See all the ICE Cases
Deploy the ICE Search and Sort Tool (SST)
Go To ICE Expert Site

ICE Case Studies
Number x, Month, Year

Mark A. Scheuer, July, 1996

I. Case Background
II. Environment Aspect
III. Conflict Aspect
IV. Env. - Conflict Overlap
V. Related Information


1. Abstract

Russian/Soviet history is cluttered with nuclear accidents and mismanagement that have thrown dozens of eco-systems into turmoil and threatened thousands--if not millions--of human lives. In December, 1994, Russia signed an agreement with India to build a 2,000 Megawatt nuclear power plant in Kudankulam, India. This agreement may have been the first in a series of attempts by Russia to mobilize its long experience with nuclear technology for the promotion of its post-Cold War economic recovery. If Russia pursues the economic benefits of nuclear trade by importing nuclear waste for storage.

2. Description

The breakup of the Soviet Union cast a pall over the economic trade between India and Russia. The collapse of the ruble was the
 primary factor in the tumble of trade. In 1990, before the fall, trade between the two nations reached $5.5 billion. Within the 
 following year, trade tailed off nearly $1.5 billion to $3.5 billion. This in turn forced India into serious debt default. Now 
 that both nations have shed the weighted hand of socialist planning, trade between them has steadily risen over the past few years. 
 Trade is expected to rise between 1995-96 from a low of $1.4 billion to over $3.5 billion (1). Although much of this turn around 
 will be due to non-nuclear trade in items such as tea, soymeal and medicines, Russia and India have not ignored the financial 
 potential of nuclear technology exchange. In a series of meetings during December 23-24, 1994, India agreed to pay Russia $2.6 
 billion in currency and credit to supply it w/ two 1,000 MW nuclear energy units. The pact will employ over 1,000 Russian workers 
 for an 8-year period and help India address its horrific energy problems. Further, Russia has agreed to import and store on Russian 
 territory the nuclear waste produced in these Indian reactors (2)

The danger presented by the deal lies not in the exchange of nuclear technology, but in the potential human and disaster environmental 
that could occur. The end of the Cold War has revealed secrets of Soviet nuclear mismanagement. In November 1994, Russian nuclear
scientists confessed to having pumped into the ground nearly half of all the nuclear waste produced 
by the Soviet Union over a 30 year period (3). Most of this dumping was done near major rivers and 
water sources. The well-known catastrophe at Chernobyl is one of many Soviet/Russian nuclear disasters.
 Off the coast of the Kola Peninsula near Norway, 135 nuclear reactors from 71 decommissioned Soviet submarines 
 were scuttled in the Berrents Sea during the Cold War. In addition, the Soviet Union dumped nuclear waste at 10 
 sites in the Sea of Japan between 1966 and 1991 (4). Russia continues to practice poor management techniques of 
 nuclear waste handed down by the Soviet Union. Bellona, a Norwegian environmental group has tracked the nuclear waste
  management practices at the submarine ports of Zapadnaya Litsa, Vidyayevo, and Gadzhiyevo and reports that workers 
  continue to be poorly trained and inexperienced, inviting an environmental tragedy. India has also recently suffered a 
  breakdown in its nuclear waste management. Between 1993 and 1995, India suffered 124 "hazardous incidents" at nuclear units.
   Although none has reached the proportions of the Soviet Union's Chernobyl, a leak at the Tarapur plant near Bombay went 
   undetected for nearly two months in 1995. The leak was determined to have been insignificant, but the nuclear plant was 
   shut down. In addition, the Worldwatch Institute reported in 1992 that India's record of nuclear reactors was among the worst 
   in the world. The Institute reported India's reactors run only 40% of the time and produce merely 2% of the energy needs despite
    billions of dollars invested in them.

The nuclear agreement between India and Russia has set a precedent. In 1995, an agreement between Russia and Iran was made to
 build two nuclear reactors in Bushehr, Iran created a political uproar between the United States and Russia. The United States 
 contended that the nuclear technology transferred to Iran would not be used merely for the peaceful purposes Iran claimed, but 
 would assist Tehran's development of a nuclear weapons program. Both Russia and Iran claim the reactor agreement is legitimate 
 under the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1969 and continue to assure the United States that technology and materials 
 will not be diverted to weapons production.

"Chernobyl": The disaster (which took place on what is now the Belorussian- Ukrainian border) is universally considered the 
greatest nuclear accident in history. The town of 150,000 people was exposed to millions of curies of radiation before
 evacuation. Poor training and management practices are generally cited as the cause for the
  1986 catastrophe. The unpreparedness of the Soviet government for such a disaster is evident 
  in recent speculation that the construction built to contain the radiation spewing from Reactor 
  4 is quickly deteriorating. Further, the end of the Soviet Union and centralized planning has not 
  yielded significant improvement in Russian nuclear management. In 1993, two serious radiation 
  accidents occurred in the nuclear cities of Chelyabinsk and Tomsk-7. New standards and safety 
  programs, however, were not implemented following the crises (5). Vladimir Kuznetsov, the former 
  director of the inspectorate of the Central Region of the State Atomic and Radiation Oversight 
  Committee of Russia, notes "time is passing, and nothing is changing (6). An investigation in 1994
   by Kuznetsov's committee showed that "the state of nuclear and radiation safety in
   the Russian Federation as a whole cannot be deemed satisfactory" (7). Kuznetsov 
   claims that in Russia today, "every single nuclear reactor and facility is operated
   in accordance with safety norms that were drawn up 15 to 20 years ago." (8)

The Russian government's management of nuclear affairs has been affected by several cultural 
trends. During the Soviet Union's
 hasty efforts to build a formidable nuclear program, mistakes in planning and construction 
 were made. Bellona points out that
  the submarine ports of Zapadnaya Litsa, Vidyayevo, and Gadzhiyevo that line the Kola
   Peninsula's coast were built by poorly 
  trained workers under pressure from Moscow for timely completion (9). The inadequate 
  planning and discipline of workers is 
  reflected in facilities which house a significant portion of the radioactive waste of
   the Northern Fleet. In addition, the 
  Soviet military was often the primary custodian of nuclear materials and kept a tight
   net of security around related facilities.
   As a result, civilian agencies and committees were unable to monitor the construction 
   and operation of most waste- related facilities.
    According to Bellona, "rules with respect to public health and other standard documents
     were kept secret and remained unavailable to
     either the public or the pertinent monitoring agencies" (10). This characteristic 
     continues in the post-Soviet era. The Russian state 
     radiation protection authority, Gosatomnadzor, is not permitted access to Northern 
     Fleet nuclear-related activities. Although
      President Yeltsin attempted in 1994 to open the naval bases to civilian monitoring,
       the Russian navy refused to adhere to the order. 
      In 1995, Yeltsin rescinded the order. The Russian nuclear security and safety
       policies also suffer from two other cultural trends: 
      apathy and denial. Die Zeit reported in World Press Review in 1995, that 
      the Russian bureaucracy's arrogance and indifference 
      are major contributors to the environmental problems that have arisen 
      in Russia. "The few officials who do understand the extend 
      of the problem are so overwhelmed by it all that they keep their hands 
      in their pockets" (11). In 1991, the Soviet government 
      prepared a report on the effects of Chernobyl for the International Atomic 
      Energy Agency. The report stated that "significant 
      health disorders, not caused by radiation, were observed among 
      inhabitants. . .but no health disorders directly related to 
      radiation exposure were observed" (12). In the face of significant 
      evidence that the Chernobyl-type reactors are unstable, 
      A. Vasilyev, the head of operations for fast reactors at Russia's 
      Rosenergoatom has claimed that the modernization of such 
      reactors has been thorough enough to overcome previous design flaws 
      (13). Sergei Gorev, the chief specialist with the Russian 
      State Committee on Emergency Situations proclaimed that the 
      population of Tomsk-7 was exposed to no radioactive danger after 
      the 1993 accident. 

However, reports have labeled the accident as "the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl." (14). This evidence suggests that over
 time, a culture of denial over the poor conditions of their nuclear power facilities has developed in Russia.
Efforts to protect Russia's environment after the fall of the Soviet Union have been impressive on paper but not in action. In 
July 1994, the Russian Duma adopted a law dealing with radioactive waste in order to ensure safety for the Russian people and 
the environment. The law, entitled "On Environmental Protection", would hand down criminal punishment to those who operated nuclear
 waste facilities outside established standards. In addition, the law bans the importation of nuclear waste from other countries to
  Russian soil. The wording of the law appears firm but has received little consideration. The reactor agreements with both India 
  and Iran followed the passage of the law and the continuing effort by Russia to solicit nuclear waste contracts from European 
  nations indicates its has little intention of upholding the 1994 statute. To further frustrate law-makers interested in environmental 
  preservation, a familiar cultural trend exists in Russia.

Nuclear policy implementers during Soviet times developed a tradition of maneuvering outside the confines of nuclear regulations. 
For example, in 1991, the manager of the Chelyabinsk Metallurgical Plant secured special legislation from the local soviet for lower
 air emission levels because he was friends with the chairman of that body (15). Today, the current economic troubles in Russia have 
 forced the government to ignore environmental regulations. Debt from environmental violations is often waived or subsidized by the 
 government. Further, facility managers are primarily concerned with paying wages and not with environmental protection measures (16). 
 As Russia's financial problems grow, there will be less funding for monitoring and enforcement.

Thus, it is evident that the disastrous nuclear policies of the Soviet Union have created a culture and pattern which today's 
Russia seems unwilling to disavow. Unsafe waste management procedures do not seem to have been replaced with modern safety formulas. 
The military continues to conduct nuclear operations unchecked and the Russian government is lack-luster in its efforts to assert
 environmental legislation. Economic urgency and a significant international demand for nuclear technology and waste storage have 
 set Russia's course. The speed at which Russia mobilizes to accommodate this demand, in light of its historical inability to plan 
 and manage nuclear power facilities and waste suggest that countries that contract Russia for such services may expose themselves 
 to the legacy of Russia's nuclear carelessness.

3. Duration

1950s until 1990s

4. Location

Continent: Arctic
Region: East Arctic
Country: Russia

5. Actors

Russi and Neighbors

II. Environment Aspects

6. Type of Environmental Problem

Radiation Pollution

7. Type of Habitat


8. Act and Harm Sites:

Russia and Artic Ocean

III. Conflict Aspects

9. Type of Conflict


10. Level of Conflict


11. Fatality Level of Dispute (military and civilian fatalities)

IV. Environment and Conflict Overlap

12. Environment-Conflict Link and Dynamics:

Damage to wildlife resulting from Soviet practices such as the military's repeated dumping nuclear reactors from retired submarines may never be calculated. Nuclear dumping from the Mayak facility in Chelyabinsk into the Techa River and then Lake Karachai has relegated those bodies of water incapable of sustaining life. The starkest effect of Soviet nuclear mismanagement may be in the number human deaths. Predictions of Chernobyl-related cancer deaths hover between 18,000 and 50,000 (18). In 1957, an explosion at Chelyabinsk exposed 270,000 to 2.1 million curies of radiation and although no acknowledgments of fatalities was ever made, the CIA confirmed a "tremendous number of casualties" at local hospitals. (19). The proliferation of poor waste containment and disposal with sales of Russian nuclear technology and training places the wildlife and human risks at extraordinary levels.

13. Level of Strategic Interest


14. Outcome of Dispute:


V. Related Information and Sources

15. Related ICE Cases

16. Relevant Websites and Literature

28. Relevant Literature

(1) Reuters North American Wire, October 12, 1995.
(2) "India and Russia Sign Eight Agreements" in BBC Monitoring Service: Far East, December 28, 1994
(3) Broad, William. "Russians Admit Burying Nuclear Waste" in Guardian, November 22, 1994.
(4), (11) & (20) "Russia's Total Mess" by DIE ZEIT in World Press Review, February, 1995 p. 8-12.
(15) & (18) Peterson, D. J. "Chelyabinsk: Environmental Affairs in a Russian City" in 
Environmental Science Technology, 
Vol.27 No.4, 1993, p.596-600.
(5-8) Kuznetsov, Vladimir. "Time Is Passing, and Nothing Is Changing" in World Press Review, August, 1994, p. 12.
(9) & (10) Nilsen, Thomas. Bellona Foundation Working Paper 5 Zapadnaya Litsa, 1995. 
(12-13) Vaganov, Andrei. "The Post-Disaster Culture of Denial" in World Press Review, August, 1994, p. 13.
(14) McKie, Robin. "Russia's Nuclear Time-Bombs'" in Observer, November 6, 1994.
(16) Suokko, Kristen and Reicher, Dan. "Radioactive Waste and Contamination in the Former
Soviet Union" in Environmental Science Technology, Vol.27 No.4, 1993, p. 602-604.
(17) "Yablokov: Nuclear Program is Unsafe, Too Costly" in The Current Digest of the Post-Soviet
 Press, Vol.XLVI No.39, 1994, p. 6-7.
(19) Ridgeway, James. "Russian Roulette" in Village Voice, April 20, 1993, p. 18-19.