August 1995 Issue #35

Chemical Weapons and Plutonium in Russia: New Publications Reveal Past Actions and Current Environmental Problems

Book Reviews by Dr. Marina Khotulyova Moscow, Russia


by L. A. Fedorov, forward by Alexei Yablokov. Published by Center of Russian Environmental Policy, Moscow, 1994.

This is a highly significant book, because it is the first open analysis of the political and environmental importance of the issue of chemical weapons in Russia. The potential audience for the book is rather wide. Not only will it interest experts who deal professionally with the issues of chemical weapons developing, production and disposal, it will also be valuable for those who lack specialized knowledge but are interested in the issues of environmental pollution. No doubt this book will be useful for decision-makers, as an alternative information source which is often contradicts official sources. Its strong social orientation is also worth mentioning.

Fedorov starts by reviewing the history of the development, production and testing of chemical weapons in Russia, and by providing basic information on the different chemical weapons and their production, testing and storage sites. Then he proceeds to discuss the environmental problems of chemical weapons. The scope of pollution caused in Russia by military-chemical activity is evaluated. The book also contains a discussion of chemical disarmament: its political and social aspects, and techniques and technologies of such a disposal. American experts have estimated disposal costs for Russia to be about $20 billion, and for the U.S., $3 - 6 billion. In closing, the author makes some recommendations of ways to avoid chemical confrontation and to overcome related environmental problems.

The book contains extensive factual data on those issues. At the same time the book is not free from some subjectivism; sometimes the discussion appeals to emotional arguments only. Maybe the main fault is that among 180 sources listed in the bibliography, 80% are mass-media publications and only 20% of the references are to scientific articles, monographs and documents. Such an approach does not guarantee the reliability of information, because when published in mass-media the factual information is frequently distorted. Sometimes the author is forced to use mass-media articles because of the lack of non-classified information. In a number of cases the information presented in the book, while valuable and thought-provoking, still needs to be verified using more reliable sources.

After graduating from Moscow State University with a PhD in Chemistry, Lev Alexandrovich Fedorov worked in the institutions of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. He has never used his scientific knowledge to develop or produce chemical weapons. For the last ten years his research has dealt with environmental issues, especially with manmade supertoxicant pollutants such as dioxins and liquid rocket fuels. He is now a leading researcher of the Vernadsky Institute for Geo-chemistry and Analytical Chemistry, located in Moscow. He is also a Member of the New York Academy of Sciences.


was prepared by the Center of Russian Environmental Policy and Center for Nuclear Ecology and Energy Policy of the Socio-Ecological Union. It was published in 1994. This book contains an independent analysis of the development and storage of plutonium in Russia, and discusses the environmental, economical, political and social aspects of the issue of handling highly dangerous nuclear substances. It provides a complex, multifaceted approach to the issue and contains very reliable factual information. Contributors include: Gennadiy V. Vorobiev, a radiochemist; A.S. D'yakov, a physicist from Moscow Physical Technical Institute (MFTI); Yuri Ershov, the chief of department of ecology of Obninsk Institute of Nuclear Power Engineers (IATE); Dmitriy P. Osanov, specialist in dosimetry, A. M. Dmitriev, and Lydia V. Popova, Director of the Center for Nuclear Ecology and Energy Policy.

Though the book deals with sophisticated technical and technological issues, it is written with simple and clear language. Therefore the book can be of use and interest not only for the experts but also for non-professionals who are interested in nuclear ecology. The book starts by defining plutonium as Ňa dangerous manmade fissionable substance", explaining the history of its discovery and use and its physical and chemical properties. Ways in which plutonium contaminates the human organism, the harm it causes to living creatures, and its circulation in the biosphere, are clearly described. After explaining the technologies involved in plutonium production (for its use in weapons, and as a by-product of nuclear power plants), the authors discuss the issues of plutonium storage and the handling of radioactive waste.

The chapters dealing with plutonium contamination in nature, in the human body, and in the nation of Russia will probably be the most interesting for the general public. These chapters contain many illustrative photos obtained with radiographical techniques. The contamination of areas adjacent to plutonium processing plants and nuclear plants is briefly analyzed, as well as the issue of plutonium contamination of the ocean.

For the first time the role of the Russian public in solving the plutonium problem is analyzed. Lydia Popova asserts that the decision-making process is not being done in contact with the public in Russia. MinAtom, the Nuclear Ministry, tries to enforce all important decisions without any public discussion. For example, the decision concerning building a depository for nuclear warheads in Tomsk was made without any discussion. Russian citizens were informed by United States NGOs! In 1992-1993 more than 100,000 Tomsk region citizens signed petitions against these plans. To develop a dialogue with the public, it is necessary to work out procedures and mechanisms to receive the information and to control the implementation of decisions.

This book attempts to reflect different points of view on this complicated issue, correctly and objectively. This is seen most clearly in the chapter "Conclusions and Recommendations". The conclusions are well grounded and carefully thought over.

For example, it is necessary to publicize data concerning the health of nuclear facility personnel, and of the population of the regions where nuclear facilities are located. Basic federal laws, such as laws on nuclear power use, radioactive waste management, and protection of the population from radioactivity, should be adopted. It is necessary to improve public communication, and generally the federal government must pay more attention to solving the plutonium problem. These conclusions should be acceptable both for the public living near nuclear plants and for the experts of MinAtom (Nuclear Ministry). Let's hope that these recommendations will be heard by the decision-makers.

Of course, the book does not contain all possible information on the issue and does not pretend to do so. But the authors' task was: "... to state if possible in the simple and clear form present scientific and technical data on what the plutonium is, for what purposes it is produced, what its properties are, why and how it can be used in weapons and to produce energy, how it is dangerous for the people's lives and health." This task is fulfilled very well. One more advantage of the book is a wonderful bibliography, which can be a good guide for further reading and for accessing original information sources.

Marina Khotulyova is a graduate of the Mendeleyev Institute of Chemistry and Technology (Moscow), Department of Physical Chemistry, and has a PhD in Chemistry (Kinetics and Cathalysis). She has worked as a researcher at the N.D. Zelinsky Institute of Organic Chemistry, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, and has also done extensive fieldwork throughout the former Soviet Union.

As N.I.S. Senior Program Officer and Technical Consultant for ECOLOGIA, she is responsible for planning, operational support, and project supervision of the NGO Water Monitoring Network in Russia and Uzbekistan. She also evaluates information resources and handles information requests for E-TIP (ECOLOGIA's Technical Information Program).

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