Interview with Russia's Top Environmental Advisor
Air Date: Week of May 7, 1993
Steve talks with Dr. Alexey Yablokov, top environmental advisor to Boris Yeltsin, about past mistakes and future strategies for Russia's handling of nuclear waste and nuclear power.
CURWOOD: A new report by the Russian Federation confirms that the Soviet military dumped massive amounts of high-level radioactive waste into the world's oceans, in flagrant violation of international agreements the government had signed. The report was written by Alexei Yablokov, a former member of the Soviet Union's Supreme Soviet, a former president of Greenpeace Russia, and now the top environmental advisor to Russian President Boris Yeltsin. I recently spoke with Dr. Yablokov in the Watertown, Massachusetts offices of the environmental research group Earthwatch, where he's a member of the scientific board of advisors. I asked Dr. Yablokov if he could detail the extent of the nuclear dumping.
YABLOKOV: How much, nobody knows exactly. We count that about, more than 2 million curie, maybe better estimation 2 and a half million curie, we dumped only in Kara Sea, that's the worst polluted place in world ocean now. We dumped in Kara Sea 70 weapons; 7 of them contain nuclear fuel. It was 25 years ago, and nobody knows exactly how real level radioactivity now. This is an enormous question, we have to study it.
CURWOOD: Has the dumping stopped?
YABLOKOV: Such scale dumping stopped, of course. But we continue, Russia continue dump some liquid waste. Because we had no possibility to treat this waste properly in the military base.
CURWOOD: So some dumping of lower level waste continues, but no more big reactors?
YABLOKOV: No, no more reactors. As far as I know, the last reactors (unintelligible) had been dumped in Pacific in 1989.
CURWOOD: Now the problems with nuclear materials don't stop there. Recently at the Soviet military facility at Tomsk, there was a fire, chemical explosion, I guess it contaminated about a hundred square kilometers. You've predicted that there'll be more of these types of accidents, that the situation is out of control. Can you explain, please?
YABLOKOV: We have battle. We organized special independent federal agency for nuclear control, but till to now this body, this federal body, have no right to inspect all facility, especially military facility. It's impossible, it's impossible to establish proper control. My prediction, I predict that during this year we will have at least couple of, couple of accident, not like Chernobyl scale but like Tomsk-7 scale.
CURWOOD: The United States is having trouble cleaning up its own nuclear weapons plants, in part because of its costs. How can you afford to do this in the Russian Federation?
YABLOKOV: First of all, we need, we need to, to know the scale of the problem. And after this, we have to decide what the top priority for cleaning operation and so on. By the way, we have special ministry, we called it Chernobyl Ministry, government committee for rehabilitation, Chernobyl rehabilitation territory on the Chernobyl fallout, and other projected pollution territory, is a level of ministry in the government. Each year they spent billion and billion rubles . . .
CURWOOD: For Chernobyl alone?
YABLOKOV: . . . For Chernobyl. We need, on the, on the (unintelligible) several other programs such a scale.
CURWOOD: So it's going to cost a lot of money to clean this up.
YABLOKOV: A lot of money, no, not proper expression. Is an enormous, enormous money. It's look like we need in several years, we need to spend considerable part of our GNP for overcome our ecological problem only connection with radioactive problem. But we have also not only, not only radioactive problem, we have polluted water, we have polluted air, and so on.
CURWOOD: It's quite a long list, in fact - air pollution, you've got massive oil spills, you've got serious sewage problems, there are threats to Lake Baikal - what is the West doing to help the environmental situation, both government and non-government organizations? And what more should the West do?
YABLOKOV: The main direction, as I can see, to help us, is not money. It's your experience. Your experience, your knowledge, your willing to help us - you have to join us, our combat for better life. It give enormous result, and very fast result, if you, if you . . .
CURWOOD: Don't send money, send people?
YABLOKOV: Send people, yes. Send knowledgeable, and enthusiastic people.
CURWOOD: Thank you very much. Dr. Alexei Yablokov is environmental counselor to Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin. Thank you, sir.
YABLOKOV: Thank you very much for this interview. I hope it help to establish very, very sound relation in this important field.
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