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RUSSIAN FAR EAST ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS

V.M.Buznik

Khabarovsk Research Center

The Far East Region includes ten eastern entities of the Russian Republic: the Republic of Sakha; Primorye and Khabarovsk Territories; Amur, Kamchatka, Magadan, and Sakhalin Oblasts; the Jewish Autonomous Region; and Koryak and Chukot Autonomous Districts. It occupies a sizable territory of 6.215 million square kilometers or 36.4 percent of Russia. As of January 1, 1997, the region was inhabited by 7.421 million people or only 5.03 percent of the nation’s population. The average density of the population is 1.19 persons per square kilometers or one-seventh the national average. A recent downward trend in the population has developed as migration to other regions increases.

Strangely enough, development of the region began from the north. Russian expeditions initially explored Chukotka and Kamchatka in the first half of the eighteenth century. Exploration of the southern part of the region began only in the second half of the nineteenth century. Slow development of the region was related to its remoteness and unfavorable climatic conditions. Yet the region enjoys an important geopolitical location, for it provides access to the Pacific Ocean and to the frontiers with Japan, Korea, China, and the United States. Industrial, economic, and cultural development of the region was carried out by military forces, by newly arrived workers, and by prisoners—all perceived as temporary residents. Historically, genealogically, and culturally, most of the region has been linked to Central Russia and Siberia. The region is rich in natural resources—fish, timber, oil, gas, and minerals such as gold, diamonds, coal, and non-ferrous metals. With 5.03 percent of the population, the region produces 9.0 percent of the nation’s timber and 67.1 percent of the fish catch. Industrial output reached 4.7 percent in 1990 and 4.6 percent in 1996, while farming was 3.2 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively. During the period of



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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop RUSSIAN FAR EAST ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS V.M.Buznik Khabarovsk Research Center The Far East Region includes ten eastern entities of the Russian Republic: the Republic of Sakha; Primorye and Khabarovsk Territories; Amur, Kamchatka, Magadan, and Sakhalin Oblasts; the Jewish Autonomous Region; and Koryak and Chukot Autonomous Districts. It occupies a sizable territory of 6.215 million square kilometers or 36.4 percent of Russia. As of January 1, 1997, the region was inhabited by 7.421 million people or only 5.03 percent of the nation’s population. The average density of the population is 1.19 persons per square kilometers or one-seventh the national average. A recent downward trend in the population has developed as migration to other regions increases. Strangely enough, development of the region began from the north. Russian expeditions initially explored Chukotka and Kamchatka in the first half of the eighteenth century. Exploration of the southern part of the region began only in the second half of the nineteenth century. Slow development of the region was related to its remoteness and unfavorable climatic conditions. Yet the region enjoys an important geopolitical location, for it provides access to the Pacific Ocean and to the frontiers with Japan, Korea, China, and the United States. Industrial, economic, and cultural development of the region was carried out by military forces, by newly arrived workers, and by prisoners—all perceived as temporary residents. Historically, genealogically, and culturally, most of the region has been linked to Central Russia and Siberia. The region is rich in natural resources—fish, timber, oil, gas, and minerals such as gold, diamonds, coal, and non-ferrous metals. With 5.03 percent of the population, the region produces 9.0 percent of the nation’s timber and 67.1 percent of the fish catch. Industrial output reached 4.7 percent in 1990 and 4.6 percent in 1996, while farming was 3.2 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively. During the period of

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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop reforms, the share of these industries was on the rise, although the share declined considerably in other sectors. Consequently, recent trends are toward increased resource-extraction industries with growing pressure on the environment. The main environmental problems in the region relate to preservation of biodiversity, use of marine resources, pollution of rivers and lakes, preservation of forests, and urban development. PRESERVATION OF BIODIVERSITY The huge region spreads over several climatic zones from the polar area in the north to the subtropical areas of Primorye Territory, including continental, coastal, and island areas. It has unique biological diversity—vegetation, animal, and marine. The southern areas of the region were not exposed to ice formation during the glacial period, which resulted in preservation of ancient biospecies. The southern area of Primorye and Khabarovsk Territories exemplifies a unique coexistence of both northern (e.g., larch, stone birch) and southern (e.g. liana, lotus) plants. Such a unique mix is also typical for the animal world. There are more than 5,000 vascular plant species and more than 1,500 types of mushrooms. In the south of Primorye territory there are more than 1,200 types of plants, 120 mammal species, 50,000 insects, and 550 birds. There are 104 types of fish in the Amur River alone. Diversity was preserved to a great extent due to the low level of development of the region as compared with other regions of Central Russia. There are many ancient plants in the area. For example, in the Sikhot Alin mountains, among the 800 plants 200 fall into the class of ancient relics. Three groups stand out among the relics of vegetative and possibly animal origin: relics well adapted to current conditions and renewable by nature, mobile relics, and relics that are being reduced by natural and anthropogenic forces. A distinguishing feature of the region is the availability of unique endemic plants and animals. Many of the over 250 endemic plants are on the verge of disappearance and are now in the Rare Species Book. The principal challenges to biodiversity are: Natural and anthropogenic disasters. Reduction of growth areas due to impacts such as deforestation and industrial development. Predatory and poaching extermination of tigers, musk deer, ginseng, lemon trees, and the Amur sturgeon. Lack of proper resource management.

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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop Reduction of biodiversity in the Far East is inevitable due to a weakening of governmental control over resource-related activities, curtailment of funds for nature protection, poaching, and a sharp growth of smuggled exports. Different measures could counter biodiversity reduction. Among such steps are an increase in the size and number of protected areas, environmental education—particularly for school children—control of poaching and smuggling, and better resource management. PROBLEMS IN THE USE OF THE PACIFIC SEAS Problems arising from man’s marine activities include loss of biodiversity, impacts of shipping, pollution from the Navy’s activities, wastes from off-shore oil and gas production, and industrial and household dump sites. Ocean problems are often of an international character. Loss of biodiversity is often associated with fishing on the high seas as well as in coastal waters. Problems arise with international quotas and harvesting methods. It is not easy to implement an agreement when on frequent occasions each party tries to attain an excessive share of the resources and to hide its catch. Even though there is recognition of the importance of observing the agreement by the government, it is hard to persuade businessmen, sailors, and fishermen to comply. In recent years, poaching for illegal export has reach an industrial scale. The process from fishing to payment involves many activities on the sea. Government control is complicated, although the state is trying to use fishing inspectors and Coast Guard capabilities. The poaching of mollusks and trepangs (sea cucumbers) is taking on a massive scale in coastal waters. Trepangs are widely used in Chinese medicine and are therefore bought and smuggled out of the country in volumes that threaten the disappearance of the species. Artificial cultivation of seafood could be an alternative to reduce poaching. But this activity has not been developed due to a lack of investment funds and the mentality of the population, which prefers to rely on nature rather than cultivation. The negative environmental impact of marine industries is associated with the fact that the Russian fleet is aging. In the past 15 years there have been practically no new ships. Privatization and creation of joint-stock companies have resulted in small shipping companies that violate all the rules and regulations concerning marine ecology and navigation safety. The sinking of the Russian tanker Nadezhda with a resulting oil spill not far from Japanese islands is an example of the problems. Many ships are even banned from entering foreign ports. The Navy’s activities, including cruises of nuclear-powered vessels, also damage the marine ecology. Apart from technical problems connected with the Navy’s operations that impact the coastal areas, the military mentality is in principle unfriendly toward the environment. This is true in any country, not

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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop only Russia. Graveyards of decommissioned warships are a threat to coastal waters, although recently some problems were solved by the dismantling of vessels. Off-shore oil and gas production has begun near Sakhalin Island under a Russian-American-Japanese project. But due to the novel character of the program, there is a serious risk of negative environmental consequences. There is a problem associated with industrial and domestic waste disposal in the seas. Vladivostok provides a typical negative example. Poorly processed wastes have been discharged for over one hundred years into Amur Bay. As a result, the bay is polluted and swimming is unsafe. To solve this problem there is a need to build wastewater treatment facilities and to control their operations. Unfortunately, economic and political chaos has slowed down such activity. The environmentally oriented world community is greatly concerned about the dumping of liquid radioactive waste from nuclear power plants into the seas. A new facility should be built to clean up such waste. One inadequate facility exists in Bolshoi Kamen. AMUR RIVER CHARACTERISTICS AND CHALLENGES The Amur River is among the ten largest in the world, with the following characteristics: length of 4,444 kilometers, annual runoff of 350 cubic kilometers, delta runoff of 10,900 cubic meters per second, and a runoff area of 10,900 square kilometers. A 10,000-kilometer stretch serves as the border between China and Russia, with the source of the Amur River lying in Mongolia. A main characteristic of the Amur River is biodiversity. In the northern hemisphere it is second to only the Mississippi River in this respect. The Amur has over 100 fish species, with two-thirds of them being food fish. There are relic species in the river, since its watershed was formed in ancient times. The watershed was not affected by ice during the glacial period, which led to the preservation of species. With respect to the ichthyological diversity in Russia, the Amur is comparable to Lake Baikal. The Amur sturgeon is well known for its large size and weight of over one ton. It is similar to white sturgeon in the Volga River and American white sturgeon in the Columbia River. There are specific features of the Amur River, particularly the international aspects involving a number of disputes over the border despite treaties that date back one and one-half centuries. Problems also arise concerning engineering structures, fish catches, environmental monitoring, and industrial and municipal waste discharges. In the judgment of specialists, poaching has been the main problem with regard to disappearing fish resources. Poaching now exceeds legal fishing, with 1,500 tons of Siberian fall salmon taken legally in 1997 but 10,000 tons taken

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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop illegally. In Khabarovsk, endangered species are sold openly while enforcement measures are ineffective. Poaching is growing due to unemployment, and the situation cannot be returned to normal without solving the social problems. Legislation seems incomplete and even ridiculous. For example, selling of all types of fish nets is authorized despite a ban on the use of certain types of nets. In practice the poachers are allowed to sell their catch. At the same time sport fishing is growing, and it too is not controlled. The public needs to take a more active stand on poaching. In the United States an organization in Oregon, the Wild Salmon Center, provides an example of effective activity to protect rare fish species. They are involved not only in the United States, but also in the Russian Far East. The Amur River also faces the “phenol” smell problem. This permeates the fish and prevents the sale of fish. It is similar to the smell of the chemical phenol. The first response of the public was that it was linked to industrial spills. However, tests and investigations showed that the problem was more complex. Most of the course of the river is fed by marsh runoff saturated with organic substances of vegetative origin. As a result of the biochemical interactions with the flora and fauna of the river, xenobiotics are released and penetrate the fish through respiratory and trophic channels. Although the origin of this problem is mainly nature, anthropogenic discharges, particularly waste dumps, can trigger the process. Also, man-caused discharges into the river may create additional toxic xenobiotics, and efforts to reduce discharges should not slacken. At present the problem cannot be immediately solved, but investigations can provide information about the timing and places of the problem. Specialists of the Khabarovsk Research Center have been of considerable assistance in addressing this problem. As for public environmental organizations, they have not been helpful. Initially they simply cast blame on those directly involved in industrial production and on the authorities. Then they relied on scientists who were not competent to investigate the problem. FOREST FIRES The Far East region has considerable timber resources. They are of great importance in the formation of the planet’s atmosphere. Woods are concentrated primarily in the southern areas, i.e., in Khabarovsk and Primorye Territories and in Amur and Sakhalin Oblasts. Severe fires occur there on the average of once every 22 years, with the last spate of large fires in 1998. The periodicity is apparently related to cyclic arid conditions and to the build-up of combustible material during the periods between fires. Also, in the eastern areas of the region there are frequent fires. Overall, probably 85 percent of the fires of the region are triggered by human activities.

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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop The 1998 fires occurred in the spring and lasted six months. Over 2.5 million hectares burned completely, although the fire area was much larger. Each burned hectare released 100 tons of particulate containing 55 percent tar and water, 25 percent soot, and 20 percent ash. These particles are harmful when inhaled by humans or animals. In addition, 10 to 12 tons of nitrogen, sulfur, and carbon oxides were discharged, including oxides with toxic effects. In sum, the fires resulted in the discharge of 250 million tons of particulates and 25 million tons of harmful gases with widespread impacts. For example, in Khabarovsk, located 200 kilometers from the fires, cars used headlights during the day. Pollution lasted for a few months and increased death rates. The impact on newborn children was particularly harmful. The UN Council on Humanitarian Issues reported that the fires had caused a large-scale problem of international concern. Fires have many negative impacts. They destroy animal habitats. They change the flora composition of the forests. They change the insect population and may cause sudden outbreaks of some species. Runoff may pollute reservoir. And of course fires hamper reforestation efforts. Prevention and elimination of forest fires should be of a comprehensive character including legislative, administrative, environmental protection, educational, and social programs. One factor responsible for the extent of the fires is the lack of agreement between the federal government and entities in the territories with regard to forests. Forests are federal property with regard to timber exploitation areas and timber sales. However, forest protection, fire fighting, and reduction of the consequences of fires are under the authority of the region. Unfortunately, lengthy discussions on these topics between the federal and Khabarovsk authorities in 1998 were largely a waste of time as the fires ignited. RADIATION SITUATION In the region there are a few sources of possible radioactive contamination—natural, household, industrial, military, energy supply facilities, and radioactive waste storage facilities. Natural sources are associated with specific geological structures that give off radon that results in the background levels. In Khabarovsk, the background from radon is 20 percent higher than the average for Russia. Particularly high background is associated with rocks containing uranium and thorium, with the levels dependent on porosity. Surveys indicate that 15 percent of city apartments using local building materials are moderately hazardous, 10 percent are hazardous, and 2 percent are particularly hazardous. Other sources include radioisotopes used for research, production, and medical purposes and for standard measurements. Fifteen years ago, such

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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop sources in the Far East were in the tens of thousands, with 13,000 in Khabarovsk alone. The number has declined greatly due to curtailment of production and related activities. For example, in Khabarovsk the number has decreased by a factor of 22. Therefore, associated risks of contamination have also declined. In the meantime, however, there has been an increase in problems associated with waste disposal of radioactive sources. Quite often the sources are simply thrown out with ordinary waste rather than being delivered to appropriate waste storage sites. Industrial sources include manufacturing and maintenance activities for nuclear submarines at Komsomolsk-on-Amur and Bolshoi Kamen. At present, production facilities at the former are closed, and decommissioned submarines are being dismantled at the latter. Also, at Bolshoi Kamen a plant for liquid radioactive waste processing is under construction. The state enterprise Radon has a storage facility for solid radioactive waste not far from Khabarovsk. It stores mainly household radiation sources from the entire Far East region. Neither the authorities nor environmentalists are concerned with the condition at the facility. The Bilibino nuclear power plant in Chukotka operates normally, according to the press. Additional military sources of radiation relate both to nuclear weapons and to the nuclear power units of submarines, but little information is available on relevant activities. ENVIRONMENTALLY ORIENTED NGOs There are many environmentally oriented NGOs, totaling a few hundred in the Far East region and over 50 in Khabarovsk alone. However, it is difficult to describe their activities as effective, meaningful, or discernible. NGOs may be divided into four groups: (1) opponents of the policies of the government, (2) “prisoners of conscience,” (3) educational organizations, and (4) promoters of new technologies. The first group uses existing environmental problems as a basis for opposing the government. They appeared in large numbers in the mid-1980s, when environment was considered an area in which citizens could openly disagree with the state authorities. Many opponents intent on resolving political problems became involved in environmental activities. The opposition was of a radical character. Subsequently, when they had other opportunities to become involved openly in political activities, they left the environmental movement. Also, as soon as some of them gained power, they changed their stand toward environmental problems. Thus, in the early 1990s deputies of the Primorye Territory Duma, who were members of NGOs, and other environmentalists opposed even conducting a feasibility study for the proposed construction of a

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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop nuclear power plant in the region, yet today they support such a project in view of the power crisis. Those who continue to join NGOs rely on the NGOs primarily as a channel for obtaining grants and fluids from other sources. The second group of NGOs, the “prisoners of conscience,” represent organizations that unite people who are concerned over a safe environment and work for its improvement. The public Committee on the Protection of the Amur in Khabarovsk is such an NGO. However, despite their noble objectives and motivations, they lack the persistence and assertiveness characteristic of the first group. Often their activities are simply complaints in the press or emotional statements to limited audiences. These organizations need assistance from the local authorities and from the community. The third group includes organizations oriented to educational activities and advocacy of environmental protection and preservation, particularly among high school students and other young people. This is the most important trend, since it involves the education of a new generation of people and the future communities. The activities of these NGOs should be linked to work in youth and children’s organizations including both the universities and the schools. But they also need the support of the authorities at all levels. The fourth group of NGOs unites efforts of workers involved in production activities who try to promote the integration of “soft” or environmentally friendly technologies into existing production processes. Though the first three groups actually exist, the fourth group is still largely a dream that is urgently needed in reality. The solution of environmental problems should be considered within the framework of sustainable development of entire communities and the whole nation. Sustainable development implies the integration of social and environmental problems. Indeed, over the past ten years social conditions of the population, particularly indigenous populations, have become worse. It is difficult to convince people not to set fires in the taiga area or to stop poaching rare fish. In a society there should be moral and psychological relationships between individuals and the environment. Unfortunately in Russia, during the period of economic reform—a period of wild capitalism—different approaches were in vogue aimed at generating material goods for individuals. Those shifty and energetic people who made a great deal of money felt indifferent to the needs of society and the environment. A substantial disparity in property status has made Russian society very unstable. Over the past decade, a young generation has grown up focused on solving their own financial problems with no glances at the surrounding world. To improve the situation the scientific community, first of all the Academy of Sciences and environmental NGOs, should be actively involved.