Commentary: Secret and retroactive laws threatens the environment

Publish date: November 29, 1999

Written by: Frederic Hauge

If the Russian Security Police (FSB) is allowed to continue threatening people with secret and retroactive laws, the result may very well be leakage of radioactivity. This because the nuclear safety projects in north-west Russia will not be attractive to work with for Russian citizens, who are afraid to end up with the same kind of charges as Aleksandr Nikitin.


Why has the Nikitin case such an influence on this important work? The incitement for Russian citizens to work with nuclear safety projects has been dramatically reduced the latest years. The case against Nikitin scares people in Russia from working with environmental problems related to nuclear issues. Compared with the engagement in the region in the recent past, both public and official people are now afraid. The reason is obvious. Like Nikitin they risk charges, for revealing state secrets, because what is legal open information today, could be classified as secret information tomorrow and made retroactive. And then you risk to prosecution.

This is scaring, when considering the need for a broad effort to deal with the nuclear problems. As it looks today, it may end with a situation where the Russian Nuclear Ministry (Minatom) will be the only one who can deal with this challenge. We all know that this is not their first priority task – in fact, the whole nuclear mess is more or less a result of their priorities.

There is no doubt that the technical condition of nuclear waste deposits, laid up submarines and waste-containing storage ships is very bad. Every single one of those installations, facilities and vessels need to be secured as quickly as possible. Otherwise, leaks and, maybe, other kinds of accidents will take place, possibly already during the next couple of years. It is difficult to forecast the scenarios for accidents, but we know that the technical condition of many of the waste items is such that leaks are bound happen unless maintenance works start within short time.

Today, we have proof that radioactive leaks take place at the deposit containing over 21,000 spent fuel elements at Andreeva Bay in the Litsafjord, located 45 km from the border to Norway. The concrete cover, surrounding the spent nuclear fuel, is cracking up. In the cold northern winter water, having entered into those cracks, will freeze and expand them further. This has happened for some years now and the reports and warnings from the Kola Peninsula have been many. Radioactivity is already leaking out periodically to the fragile environment in this area.

It is not only at the storage facility at Andreeva Bay, where radioactivity is in danger of leaking out to the environment. Recently, Bellona received new alarming reports about the Gremikha naval base. Damaged spent fuel elements are stored in an old facility there. Leaks from the Gremikha storage ends up in the biologically very productive areas of the Barents Sea.

There is an urgent need to remove the spent fuel from these two facilities. The Nikitin case not being settled yet prevents this from happening through scaring people off from trying to handle the problems. The level of unpredictability now prevailing is a total showstopper, while the need for international contributions to finance the work is urgent. The projects must continue. We can not let the current situation worsen.

For the environment in the Arctic – acquit Nikitin now!