Author`s name Michael Simpson

Ecologists Anxious About Missile Launching From Plesetsk - 28 February, 2003

The RF Ministry of Defense, ecological organizations, regional and local authorities are seeking for common approaches to settle the safety problem during missiles launching from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, in Russia’s Arkhangelsk region. Yesterday, an unusual session dedicated to environmental safety, missile and space activity was held in the Arkhangelsk regional administration. Vice-governor of the Arkhangelsk region  Alexander Polikarpov presided at the session. As press-service of the regional administration informs, representatives of space troops, the Plesetsk cosmodrome, doctors and ecologists took part in the session.

The Plesetsk Space Center has been operating on the territory of the Arkhangelsk region for over 40 years already; over 2.000 missiles were launched from it within the period. At that, starting with 1993, even foreign space vehicles are launched from the Russian cosmodrome (certainly for payments). However, hitherto the problem of compensations to the region for usage of territories where separated parts of missiles drop is not yet settled; effect of the cosmodrome and components of radioactive fuel upon health of the population in neighboring villages where space wastes fall is not completely studied. No compensations were appropriated neither for the regional budget, nor for budgets of the districts adjoining the cosmodrome. As specialists forecast, if the present-day situation doesn’t improve, ecological problems of the region will even aggravate because the RF Ministry of Defense plans to deploy modern missile complexes Rokot, Angara and Soyuz-2 there. People from the Mezensky district neighboring  the cosmodrome are practically ignorant of influence of the cosmodrome on their health; no information is provided concerning time of launchings, about areas where separated parts drop and about danger that components of fuel and parts of missiles pose. The Siberian State Medical University has been carrying out medical researches in the areas where parts of missiles drop for several years already. University Professor Svetlana Sovershayeva says,  at present there is no exact information which would allow to explain the state of health of the population with potential harm caused by space activity. However, medical researches prove that sickness rate of people living in places where waste missile stages drop is much higher as compared with environmentally successful territories. Villagers in the Arkhangelsk region suffer from liver diseases, blood pathology, congenital anomalies, etc. But medics still fail to prove (or deny) the cause-effect relations between the diseases and launchings from the cosmodrome, as more serious researches must be held for this purpose.

Head of the Mezensky district Igor Zaborsky says that local population is displeased with lack of information and guarantees to the people. The gifts of nature, natural resources, are very important for life of the district; however, hundreds of hectares are no longer suitable for ploughing and sowing. The district, that used to be among environmentally clean territories, cannot be called ecologically successful any longer, which in its turn worsens tourism activity and reduces revenues to the local budget. This was opinion of one side expressed at the session.

Much attention was also devoted to opinion of the other side. Representatives of the RF Ministry of Defense emphasized that the ministry, being an executive government body, couldn’t subsidize medical programs that were not placed in its budget. There are also no governmental resolutions concerning the problem. While executing governmental tasks, the Ministry of Defense is ready for a closer cooperation with ecologists, executive authorities in the Russian Federation subjects and with local administrations. The military are ready to seek non-traditional forms of cooperation and new methods of financing of medical scientific researches. By the way, similar methods were tested in the mountainous Altai districts where missile stages also drop, and the researches revealed the following result. Only few cases of diseases among the population of those areas can be related to consequences of space troops’ activity; what is more, against the background of the general environmental pollution, the share falling to activity of the Ministry of Defense is small. Colonel Igor Morozov said that heptyl is no so deadly as it is often described: officers who worked with the substance for decades and filled rockets with the fuel now don’t suffer from occupational diseases. 

At the end of the session, both sides were asked to support a suggestion on development of a complex target program meant for improvement of the Plesetsk cosmodrome; to continue working on development of legislation on conditions of more frequent use of the Arkhangelsk region territories for release of separated missile stages; to help medics with their health researches. 

To sum up the session, all parties participating in the session, the military, medics, ecologists and authorities of all levels are ready to seek a compromise and start a dialogue with the population. And administration of the Arkhangelsk region, in its turn, is ready to speed up adoption of legislations on compensations and complete information to population living in districts neighboring Plesetsk in the State Duma.

Vitaly Bratkov

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