Nilsen spellbound the City Court

Publish date: December 1, 1999

Written by: Runar Forseth

Thomas Nilsen of the Bellona Foundation got 150 minutes in Court today, and made a brilliant performance. Prosecutor Gutsan's feeble attempts at cross-examination were easily countered with truthful answers.

Seventh day in Court:

The room was not half-filled with onlookers as the Court assembled at 12:30. In particular, the lack of Russian TV cameras was obvious. It was as if they dared not listen to what would certainly be a refutation of their late campaigning by today’s Norwegian star witness. Several writing journalists were there, though, and a cameraman from speculative TV-series ‘Tracing Bellona’ did show up for a while in the middle of the session.

“It will be very interesting now to hear the testimony of one of the authors of the Bellona report, Thomas Nilsen,” introduced Judge Golets. Having established Nilsen’s credentials, and accepted Estonian borne Angelika Baekken as interpreter, Nilsen was allowed to speak freely.

It would lead too far to repeat all of Nilsen’s points here. His entire prepared speech, which he was allowed to present in full, although partly as response to various key questions from Judge Golets, is published on this web site (see link at the bottom).

Who is this Nilsen anyway?


Thomas Nilsen has been an employee of the Bellona Foundation since 1990, and has worked closely with Aleksandr Nikitin since the latter became a co-worker in 1994. Together with Igor Kudrik, it was these three who authored the Bellona report on the sources of radioactive contamination within the Russian Northern Fleet.

Nilsen’s key points were that the Bellona Foundation is indeed an environmental NGO, with key operations concerning Norwegian Environmental Rights, Global environment (this is were the work in Russia and on nuclear issues in general fit in), Nature conservation, Ecological Economy, Production and transportation, and Energy policies. The production of informational material is also considered a main task. The foundation’s work in Russia was started in 1989 as a response to anxieties among the population of Northern Norway and, as it turned out, on the Kola Peninsula. Finally, the need to catalogue the situation at the many nuclear installations of the Northen Fleet arose as a natural follow-up to the previous report (of 1994) on civilian sources, and also was requested by Northern Fleet and Murmansk County officials.

Nilsen also explained that the Foundation was started in 1986, shortly after the Chernobyl accident. It now has approx. 25 full time employees, among them specialists on several key environmental issues, such as a nuclear phycisist, a nature conservationinst, a biologist, chemical expertise, judicial experts and journalists. The foundation’s main sources of income are 3000 supportive members, 1500 companies buying advertisements in the Bellona magazine, 22 commercial partners through a special co-operation program dubbed ‘B7’, and finally, at some 10-15 % of the total, some governmental funding from the Norwegian Foreign Ministry. The latter is specifically aimed at Bellona’s work in and towards Russia.

Why there is a Bellona office in Murmansk
Asked by Judge Golets about why there is a Bellona office in Murmansk, Nilsen found his opening for a thorough explanation of the work leading up to the Northern Fleet report.

“In 1992 we applied and received permission to sail with Bellona ship Genius to Murmansk,” Nilsen explained. “There we had several meetings, among others with Atomflot and the regional administration. We were also allowed to visit Kola power plant. We learned two things: the Russians, also Atomflot, wanted us to start projects, in particular on the storage ship Lepse. The Lepse is filled with damaged nuclear fuel from the icebreaker Lenin.”

“In 1993 Bellona decided to make a report, gathering and confirming the relevant information. It was important to have good information about Lepse. We presented the first report in Murmansk in March 1994 at the same time as we started the Murmansk office.”

Golets wants environmental results
“In 1994 then, the report was published, can you point at specific results from the report?” asked the judge.

“Three or four months after our report was released the, Norwegian parliament published their description of these problems,” answered Nilsen. “They mentioned the Bellona report as the main reason for the Norwegian focus on these problems. Norway has later granted 400 million NOK to try to solve these problems.”

“But the most important for Bellona was that in October 1994 we managed to get the EU Environmental Commissioner to Murmansk. At that conference, which Bellona arranged on the icebreaker Sibir, there were representatives form the regional and city administration, the Northern Fleet, and from Norwegian ministries. There the Commissioner approved to spend EU money on the project we proposed for Lepse. This was the first time the EU has spent money on nuclear waste outside of the Union itself.”

Gutsan gets worried
At this stage, 1994-95, Bellona acted as liaison between Atomflot, the EU, the Norwegian government and other parties. “We enjoyed a lot of support from Russian authorities for this work,” said Nilsen. “As an example of this I have brought a copy of a letter from then Vice Minister at Minatom, Nikolai Yegorov. Will the Court have this letter?”

Golets said the Court would. After briefly checking it out, the judge went on to read it aloud. “Here I have a letter of 30 January 1995 from Yegorov, Vice Minister of Nuclear Ministry. This letter supports Bellona’s work in North West Russia in the time period we here handle,” he concluded.

Nilsen then offered another document, the first contract on the Lepse project, between parties Norwegian Contractors, Murmansk Shipping Company (MSC) and the Bellona Foundation, from 1994. This too, Golets read aloud, particularly emphasising the Russian participants, such as Director Ruksha at Atomflot.

At this point in Thomas Nilsen’s testimony prosecutor Gutsan looked less than comfortable.

The real problems lie with the Northern Fleet
“Anything else concerning this,” asked Judge Golets.

There was.

“I would like to say more about what happened after the conference where Atomflot told us that the problems related to Lepse were small in relation to the problems of the other waste and fuel in the region,” said Nilsen. “The same we was said by local people. They said we should work on this. We had seen that the work on report number one was very good and there was a very good atmosphere of co-operation in the region. We therefore decided to make a report on the Northern Fleet challenges. This work we started in October 1994.”

“Please tell more,” urged the judge. At his point Nilsen elaborated on the beginnings of an official Murmansk based working group, detailing several meetings with named persons that Bellona personnel had carried out. For instance with the head of the Environmental Committee in Murmansk, Ivan Visnyakov, who wanted Bellona as participant in the committee mainly because the foundation could be helpful in finding sources of funding, as well as being keyed towards finding environmental solutions.

A main point was a meeting with head of the Technical Department within the Navy, Nikolai Yrasov. Yrasov suggested that Bellona should get in contact with the technical staff of the Northern Fleet. At these and several other meetings in the period, Bellona always told of the plans for making a report on the Northern Fleet.

The October 5, 1995 setback
“Already October 5, we know the report had come some ways. What happened after October,” asked Golets.

“We lost all the background materials on October 5, 1995,” answered Nilsen. This was the day when the FSB raided the Bellona office in Murmansk, confiscating almost everything. “Then we worked to reconstruct the work until April 1996, when we released a preliminary text-only version. The plan had been to release the whole report during the G7-meeting in April 1996 in Moscow, but because of the losses on 5 October the work was badly delayed. It was very important for us to have proper references to all the information, but all of this was lost in the Murmansk razzia.”

“Did Nikitin write or present his views orally?” asked the judge. “We all sat together working, but Aleksandr was not the best PC-user and therefore did not write very much.”

“Nikitin has explained that he did not know how to work computers at that time, is that correct?” “Yes, that was my clear impression,” answered Nilsen.

Golets then wanted to know what happened after the release of the report.

“We released the text-only version in April 1996,” told Nilsen. “The goal was that international state leaders should see the report and understand the need for international projects. The final version was released in August 1996, and many, many copies were confiscated when we tried to send it to St. Petersburg. But my impression is that the report has been highly valued by people who want to work in the area.”

“Has the report done any good in Norway?”

“It was only after the release of the Northern Fleet report that the Norwegian official work became concrete,” said Nilsen. “The most concrete is the project of low level liquid waste near Arkhangelsk opened this year, and the project in the Andreeva Guba to stop the leaks from the nuclear storage facility there. That facility is closer to the Norwegian border, than it is to Murmansk.”

Russian technology for Russian problems
“How is the situation today? Is there any damages done from leaks of otherwise,” Golets wanted to know.

“No, that is why the report is called potential sources to radioactive contamination,” explained Nilsen. “What is particularly important for Bellona now is to develop Russian technology to handle these problems. We see that American and other western nuclear companies want to establish themselves in Russia to make money. But we see that you can have much more nuclear environmental work if Russian companies that also ensure that the know-how stays in Russia do it. These arguments are very difficult to present in the West.”

Bellona St. Petersburg
“The office in St. Petersburg is manned by Aleksandr Nikitin and some others on temporary basis,” answered Nilsen to a question about the local Bellona office. “If we had not had the current problems the office here would have been inn dialog with the excellent experts in this city. We are also interested in doing something with the chemical storage at Krasny Bor. Bellona would do here what we do in Norway, work on the projects the locals are most concerned about.”

After this, Golets tried to leave the interrogation to prosecutor Gutsan, but he preferred the defence to start.

“We have heard that Bellona have their office in the same house as the Norwegian intelligence service,” asked chief defender Schmidt. “No, that is totally nonsense,” assured Nilsen. “It can be confirmed by the Russian Embassy in Oslo. They have been to our office on an environmental conference.”

Prompted by Schmidt, Nilsen said, “two persons we were in contact with were especially important, as they were pesent at the meeting where we discussed the exact plans of publishing the Northern fleet Report. These were head of the technical department of the Northern Fleet, Valery Panteleev, and Stanislav Golovinsky, head of the radiological department of the Northern Fleet.”

“I would say that there is no doubt the FSB case against Nikitin has hurt the international work on nuclear safety,” Nilsen answered to another prompting. “Especially in that people on the Russian side are scared from working to secure the materials they could secure.”

After some more clarifying questions from defender Schmidt, the Court took a short break.

Prosecutor Gutsan fails to impress


After the break prosecutor Gutsan was to take the lead. It turned out he had not much in store for a thorough cross-examination.

Gutsan wanted, and got, more details on several of the high-ranking officials Nilsen had met while traveling in Russia for Bellona. He also asked several questions about Igor Kudrik, former employee at the Murmansk office and co-author of the Northern Fleet report. Kudrik now stays in Oslo, where he works at Bellona’s main office.

The prosecutor also wanted details on Nikitin’s relations to Bellona, and was told Aleksandr is a contracted employee representing Bellona in St. Petersburg. Of particular interest to Gutsan was how Nikitin and Bellona came to meet. Nilsen explained that this happened through the then head of the Norwegian Radiation protection Agency, Knut Gussgaard, who met Aleksandr at a conference on radiation safety in Oslo. Nilsen himself first met Aleksandr in Murmansk in 1994.

Trying to out-environ the environmentalist
“Here is a question that has already been asked, but I would like to look at it from another angle,” said Gutsan.” As an ecologist, what do you consider the greatest danger from the nuclear installations, military or civilian, or from industrial factories?”

“You have to separate between potential sources of contamination and ongoing pollution,” answered Nilsen. “There are very visible problems from the Nikel plant for instance, but the greatest potential threat is from the storage of nuclear waste. Both Norway and Russia have one of their most vital resources in the fisheries in the Barents Sea. I am frightened at the thought of what would happen if this area should be contaminated.”

“I understand you correct if Nikel has and still is polluting the area?” followed Gutsan up.

“Yes, but the releases of sulphur has decreased a little bit. For Bellona the main issue is to avoid nuclear contamination. After the Chernobyl accident one could wash the streets of Kiev from radioactive contamination, but one could not wash all of Europe which was actually contaminated by radioactivity.”

The prosecutor also was concerned about Bellona’s finances.

“Bellona receive approximately 10-15% of our funding from the government,” repeated Nilsen. “This funding started with a request from the foreign committee at the Norwegian Parliament. The money comes from a program called the Action plan for nuclear matters in North West Russia. In 1995 we also received money from the Barents Region on the Lepse project. The main part of this funding is to work with Russian environmental groups.”

“Have you received money from other countries, such as Africa,” asked Gutsan.

“Yes, we received some money from the European Commission in 1996 for our work in Russia.”

Summing it all up

“Today you have experienced the atmosphere in the ourtroom,” said Aleksandr Nikitin at the short briefing after the Court had adjourned. You have seen how the Judge appear, it is almost like this every day. I will say, I am proud to have such a friend as Thomas Nilsen. His speech was very convincing. If he had bad intentions when he came to this country he could not have talked like this. He is not an actor.”

“Prosecutor Gutsan had understood some of the points we have tried to make earlier, but after Thomas’ testimony I think it should be clear, even for him,” added Yury Schmidt.

Present as observers at the open court hearing were among others the Russian Pen Club, the Swedish General Consul, the Danish General Consul, the Norwegian General Consul and representatives from the U.S., Canadian and German consulates.

On Thursday witness Perovsky will testify behind closed doors. The Nikitin defence team has scheduled its press briefing at 14:00, again at Restaurant Ambassadour.

We are sorry to have disappointed you on the promise of publishing Nilsen’s prepared speech for such a while. Now we have finally made the translation from Norwegian, so do…

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