Minatom launches NGO to fight envirogroups

Publish date: November 26, 2000

Written by: Vladislav Nikifоrov

Russian Ministry for Nuclear Energy fights green movement to gain commercial benefits, launches Ecological Forum – an entity created for this purpose.

A new environment movement named Ecological Forum was launched in November. The initiative came from the Russian Ministry for Nuclear Energy, Minatom, in order to create opposition to environmental NGOs. The charter of the new movement contains one main point: promoting measures to recover areas with damaged environment and to prevent the greenhouse effect. These goals can be achieved through development of nuclear industry, declare the new wave ‘green activists’. From now on Minatom seems to start defending its commercial interests by means of puppet NGOs.

The establishment of Ecological Forum was prompted by the successful campaign of the Russian environmental movement to stop import of nuclear materials to Russia. Russian environmental groups collected around 2.5 million signatures in support of a national referendum to restore state environmental agencies and to ban nuclear waste/materials import into the country. 2 million signatures are enough to initiate the national vote. Once the State Election Committee verifies the signatures, the President has to either set a date for the vote or to ask the Constitutional Court of Russia to evaluate whether the vote questions are in consent with the legislation. Should everything go smoothly, the referendum will take place on March-April 2001.

The Russian nuclear ministry realised that it is impossible to get the public support without good PR campaign and appropriate propaganda in the regions. The movement’s representatives believe that nuclear energy is a good substitute for traditional sources of energy. They intend to explain to public how profitable it is to import spent nuclear fuel to Russia and how the money earned can help solving environmental problems. The core of the new NGO consists of officials from Minatom and other governmental agencies.

“Pro-western organisations, such as Greenpeace and Bellona, play on emotions of ordinary people. They make them answer questions ‘Are you against import of radioactive materials from the other countries to Russia for storage, disposal or reprocessing?’ Of course, anyone would answer ‘no’ instinctively, as he or she has no actual information on this subject,” one the Forum’s representatives was complaining in press.

In an interview with, Minatom’s press secretary, Yury Bespalko, said that the state would never have enough money to solve environmental issues in Russia. The ministries should earn money for environmental needs themselves. That is why the new movement includes representatives of the organisations, which are related both to environment or nuclear fuel management in some way, said Bespalko. The new movement will fight against existing green organisations, which, according to Bespalko, are financed by the Western companies engaged in nuclear fuel reprocessing. Minatom considers their activity as foreign interference into internal affairs of Russia. One of the aims of the Forum will be legal struggle with such activity of the greens.

The movement has the status of national with 46 branch offices opened in different Russian regions.

The Russian nuclear lobby is also trying to get a better grip on power in the regions. In the closed city of Ozersk in the southern Ural, the current director of reactor plant, V.V. Malkov, runs for the post of mayor. In his election campaign he promotes construction of South-Ural nuclear power plant and “repulse to so-called greens”.

The ideas of Minatom are rather unpopular among Russians due to the obvious wish of the ministry to earn money on bringing foreign radioactive materials into the country. Minatom hopes that the creation of the national movement will help to change the people’s minds in favour of nuclear material imports and stop the looming referendum on this issue. In the future, the movement may help Minatom to suppress NGO’s opposition to other extensive plans of nuclear industry development in Russia. Those plans rank seldom nuclear safety higher than the commercial interests.