Vienna, November 14 – The Russian and American media are currently filled with stories about efforts by Moscow and Washington to reduce the size of their nuclear arsenals and prevent the proliferation of nuclear testing. But neither is focusing on “a no less important” issue: the resettlement of ordinary Russians who were exposed to radiation during the Cold War.
But tragically, according to a review of the situation conducted by Maksim Shingarkin, the head of the Citizen Foundation, addressing such tasks, which are important “from a social, ecological and moral point of view” is being blocked by Rosatom, the very agency of the Russian government charged with doing so (www.flb.ru/info/46609.html).
Despite presidential decrees and a much ballyhooed program for resettlement, Rosatom has done everything it can to prevent some 4,000 people in Muslyumovo exposed to radiation either because of nuclear accidents at the Mayak plutonium plant in the 1950s or because of the release of radioactive materials into the environment more generally from moving.
“Under the leadership of Sergey Kiriyenko,” Shingarkin says, “Rosatom stoutly opposes the departure of people from Muslyumovo,” a Chelyabinsk oblast village that all studies have shown is too radioactive for people to remain and where every other resident has radiation-produced genetic abnormalities.
The Mayak nuclear weapons facility has been operating since 1947. During certain periods in the past, radioactive wastes from the factory were simply thrown into the Techa River which remains radioactive. And in 1957, there was an accident at Mayak that resulted in the nuclear contamination of Muslyumovo and the surrounding region.
The Russian government moved approximately 8,000 people out of this region, but more than 4,000 more have not been resettled – even though Moscow has appropriated the funds to do so, Vladimir Putin has ordered it, and Russian officials have regularly pointed to this resettlement effort as a hallmark of Moscow’s commitment to overcoming the past.
In fact, in 2005, the director of Mayak was convicted of violating the resettlement law, but a year later, he was amnestied “in connection with the centenary of the State Duma,” despite the documentation by ecologists that the drinking water in Muslyumovo is radioactive. Kiriyenko for his part “cynically declared” that his subordinate was innocent of all charges.
In reporting on this scandalous situation, the Free Lance Bureau (FLB) portal says that “ecologists are certain that a major medical experiment is being carried out in Muslyumovo. People every year are examined but as a rule they are not told the exact nature of their illnesses and are not sent anywhere for treatment.”
Eight years ago, the FLB article notes, the Federal Administration of Medical-Biological and Extreme Problems in the Russian health ministry said “the residents in Muslyumovo forma unique cohort,” a group that represents “worldwide importance for the assessment of the size of the risk or carcinogenic and genetic consequences of chronic exposure to radiation.”
To the extent that attitude continues, it would provide a possible explanation for Rosatom’s current stance. (Other explanations, of course, suggest themselves as well, including the corrupt misuse of funds set aside for radiation victims or official indifference to the suffering of the residents of Muslyumovo who have yet to find their voice.)
That may be about to change. Shingarkin, in his capacity as a member of the experts Council for the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Russian Federation, this week sent an open letter to Vladimir Lukin in which he poses 20 questions “about the mass violations of the rights of citizens in Muslyumovo” (www.flb.ru/info/46608.html).
The questions, which reflect Shingarkin’s own investigation into what is taking place among the residents of that Urals village, are devastating in their portrait not only of official illegality but also of the indifference of far too many to these victims of a nuclear program they bore no responsibility for.
If Lukin either on his own or under pressure from other human rights organizations Russian and international takes up this cause, that should lead at a minimum to a decision by Russian and American arms control negotiators to put the fate of Muslyumovo and its people on the agenda of their talks.