Testimony of Thomas Nilsen/Bellona

Publish date: December 1, 1999

Written by: Thomas Nilsen

Translated by: Jens Chr. Bugge

This is the document that Thomas Nilsen had prepared to his testimony at the St. Petersburg City court. It was not handed over to the Court, so the official status of the document is solely as a manuscript.

Thomas Nilsen
Born: 29. August 1968
Nationality: Norwegian

Freelance journalist for Bellona Magazine since 1990, been an employee of the Bellona Foundation since April 1992. Project Manager at the Russian department

The Environmental foundation Bellona:
Bellona is an independent environmental foundation, founded in Norway immediately after the Chernobyl accident in 1986. Bellona’s goal is to work for a better environment and to protect the nature. Bellona is co-operating with trade and industry, authorities, scientists and other organisations to point out which solutions are present or may be evolved towards serious environmental problems.

Bellona has its headquarters in Oslo, Norway. It has approximately 25 employees, who work with a wide spectre of environmental issues. Bellona has many specialists employed, amongst others a biologist, chemist, specialists in nature management, a nuclear physicist, social scientists, lawyers and journalists. Bellona has defined seven main areas of effort. Russia is one of these. Of the most important environmental issues Bellona is working with is:

  • Pollution from industry
  • Emissions of climate gasses from the offshore industry in Norway
  • Environmental technology
  • Environmental law and legislation
  • Pollution from transport
  • Preservation of unaffected nature areas
  • Nuclear safety

The goal for all of Bellona’s work is to find solutions to the environmental problems we are focusing on. To achieve these goals Bellona arranges environmental conferences, we publish reports on different subjects, we do field work and we publish magazines and brochures.

  • Bellona has achieved numerous good results through our work in Norway. Some examples are:
  • A land based deposit for the mud from the mines of A/S Titania, which were polluting important fish fields.
  • Clearing of mercury pollution at Hydro’s industry in Porsgrunn.
  • Shut down a fish farm in Finland with parasite (Gyrodactylus) infected trout.
  • Partial exemption of taxes for electrical cars.
  • Put a halt to the plans for building gas power plants with large emissions of CO2.

There are many more examples.


  1. Bellona has approx. 3000 supporting members, who pays the foundation an amount of money each month. This support from the people is vital for Bellona’s activity.
  2. Bellona is selling support advertisements in its magazine. Approx. 1500 businesses buy ads every year.
  3. Bellona have a co-operation program with businesses, called B7, an abbreviation for Bellona’s seven main areas of effort. 22 businesses are supporting Bellona financially through this program. The goal is that Bellona and their partners shall find future technologies and solutions to environmental problems.
  4. Bellona is also receiving financial support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, after recommendation from the foreign affairs committee of the Norwegian Parliament.
  5. In addition, Bellona receives some support in form of gifts from both unions and private persons.

If the court wishes I can go more thoroughly into the work of the Foundation.

Bellona’s work in Russia
Bellona started thinking about working with the environmental problems at the Kola Peninsula as early as 1989. This was due to the growing worry in the northern parts of Norway, about the environmental conditions. Norway and Russia share a border in the north, and the vital fishing fields in the Barents Sea. The emissions of sulphur-dioxide from the melting plants in Nikel affects the nature both on the Russian and Norwegian side of the border. And with the Chernobyl accident in 1986 still clear in our memory, a growing concern for the dangerous emissions of radioactivity, and its effects on health and environment became evident. We understood that this concern, naturally, was greater in the Murmansk region than in Norway. Therefore it has always been important for Bellona to work close with local people and institutions in Russia.

In the autumn of 1990 we sailed Bellona’s ship M/S Genius to the coast outside Novaya Zemlya with a banner which said, "Stop the nuclear testing in Nevada and on Novaya Zemlya". We also had a banner outside the American embassy in Oslo to show that Bellona opposed just as much to the American as the Russian nuclear testing. If the test field in Nevada had been near the coast, we would also have sailed there to protest. It was important to Bellona not to violate the limit of territorial waters, so we were never closer than twelve nautical miles outside Novaya Zemlya. This in difference to Greenpeace who violated the border, went ashore on the test field and were arrested later the same autumn.

In September 1992, we applied for permission to sail M/S Genius to Murmansk, and had numerous meetings with local environmental contributors, including those who were responsible for radiological safety at Atomflot and several environmental organisations. We also visited Kola nuclear power plant.

We learned two important things during our work in Murmansk in the early 90’s:

  • There was a major desire from, amongst others, Atomflot, for a co-operation on concrete solutions in the work on nuclear safety, regarding the storage ship Lepse, amongst others.
  • There existed a lot of uncertainty and rumours surrounding the actual situation, both in Russia and in Norway.

Therefore, Bellona decided that we should write a report, where we collected all the information we received from those we worked with in the Murmansk region. The work on the report "Sources to radioactive contamination in Murmansk and Arkhangel’sk counties" commenced in 1993, and was published the first of March 1994. We presented the report in Murmansk before we published it in Norway. Then we presented it to Norwegian authorities and the EU. The report was emphasised in a parliament deposition as important in the debate concerning the Norwegian economical and technical co-operation program for nuclear safety with Russia. We see therefore that, already in 1994, Bellona’s work contributed to funding for the nuclear safety in Northwest of Russia from other countries.
Most important to Bellona was the co-operation with Murmansk Shipping Company towards a solution regarding the storage ship Lepse at Atomflot. We had more than ten meetings with representatives from Murmansk Shipping Company before we had the final report on Lepse (chapter three in the Bellona report no 1). It was important to Bellona that the report was read through in Russia before it was published. This, because we considered it crucial that the report contained as correct information as possible. Bellona also considers it important that Russian contributors read through our material, as this is a natural step in the work with openness and respect.

As a contribution to more trust and openness regarding Bellona’s work, we decided to open our own office in Murmansk, the first of March 1994.

In October 1994, Bellona arranged a major conference regarding Lepse onboard the nuclear ice breaker Sibir in Murmansk. At the conference representatives from Atomflot, the Northern Fleet, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the EU’s commissioner on environmental issues. Also, arranging this conference, together with Bellona, was Aleksandr Nikitin. During this conference the EU commissioner promised to grant money to solve the problem concerning Lepse. The grant came shortly after, and a concrete industrial co-operation was established. This was the first time EU granted money to a project concerning securing of radioactive waste in Russia.
The most important work Bellona did to direct governmental and public organisations’ attention towards the situation of radioactive contamination in the Euro-arctic region was highly appreciated by official Russian contributors.
If the court wishes, I could present a letter from Russia’s Vice-Minister for atomic energy, Nikolai Egorov, which emphasises Bellona’s important role in this work. The letter is dated 30. January 1995.
I also have here a copy, which the court may read, of the first signed agreement regarding the work on Lepse, signed by Atomflot, a Norwegian industrial concern, and Bellona’s president Frederic Hauge.
I also wish to indicate that the work on publishing the reports regarding the radiological safety, is just a small fraction of Bellona’s work in trying to find solutions for the nuclear problems in Northwest Russia. We have also arranged numerous conferences in Russia, Norway, Europe and USA focusing upon reaching an international co-operation for nuclear safety in Russia, and also to increase the pressure upon western countries to contribute with more financing of different projects concerning nuclear safety, especially in the Murmansk region. We have had many meetings, helped Russian environmental organisations and contributed in helping western and Russian nuclear industry in meeting and working out common projects.

The work with The Northern Fleet report
The positive responses we got from official Russian contributors, and the common citizen of Murmansk, and the fact that we achieved concrete nuclear safety projects after the publishing of report no. 1, made us want to take the work further. The largest quantities of nuclear waste and most of the nuclear reactors in Northwest Russia belong to the Russian Northern Fleet. Bellona also received a lot of inquiries about nuclear safety and the Russian Northern Fleet. Security of nuclear waste from the Northern Fleet’s bases and ships at the Kola Peninsula is one of the most important environmental challenges in the north. And the problem does not only concern Russia, but to a great extent also Norway, which is situated only a few kilometres away.

During Bellona’s conference at the nuclear powered icebreaker Sibir in Murmansk, October 1994, the establishment of a work-group for nuclear safety in the Murmansk region, was discussed. This work-group was to be led by County Governor Jevgeny Kamarov in Murmansk Oblast. Bellona’s task in the work-group was supposed to be writing a report about nuclear safety in the Northern Fleet. The writing commenced after the conference in October 1994. The plan was to publish the report during the G7 meeting regarding nuclear safety in Moscow, in April 1996. This also marked the ten years anniversary of the Chernobyl accident.

In our work with the report we had many meetings with Russian official contributors. Me, Igor and Aleksandr, in addition to other Bellona representatives, told everybody that we wanted to publish a report about the nuclear safety within the Northern Fleet. The purpose of the report was to increase the attention towards the nuclear safety problems, in order to receive increased international financing of projects regarding the Northern Fleet and its nuclear safety.

Somewhere around 20 September 1994, we had a meeting with, amongst others, Nikolay Yurasov, head of the technical division in the Russian Navy, at his office in Moscow. Yurasov liked the idea of Bellona working for nuclear safety in the Northern Fleet. He asked us directly to contact the technical department of the Northern Fleet, through Rear Admiral Valery Panteleev, who was the head of the technical department of the Northern Fleet.
We followed Nikolay Yurasov’s request and contacted Rear Admiral Valery Panteleev. An initiative for a meeting was taken, which we had in the early parts of January 1995 in Murmansk. Also present at the meeting was Captain of first rank, and head of the radiological department in the Northern Fleet, Stanislav Golovinsky; Rear Admiral and, before this, head of the technical department in the Northern Fleet, Anatoly Smolyakov. From Bellona were Aleksandr, Igor and I. We discussed storage of radioactive waste at the naval bases, and also the Northern Fleet’s need for a transport vessel for spent nuclear fuel from the submarines. The main issue for the meeting was to continue the co-operation, regarding the report on the Northern Fleet. Panteleev, and the two other representatives from the Northern Fleet, agreed that the best would be to establish a work-group, with representatives from Bellona, the Northern Fleet, Atomflot, the county administration of Murmansk and Gosatomnadzor.

Some days after this meeting with the Northern Fleet we met the head of the Murmansk County Environmental Committee, Ivan Visnyakov. He was enthusiastic about the planned work-group and about the Bellona plans to write a report about the Northern Fleet. Preferably, he would himself chair the work-group.

During the same week, we also met with retired Rear Admiral Nikolai Mormul in Murmansk. He had written several books about incidents and accidents on board the Northern Fleet’s submarines, which is why it was natural to co-operate with him on the Northen Fleet report.

During the first half of 1995 we also travelled to St. Petersburg, informing about the plans to write the report on the Northern Fleet in order to establish working projects to secure the nuclear materials. Among those we met were:

  • Leader of Gosatomnadzor in Northwest Russia, Valery Martinov, and his second in command, Anatoly Anoshin. Gosatomnadzor wanted to contribute to the Northern Fleet report.
  • The environmental magasine Eco-Chronicle, to inform Russian eco-journalists about our plans.
  • Company Eco-bio, which was working on a plan from Minatom on decomissioning of old submarines.
  • The Rubin Institute, among others Nikolai Nossov. The representatives of the Rubin Institute would helpfully read through the report before it was published.
  • Vladimir Bolygin, who led the work with cleaning up the storage for spent nuclear fuel in Andreeva Bay, and wjho also had developed technology to purify liquid radioactivewaste.

Among others with whom we met and informed of Bellona’s work with nuclear safety at the Northern Fleet and the work on the report aimed at creating working projects, I wish to mention in particular the leader of the radiological safety division in the Russian Navy, Oleg Petrov, who Bellona’s Frederic Hauge and Nils Boehmer met in Moscow in May 1994. Also Aleksey Jablokov, then President Boris Jeltsin’s environmental counsellor and main author of the white-book on radioactive waste dumping in the Arctic seas.

When the work-group on nuclear safety was established and the documents signed in the autumn of 1995, it had 32 participants.

Through the summer of 1995 we worked on the text to the Northern Fleet report. I went to Murmansk many times, staying at the Bellona office there. If the Court so wishes, I could provide my passport with date stamps verifying entrances and exits to Russia for the whole period.

When the work started on the report, we had no clear plan for its structure. This we created as the work developed through discussions with official contributors in Russia, so that we could emphasise the issues of importance to the nuclear safety in the fleet.

Chapter 8, on accidents on board submarines, we decided to put in only after discussions with Nikolai Mormul in Murmansk, Januar 1995. He told us about the importance of security on board, and what problems where connected to reactor incidents.

In the summer of 1995 we got the draft to chapter 8 from Mormul. We continued working on chapter 8, as it needed some reworking. This was mainly due to Mormul’s style of writing, which was literately different from ours, and thus from the other chapters in the report.

In September 1995 we had a better version in Russian. But the text still remained somewhat unclear. The final text was therefore not part of the early drafts we distributed for proof and factual reading. During the time from the Mormul version we had when I was in Murmansk 26 through 29 August 1995, until I was in St. Petersburg after Aleksandr was put in jail, there were no changes to chapter 8 as I saw it. Igor Kudrik and I finalised the text of chapter 8 in St. Petersburg 8 through 14 March 1996. I brought the full text for the final text version of the report when I left St. Petersburg for Norway 14 March 1996.

As mentioned earlier, the original plan was to release the Northern Fleet report at the G7 meeting in Moscow, April 1996. We wanted to publish and print the report in Russia, since the cost would be less than in Norway. This was not possible because of all that happened in connection to raid on the Murmansk office and the arrest of Nikitin. The text version was finished to the G7 meeting on nuclear safety in Moscow, and it was released together with several other organisations in the middle of April 1996. During the spring and summer of 1996 we received financial support from a number of Norwegian companies, enabling us to finalise the printed version of the Northern Fleet report. In addition, we made a deal with Norwegian book publisher Cappelen Forlag. The final, printed version was released in Oslo on 15 August 1996.

If the Court so wishes, I may present further details on the process of writing the report.

Aleksandr Nikitin:
I first met Aleksandr Nikitin in Murmansk, September 1994. My boss, Frederic Hauge, had been told by Knut Gussgaard, head of the Norwegian Radiation Protection Agency, that Aleksandr was a person we should speak with, as he knew a lot about the field of radiological safety.

At this first meeting Aleksandr received Bellona’s first report, and we informed him about Bellona’s work to focus on solutions to the nuclear problems. We told of the planned Lepse project.

Following this meeting we had a meeting with Nikolai Yurasov, head of the Russian Navy, in Moscow. This was only a few weeks after we had met with Aleksandr in Murmansk. No attempts were made to hide anything. During the meeting with Yurasov we informed him thoroughly about Bellona’s work and our future plans.

Aleksandr participated at all our other meetings about nuclear safety within the Northern Fleet. How many tens of such meetings we had, with institutions, organisations and officials during autumn 1994 and 1995, I can’t say exactly.

Always as we worked on the text for the Northern Fleet report, it was important to us to create as much attention to our work as possible, so that more people would contribute and correct our compiled data. That’s why we wanted a large number of people to read through the report before its release. There was no secretiveness about our work, and all the sources we used were open, everything from newspaper articles to reports on the subject of nuclear safety.

When the Bellona office in Murmansk was raided on October 1995 we were both shocked and certain that there had to be a misunderstanding. All the time we had made sure not to violate Russian law, and in that we had succeeded.