Bellona closes its offices in Russia

Publish date: November 27, 2022

Bellona was active in Russia for more than 30 years. Now those activities have ceased, and Bellona has established a new office in Vilnius, Lithuania, where Bellona’s experts, relocated from Russia, will continue their work.

Bellona was active in Russia for more than 30 years. Now those activities have ceased, and Bellona has established a new office in Vilnius, Lithuania, where Bellona’s experts, relocated from Russia, will continue their work.  

“We have been keen to retain our expertise and will use it to assist Ukraine, while at the same time we must prepare for the increased security risk at Russian nuclear installations and waste storage facilities,” says Bellona founder Frederic Hauge.  

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine leads to significant environmental challenges. 

Bellona previously had an office in Kyiv and Bellona’s experts know the Soviet nuclear technology used in Ukraine very well. It is this expertise that Bellona is now concentrating in its new office in Lithuania. 

“We know that for many years there will be a need for international assistance and cooperation to clean up Ukraine, both in terms of cleaning up and securing nuclear installations, nuclear waste and other large releases of environmental toxins as a result of the war,” says Hauge.  

The war and the many attacks on the Ukrainian nuclear power plants and waste storage facilities with spent fuel pose an acute threat.  

“Bellona considers these to be war crimes and is deeply concerned about the consequences,” says Hauge. “Chernobyl must be secured further, all planned international measures have been halted. Zaporizhzhia is exposed to an enormous pressure and risk, and this applies to several other power plants that are under fire.” 

There are tens of thousands of used fuel elements that must be handled and large expenses are expected in order to secure areas at former uranium processing facilities, according to Bellona. In addition, there is the clean-up at Chernobyl, which has now been put on hold due to the war.  

Bellona will not give up 

“Bellona has played a central role in cleaning up similar conditions in Russia,” says Hauge. “The establishment of a new Bellona office in Vilnius must therefore be seen in a long-term perspective, where Bellona will use its experience gained from securing nuclear waste in Russia for 30 years to be able to assist Ukraine in securing their enormous amounts of nuclear waste and to solve other environmental problems by finding technical solutions and securing international funding.” 

In the long term, Bellona will also work for new sustainable energy production and industrial development in the country and will help find financing for this.  

Enough is enough 

“Bellona finds it tragic to end our work in Russia,” says Hauge. “The war makes it impossible to continue. Bellona played an important role in the glasnost period in creating transparency around environmental conditions in Russia. We have fought many important environmental battles with accusations of espionage against our employee Alexander Nikitin, who was acquitted in the Supreme Court in 2000 and later played a central role in Bellona’s extensive work at our offices in Murmansk and St. Petersburg.”  

After almost three decades in Russia, the environmental fight must continue from the outside. Bellona will be working on revealing Russian environmental issues, but the format of work has to change. 

“Bellona cannot carry out its work without the understanding of central government actors in Russia, where we have constantly been exposed to attacks and attempts to brand us as foreign agents,” says Hauge. “It is also impossible for us to cooperate with the current regime, which invades a neighboring country and with a nuclear industry that engages in nuclear terrorism and threats. The war therefore means that all Bellona’s activity inside Russia has ceased.” 

“As a result, Bellona is very concerned about increased risks at the nuclear installations and waste storage facilities in Russia,” says Hauge. “Bellona will seek to maintain and update our documentation on environmental conditions in Russia. The current situation increases the nuclear risk from Russia and there is reason for this to worsen in the future.” 

Bellona is marking the start of its work from Lithuania by publishing the environmental magazine Environment & Rights, which describes what we now know about the environmental problems in Ukraine as a result of the war. 

Facts about Bellona’s work in Russia  

  • Bellona was founded after the Chernobyl accident in 1986.
  • Bellona traveled to Russia for the first time in 1989 in collaboration with the action group Stop the death clouds in Kirkenes to stop the large sulfur emissions from nickel production at the border.
  • In 1991, Bellona sailed into the Soviet nuclear test site on Novaya Zemlya and was arrested. This made Bellona’s name known in Russia and was the start of efforts to expose and document to the world the vast amounts of hazardous nuclear waste in Russia. Bellona’s reports later formed the basis for a number of internationally funded projects to secure nuclear waste in Russia.
  • 1992-1993: Bellona visited Murmansk on board the Bellona vessel Genius. On the trip, the organization revealed  that a number of nuclear submarines lay rusting in port and that ships with large quantities of nuclear and radioactive waste were docked at the harbor in the middle of Murmansk.
  • In 1992, Bellona revealed that large quantities of liquid radioactive waste had been dumped in the Barents Sea, and that 12 radioactive barrels and 17 submarines with their reactors had been sunk in the Kara Sea.
  • In 1992, Bellona discovered that a large number of poorly secured strontium powered radio thermal electric generators (RTGs) were used to power Russian lighthouses along the entire Russian coast. As a result of international cooperation and funding following the reveal, 1,000 such radiation sources were removed and secured across Russia.
  • In 1992, Bellona traveled to Chelyabinsk to investigate the conditions at the plutonium production facility and other nuclear installations in the area. Bellona published a report that read like a horror story about the conditions, which created an international furor at the environmental conference in Rio that same year. Bellona later went on to make extensive revelations about the other two plutonium facilities in Tomsk and Krasnoyarsk.
  • In 1994, Bellona rented two nuclear icebreakers and brought the EU’s environmental commissioner to Murmansk together with the Nordic foreign ministers to have a conference to establish EU funding for nuclear cleanup in Northwest Russia. The irradiated nuclear service ship Lepse was the first major waste issue that was agreed to be dealt with at this meeting. The ship contained many broken nuclear fuel elements and was finally completely dismantled and secured in 2020. Bellona was given central responsibility in this work.
  • In 1994, Bellona established its first foreign office in Murmansk.
  • In 1995, Bellona’s office in Murmansk was searched by the FSB security police.
  • In 1996, Bellona employee Aleksandr Nikitin, a former captain in the Soviet Northern Fleet, was arrested by Russia’s FSB and accused of high treason and espionage. The background was a Bellona report on radioactive contamination within the Northern Fleet on the Kola Peninsula and Arkhangelsk in Russia. The case was a major test for the Russian legal system. Authorities attempted to keep the charges against Nikitin secret, to refuse him the choice of his own lawyer, and to pass laws that would convict him retroactively. Bellona devoted enormous resources to Nikitin’s defense, and published the report he had contributed to. Nikitin was eventually acquitted by the Russian Supreme Court in 2000, and he remains the only person to have ever won such a case against the Russian security services.
  • In 1998 Bellona established a new office in St. Petersburg – an environmental rights center. Here, a legal team worked to provide free legal aid to Russian citizens concerning environmental matters and to conduct legal proceedings on major environmental matters on behalf of the environmental movement in Russia.
  • Since the 90s, Bellona’s work contributed to: the dismantlement and securing of more than 100 nuclear submarines in the Russian Arctic (about 200 in total throughout Russia); the dismantlement and safe storage of world’s most radioactive ship Lepse; the safe storage of radioactive waste at naval bases along the coast of the Kola Peninsula, including at Andreyeva Bay, Gremikha and in Sayda Bay. In Andreeva Bay alone, there were 22,000 spent nuclear fuel assemblies, several of them damaged and very difficult to handle safely. Bellona’s revelations contributed to an influx of international funding for nuclear cleanup in Russia totaling some $2.5 billion.
  • Bellona has been involved with the establishment of the dry storage at Sayda Bay in the Murmansk region, where 117 reactor compartments from the Russian Northern Fleet are now stored. Bellona was instrumental in bringing about collaboration in developing TUK-18 containers, which make it possible to transport broken fuel cells, allowing for the cleanup of otherwise very dangerous waste.
  • After the Nikitin case, Bellona worked ardently to create a dialogue with Russian nuclear authorities and avoid suspicion, despite the full acquittal of Alexander Nikitin by the Supreme Court in plenary session.
  • From 2011 until Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Bellona played an important role in Russian nuclear energy agency Rosatom’s Public Council. Bellona used its position to share information with the rest of the Russian public, and to urge Rosatom toward greater transparency and better processes for public participation in its decision-making. At the same time, Bellona closely followed the clean-up work in the border areas between Norway and north-west Russia, as well as overall questions of how Russia handles challenges with waste and pollution in other parts of the country.
  • From 2014 to 2021, Bellona conducted a unique project to deploy charging infrastructure in the Russian Arctic, with the goal of popularizing electric vehicles in the region. As a result of Bellona’s work, it is now possible to travel from Norway to Russia’s Arctic capital Murmansk in an EV. Bellona also made a technical plan for chargers needed to travel between the Barents and Baltic seas.
  • Since Bellona started its work in Russia, the organization has involved more than 15,000 students in environmental legal work, provided free legal aid to thousands of ordinary Russians and organizations, held more than 800 environmental classes for more than 16,000 Russian schoolchildren and published more than 10,000 articles and over 100 reports on environmental challenges and solutions. More than 30 of these reports have dealt with nuclear safety. Bellona has also published 84 issues of its environmental magazine “Environment and Rights.”