department, regional public hearings, youth activities, contests, educational trips and so on take place. Such was the framework for the roundtable discussion at the Fifth International Nuclear Forum.

On the other hand, nature preservationists have raised questions on the effectiveness, aims and tasks of such events sponsored by the Rosatom department. Much money is spent on them, yet mutual understanding comes with difficulty. The discussion that took place at the roundtable meeting was symptomatic of this.

Why spend time on the greens? We will bury them…

 [picture1 left]The curious theory of “nuclear risk information management in the internet age” was laid out by André Maïsseu of the France-based World Council of Nuclear Workers (WONUC). According to Maïsseu’s data, 95 percent of the public is accustomed to using the language of symbols rather than fact. Hiroshima, Cherobyl – these are past “facts” that have become “symbols” in the public conscience. The mere mention of these words conjures a picture of global destruction. The shift from “fact” to “symbol” is the fundamental process in work with public opinion that the nuclear industry must engage in, said Maïsseu.

And yes, in society there are small groups who have managed with the help of this method to inculcate the population with their point of view – apparently Maïsseu was referring to the greens. At that, the very members of these groups do not yield to over-persuasion. Therefore, the nuclear industry, according to Maïsseu, should not waste its time on greens. Better to work directly with large masses of people and capture the maximum sector of the population. In this way, the greens become a minority and will be powerless to do anything.

The methodology proposed by Maïsseu is not speculative. It is founded on mathematical and statistical models provably fortified with calculations of mathematical formulae. In short, Maïsseu suggested to his Russia colleagues a new technology to impact people’s minds that is not engaged in or tied to the agenda of nuclear technology. Judging by the reaction of those in attendance, Maïsseu’s report did not have the effect of an exposion. Rather, the attendees became acquainted with yet another tactic suggested to Rosatom. It essence is simple – greens and other anti-nuclear groups will be excluded from cooperating, and the rest will be brainwashed.

Brainwashing? Thanks anyway…

“As a resident of a nuclear city, I would prefer a solution to the mounting problems to brainwashing,” said Ecopravo editor Zernova.

In Sosnovy Bor, 40 kilometres west of St. Petersburg, there are the four reactors of the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant, a scientific institute with four experimental reactors, the Radon radioactive waste storage facility that collects waste from all over Northwest Russia and Ekomet-S, the radioactive metal re-smelting plant. Additionally, construction of two new reactor blocks at Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant 2 has begun. There is nowhere on the Baltic Sea were there is such a concentration of nuclear installations.

“Before construction there was no in-depth investigation of the environmental conditions conjoining the impact of all polluting factors on the health of local residents,” said Zernova. “A discovered zone of sustained accumulation of radionuclides in the Gulf of Finalnd did not interest and was not observed by Rosgidromet,”the Federal Service of Russia on Hydrometeorology and Monitoring of the Environment.

In a report submitted to the roundtable by Mikhail Rylov, general director of the Inter-industry Expert Certification, Scientific and Technological and Monitoring Centre for Nuclear and Radiation Safety, or REStentr, the situation described by Zernova “points to a currently existing source of caesium-137 described in Rosgidromet’s annual report for 2008,” read Rylov’s report.

“High radioactivity (more than 1000 Becquerel per kilogram) was documented at station in the Vyborg, Koropsky, and Narva Bays of the Gulf of Finland,” continued Rylov, quoting from the Rosgidromet report.

“Did this concern anyone,” Rylov continued. “No one troubles themselves with the fact that (as quoted in the Rosgidromet report) ‘among nuclear industry workers there is observed and expressed tendency toward malignant tumours. Especially concerning is the increase of children’s illnesses due to growths,’” read Rylov’s report.

Moreover, as a direct result of Rosatom’s activities, the living area for “54 percent of the residents of Northwest Russia are risk zones for accidents of a nuclear radiological character,” continued Rylov’s report. However, Russia, as distinguished from France, has no insurance system against such risks.

These and other problems will not be solved by influencing the mentality of the population. This is a straight line to large amounts of work that need to be done with the participation of the public. Local associations in the given circumstances can come forward as experts, assistants and observers. Such cooperation could be called a real partnership. Then there would be no need for mathematical models or Maxwell’s law of reciprocal deflections. Residents would see with their own eyes that the nuclear industry cares about their welfare. That Rosatom represents a social accountable business, and not a structure, that ably influences mass opinion.

“I request that the resolution of the International Nuclear Forum include the creation of a public council in Sosnovy Bor,” Zernova announced. “The local population has a right to participate in the adoption of decisions affecting the fate of their city.”

There is much common work to be done

The refusal to cooperate with people who have their own point of view on the nuclear industry is a dangerous path,” said ERC Bellona’s Nikitin. “Precisely these public representative often are experts on a number of problems assisting in their solutions.”

The Bellona report that came out in the late 1990’s co-authored by Nikitin, drawing the attention of the world to nuclear dangers in the Arctic, drew support for dismantling aged nuclear submarines of the Russian Northern fleet from some 20 nations. Some $20 billion was invested in the enviroment of Northwest Russia over 15 years. This was risky business for the greens and Nikitin himself. But it was successful international project that helped solve enormous problems. Because of this, discussing new ways to wage war on the greens, and technologies to move them aside in nuclear issues is, at the very least, short sighted.

“Rosatom often behaves in a contradictory manner, even stupidly,” said Nikitin. “On the one hand, it organises and conducts public hearings and forums, spending large sums, and on the other hand, they turn these events into spectacles.”

Rosatom delivered engineering documentation on projects only to unknown, specially created organisations,” continued Nikitin. “One Duma deputy living in Moscow monopolized and created a gusher of such expert evaluations across Russia, and in essence, with the help of Rosatom, made this work into a business. This duplicity is unnoticed, and can’t be noticed, by the public. Rosatom must refuse to create special public nuclear organisations. Such policies compromise Rosatom and force society to react sceptically to even completely correct information coming from Rosatom.”

Nikitin said the nuclear industry has only one means to smooth out cooperating with the public: to relate to the public like a partner, to work together on solutions to mounting problems and recurring problems. There are positive examples – general understanding of the importance of federal target programmes for nuclear and radioactive waste, an understanding of the necessity to adopt a law on radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel management and others. Technologies for dumbing down and brainwashing the public has already grown tiresome to people. The integrity and social responsibility of Rosatom is needed, all the more so because its activities are tied to technologies and materials that are dangerous to all living things.