In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, this protest in the great suburbs of Moscow went almost unnoticed. It is yet another example of the climate of protest in Russia. For several days, in the south-east of the capital, a few dozen residents and environmental activists have been taking turns on the road site that the authorities want to carry out despite warnings about the potentially dangerous presence of radioactive waste on the site .
“They promised us that they would measure the radioactivity on each piece of land during construction. But nobody measured anything as if everything was clean, “ protests Sergei Vlasov, one of the local elected officials who opposes the construction site and led the slingshot when workers equipped with excavators this week started work. The police, who came with them, tried on Thursday l9 March to drive out the protesters, arresting around 15 of them.
The situation around the site, a municipal site in Greater Moscow near a train station and large apartment buildings, began to escalate when the police wanted to evacuate the observation minibus that the opponents had installed near the site. . She then placed a barrier of concrete blocks around it. “They want to get us out”, fears Sergei Vlasov, who, with others, wants to continue to monitor the site. Residents fear that excavators, when digging the ground, will stir up waste and release radioactive isotopes into the air. Dangerous dust could go to neighboring homes, eventually causing health problems.
This highway construction site is to cross a hill near a former Soviet factory which, until the 1970s, extracted thorium, a radioactive element then intended for nuclear reactors. At a time when the public is asking for a vast scientific expertise, the mayor of Moscow Sergei Sobyanin has promised that construction will not start until the land has been reclaimed from the site and the hill has been rehabilitated to remove the contaminated soil. He acknowledged the presence of radioactive waste but assured that “Traces of contamination are insignificant” on the highway route. This is not the Greenpeace opinion, which is based on an official report explaining that at least 60,000 tonnes of radioactive waste have been buried on this site.
A series of environmental challenges
This very local situation recalls, among others, that around a landfill site in Arkhangelsk, one of the capitals of the great Russian north, hitherto deemed docile and apolitical. Moscow’s plans in 2018 to transport and dump part of its waste there (half a million tonnes of household garbage, out of the roughly ten million produced annually by the capital …) set fire to the powder. For almost two years, it has sparked strong local protest. In Arkhangelsk as in the south-east of Moscow, it is the same distrust of a part of the population vis-à-vis the power imposing projects despite the objections of the locals.