Vienna, June 28 – Moscow’s plan to build a nuclear power station in Chelyabinsk to meet the electricity needs of the southern Urals has sparked protests among Tatars there, a large number of whom continue to suffer from Soviet-era nuclear , as well as among their co-ethnics in the nearby Republic of Tatarstan.
This past week, Sabiryan Akhmadeyev, the leader of the initiative group in the Chelyabinsk village of Tatarskaya Karabolka, argued in an article posted online that the new power station represents the “worst” possible outcome: “the tightening of a nuclear ring” around his community and its future (nuclear.tatar.mtss.ru/fa170608.htm).
A few days earlier, Akhmadeyev reports, Sergei Kiriyenko, head of the state corporation for atomic energy, announced plans to construct a nuclear power station on the shores of Lake Uelgi, 25 km south east of Tatarskaya Karabolka, a decision that was greeted by Chelyabinsk officials as a solution to their energy needs but that disturbs many in the population there.
The people there know even if the authorities prefer to forget, the community activist says, that “the population of these territories has been suffering for 50 years from the atom and now will suffer still more from the daily release of byproducts from the [planned] atomic energy station” – and it will do so without any state support for the illnesses this has and will cause.
Moscow has never been willing to include the victims of the 1957 Mayak nuclear disaster or the 1967 Karachayev release of nuclear radiation in the same category as those around Chernobyl, and consequently, the suffering of the people in Chelyabinsk has been both greater and less well documented.
In his own village, Akhmadeyev reports, the level of radioactive contamination remains dangerously elevated with more than one curie per square meter of Cesium 137 and three curies of Strontium 90 radioactivity having been recorded for decades, something that has led to disproportionately high rates of cancers, mental retardation, and premature deaths.
But now Kiriyenko’s decision makes it clear that “perhaps the very worst times” for the people of Tatarskaya Karabolka are not behind them but rather in the future, with a growing number of largely unregulated nuclear facilities and contaminated regions forming a “closing ring” around the Tatars living there.
For the first time, however, there may be some hope. On the one hand, they have the backing of activists in Kazan who are increasingly concerned about the plight of their co-ethnics in neighboring regions. And on the other, there is now a growing anti-nuclear movement in Russia, one sparked by Moscow’s rush to profit as a disposal site for European nuclear wastes.
One of the most prominent of the Tatarstan activists is Fauziya Bayramova, who chairs the Tatar National Independence Party Ittifak.” Not only has she written a book about Russia’s “Nuclear Archipelago” but earlier this year she and her colleagues issued an appeal about it to the international community (www.nuclear-tatar.nm.ru).
Addressing the International Court of Justice, the Hague Tribunal and international human rights organizations, their appeal describes in detail the impact of both the 1957 Mayak nuclear disaster and continuing Russian nuclear weapons plants, atomic power stations, and nuclear waste dumps on the people of the Middle Volga
The appeal notes that in Tatarskaya Karabolka (which this document refers to by its Tatar name Tatar Karabulak), the population has declined from 5,000 people at the time of the Mayak disaster to only 500 today, with 90 percent of those remaining suffering from one or another form of cancer.
The appeal calls for the immediate closure of the Mayak facility, international supervision of nuclear waste disposal in Russia, the evacuation of those now living in contaminated areas, and the extension to them of the victims of Chernobyl.
“If the Russian government refuses” to do so, the appeal concludes, “we will have no choice but to charge Russia with a nuclear genocide against the Tatar nation” and to demand that the International Tribunal in the Hague immediately take up this case before more people die as a result of Moscow’s nuclear policies.
That is not likely to happen, of course, but the Tatars of Chelyabinsk may get support from anti-nuclear groups in other parts of the Russian Federation. These groups have appeared because an increasing number of Russians are outraged by the Kremlin’s agreement to take in --and thus profit from -- nuclear wastes from Europe for permanent storage.
There have been protests about this in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and other cities through which this waste must travel, and there is now a well-organized campaign against this program in the seismically unstable Transbaikal region where the Russian government plans to store much of this waste (babr.ru/?pt=uran, June 28).
If all these groups find a way to join forces – and they are likely to use the Internet to do so – then Moscow could find itself both with a public relations disaster on its hands given the sensitivity abroad to nuclear contamination and with the kind of political challenge from below that the Russian authorities might find difficult to dismiss.