Russian Environmentalist Released from Prison

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Hotline, Winter 1997

For environmentalists and human rights activists around the world, Christmas 1996 was brightened by news of the release from prison of Alexandr Nikitin. A retired submarine commander, Nikitin was doing research for the Bellona Foundation when he was arrested about a year ago. He was held in pre-trial detention on a charge of treason (which carries the death penalty) until his release in mid-December. Members of the GASP Board were among thousands of people around the world who signed petitions in his behalf.

Alexandr Nikitin’s “crime” was to help uncover the truth about the dumping of radioactive waste in the Arctic Ocean. On August 1, 1996, the Christian Science Monitor, in an article titled “Future Chernobyls Lurk Along Russia’s Northern Rim, ” reported:

The Arctic rim countries threatened by nuclear contamination from discarded atomic reactors rotting at sea around Russia’s remote Kola Peninsula have launched an initiative to protect their common marine environment. Many other coastal countries are expected to support them.

At stake is the future of the principal nuclear rubbish dump of the former Soviet Union. It presents neighboring Western Europe and North America with the possibility of accidents the magnitude of Chernobyl. Murmansk, the main population center of the area and the chief port of the Russian Arctic fleet, is the site of one of the world’s most unstable nuclear facilities. Lying in shallow waters nearby are 120 decommissioned nuclear submarines and icebreakers with their burnt-up fuel and highly radioactive, obsolete reactors still intact.

Further out at sea, the Soviets dumped 20 atomic reactors, seven of them still containing spent nuclear fuel. … Inland, the giant Kola-1 nuclear power station is operating under conditions likely to produce at least one serious reactor breakdown every 50 years, according to an estimate issued by the German Ministry of the Environment. Norwegian government experts who have studied the power plant reckon that such an accident would generate nuclear radiation 10 times the level of that recorded at Chernobyl. …

The FSB state security service, successor to the infamous KGB, recently brought the issue to a head by raiding the offices of Bellona, the Norwegian environmental group that first publicized the extent of nuclear pollution in the Arctic, and charging it with spying. It has also arrested retired Russian submarine commander Alexandr Nikitin, who collaborated with Bellona and uncovered serious official misconduct. He could face spying charges that carry a death penalty.

As of mid-January, although Alexandr Nikitin was free, the charges against him had not been formally dismissed, and he faced the possibility of re-arrest at any moment. In spite of the threat, he assured the Bellona Foundation that he was determined to carry on his investigative work.

by John Warren, GASP Board of Directors