Resettling Muslyumovo to a Potemkin Village not a solution to ongoing ecological tragedy

Rashid Alimov/Bellona

Publish date: March 7, 2008

Written by: Galina Raguzina

Translated by: Charles Digges

MOSCOW - The so-called resettlement of the village of Muslyumovo to a spot two kilometers away along the radioactively contaminated Techa River in the Southern Urals near Chelyabinsk looks more like an advertising campaign for Russia’s atomic energy authority Rosatom than a move to rescue its population from further nuclear dangers, Russian environmentalists say.

It is sadder still when such a defilement of the ecological and social consequences of a nuclear accident comparable to Chernobyl finds the support of such an influential organisation as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The cat and mouse game that Rosatom and regional authorities are playing with people who suffered from the dangerous and irresponsible actions of the Soviet-Russian nuclear industry with the PR support of certain environmentalists has forced the Russian green community to step forward with a statement, which, following leading Russian environmentalists Alexei Yablokov and Bellona’s Alexander Nikitin, was signed by dozens of Russian environmental organisations.

According to the statement: “The problem of providing radiation safety to the population of the Chelyabinsk Region is inseparable from the problems of the past and current operations of the Mayak Chemical Combine. Its solution does not come down to only the question of resettling the inhabitants of the village of Muslyumovo. The solution suggested today only makes the situation worse, putting off its resolution on future generations. We therefore cannot join the chorus of those who glorify the current management of Rosatom.”

On September 29th 1957, an explosion containing radioactive waste ripped through the Mayak Chemical Combine. As a result of the accident, some 20 million curies of radiation were thrown into the atmosphere at a height of one to two kilometers and formed a cloud and then fell over a 300 to 350 kilometre course in a northeasterly direction from Mayak.

Radioactive contamination affected a 23,000 square kilometre area with a population of 270,000. The accident is one of the lesser-known nuclear tragedies of the 20th century: Official information about it was only first released under pressure from the public in the 1990s.

But the Mayak tragedy continues. Fifty years after the explosion, there are still people living in the radioactively contaminated area, who the government has cast to the winds of fate. Mayak continues to dump millions of cubic metres of poisonous radioactive waste into the Techa River Cascade. Environmentalists demand that Rosatom resettle all villages that are located in the contaminated zone, and a full cessation of radioactive dumping by Mayak into the surrounding environment.

According to a 1992 to 1994 study commissioned by the Chelyabinsk administration, it is necessary to evacuate the population around Muslyumovo station – in order for that to be effective, people must be moved at least 12 kilometres from the Techa River, which runs through the middle of Muslyumovo.

“Those who official agreed to a New Muslyumovo constitute 64 families in all, more than 200 homes are being built,” said Gosman Kabirov of Techa, a Chelyabinsk ecological educational organisation. “Many people just don’t want to move anywhere as long as there is no decision to move them to clean territory – and there are many of these, so the trumpet needs to be sounded.”

Against this grim background, the vote of support from an organisation as well known as the WWF for Rosatom relative to the continuation of the most radioactively contaminating work performed at Mayak – nuclear reprocessing – seems at the very least incompetent. The further description of the tragedy of Muslyumovo’s residents by Igor Cheniny, head of Russia’s WWF office, as irradiation that “theoretically” could have exceeded sanitary norms is unequivocally cynical.

The relationship between the Russian office of the WWF and the Russian atomic industry has frequently been disquieting to its environmental colleagues. In January of last year, the leader of Russia’s WWF in the same manner – in the “Commentary of Experts” section of the Rosatom web site – expressed support for the construction of an international uranium enrichment site in Angarsk, near Irkutsk.

Russian environmental organisations meanwhile consider that this project of Rosatom promises that Russia will just become an international nuclear waste dump.

The alliance between the WWF and Rosatom began in a definite form in 2002 when former Atomic Energy Ministry Alexander Rumyantsev was given honorary membership in the WWF. The relationship reached new levels when WWF representatives were made members of the Social Council of Rosatom, which was created in February of 2006.

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