Russia’s nuclear-safety issues spread

From Washington, D.C., at the 220th national meeting of the American Chemical Society

Russia’s problem with nuclear-waste management has transcended national borders, says a leading Russian environmentalist. Aleksandr Nikitin says the sinking of Russia’s Kursk nuclear submarine on Aug. 12 only exacerbates the situation.

Nikitin, a former member of Russia’s Navy and a coauthor of the report “The Russian Northern Fleet: Sources of Radioactive Contamination,” spoke just 3 weeks before he’s scheduled to be retried in Russia on charges of treason.

Russia waited days to ask for help in rescuing the crew of the Kursk, which sank following explosions possibly caused by its own torpedoes. All 118 crewmembers died. Nikitin says that any extension of Russian leaders’ go-it-alone attitude in the coming weeks and months could magnify the tragedy.

Russia will need international help to raise the Kursk before radiation escapes from its nuclear reactors into the surrounding Barents Sea, says Nikitin. He predicts that the reactors could begin leaking by early October. However, monitoring by Russians and Norwegians has so far failed to detect evidence of radioactive contamination in nearby fish, and some experts say the environmental risk is small.

The American Chemical Society and other organizations have petitioned the Russian government to cease its prosecution of Nikitin, who works with an Oslo-based environmental group called the Bellona Foundation.

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