RUSSIA: Norwegian NGO wins award for work on Russian nuclear safety

The Oslo-based Bellona Foundation has been honoured with Green Futures magazine's award for Best International Environmental Achievement. Bellona's work on Russia's environmental problems led to a precedent-setting court case that protects Russians from charges of espionage if they provide information about nuclear safety.

Contacted by edie news, a Bellona spokesperson admitted that they found out about the award only on the day it was given out. “It’s always nice to get an award but the acquittal of Nikitin was the biggest victory for us,” says the spokesperson.

Aleksander Nikitin is a Russian who was working with Bellona to assess the safety risks posed by Russia’s fleet of nuclear submarines and other nuclear weaponry based in northern Russia. He was arrested in 1996 and charged with espionage and disclosure of state secrets for his work as co-author of Bellona’s The Russian Northern Fleet report. Nikitin was acquitted at the end of last year.

“Now that Nikitin is acquitted we can start doing real work again,” says Bellona’s spokesperson. “It has cost us a whole lot of money to fight this case and there are now some projects that can restart.”

The first priority is to continue assessing the true state of Russia’s nuclear safety. “We need an overview of all the nuclear subs and weapons that are on the loose in Russia,” says Bellona’s spokesperson. The Russian Northern Fleet report, that landed Nikitin in prison, constituted the foundation of an assessment, according to Bellona. But there is much more to know and to do.

Bellona has found it difficult to secure US funding for its work on Russian nuclear safety since Nikitin’s arrest, but the organisation believes that the case has laid to rest all outstanding legal questions. Bellona also hopes that Nikitin’s acquittal will make individual Russians less wary of providing the organisation with assistance and information. “We’ve always received a lot of goodwill from ordinary Russians but after Nikitin’s arrest people got scared,” says Bellona’s spokesperson.

Bellona has been involved in environmental issues in Russia since 1990. It has focused on the nuclear situation in northwest Russia, particularly the handling of radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel from naval nuclear reactors. According to Bellona, The Russian Northern Fleet operates 42 nuclear submarines and three nuclear powered battle cruisers from five naval bases on the Kola Peninsula and one in Arkhangelsk County. In addition, there are about 100 inactive nuclear powered submarines laid up at different bases.

Bellona maintains two offices in Russia, but admits that the precarious state of the nation makes it difficult to achieve smooth progress. “Russia isn’t in a good state at the moment and it’s difficult to get work done,” says Bellona’s spokesperson.

For more information on Green Futures 1999 Green Ribbon Political Awards please see the UK section of this edition of edie news.

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