Environmental issues in Russia

Climate issues in Russia
Russia produces a significant portion of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and is therefore an important country in the international climate negotiations. The Kyotoprotocol did not come into force before it was ratified by Russia. Nevertheless, Russia's positions in the coming climate negotiations are an open question. Russian science and public has taken a more sceptical position to man-made climate change then the rest of the world, school education is weak and it is very little public information available about climate change. Since the county is rich on oil, gas and coal, fossil fuel is a priority together with maintaining its nuclear capacity.

Challenges in relation to nuclear-waste and accidents
The first generation nuclear reactors have reached their designed lifespan. The oldest existing Chernobyl-type RBMK-1000 unit of Leningrad NPP and the oldest model of VVER-440 power unit of Kola NPP reached their designed lifespan in 2003.

The first generation reactors create a higher probability of nuclear accidents, and should be closed at the planned expiry date. They should not be granted permits for prolonged operation. Necessary funds for decommissioning must be established, and the preparation of decommissioning started.

By-products of nuclear weapons production caused permanent damage near Tomsk and Krasnoyarsk in southern Siberia, and near Chelyabinsk in the Ural Mountains. Fallout from the 1986 explosion at Ukraine’s Chernobyl’ nuclear power plant affected Russia primarily in Bryansk Oblast (see Chernobyl’ Accident). Less well-known than the Chernobyl’ disaster were accidents at the Mayak nuclear weapons production plant near Chelyabinsk in 1949, 1957, and 1967, which together released significantly higher emissions than Chernobyl’

The Soviet military tested nuclear weapons on the islands of Novaya Zemlya in the Arctic Ocean, which was their second testing site after Semipalatinsk (now Semey), Kazakhstan. Nuclear reactors and wastes were dumped into the Barents and Kara seas of the far north, and in far eastern Siberia. Dumping of nuclear wastes in the Sea of Japan (East Sea) continued until 1993. The disposal of nuclear submarines and nuclear waste is still a problematic issue. Although a number of nuclear submarines have been decommissioned, many are still docked at Russian ports as a result of a lack of money and facilities for storing nuclear wastes.

Erosion and degradation of land and water
Land and water resources experienced severe degradation during the Soviet period. Some areas, such as the Kuznetsk Basin on the Tom’ River in southern Siberia, the industrial belt along the southern portion of the Ural Mountains, and the lower Volga River, were degraded beyond repair.

Chemical fertilizers and airborne pollutants have contaminated some agricultural areas. Soil resources have also been adversely affected by mismanagement. Broad areas of land in southern Russia suffer from erosion. Wind erosion has affected the more arid parts of the North Caucasus, lower Volga River basin, and western Siberia. Pollutants released into rivers have accumulated in lakes and seas with limited water exchange, including the Caspian Sea, the Sea of Azov, and the Black Sea. A toxic layer of hydrogen sulfide covers the Black Sea, due in part to organic compounds from agricultural byproducts and untreated sewage. Many Russian cities are not equipped with adequate sewage treatment plants. Inadequate or nonexistent wastewater treatment contributes to the degradation of rivers and lakes.

Many hydroelectric dams were built during Soviet times on Russia’s major rivers. A series of dams on the Volga River has significantly slowed the river and decreased the volume of water it can carry; the decline in the flow of the Kuban’ and Don rivers has been even greater. The rivers therefore retain even more of the pollutants that are discharged into their waters. In addition, many of the dams do not have properly functioning fish ladders, so many fish do not make it past the dams to their spawning grounds. As a result, the numbers of sturgeon and other fish have been greatly reduced.

Deforestation and destruction of forests
Forests in more accessible parts of the country suffer from deforestation caused by extensive logging. The rate of deforestation has increased in the Ussuri region in extreme far eastern Russia because of the activities of foreign logging operations. Some large stands of undisturbed forests are protected in Russia’s extensive network of national reserves and parks. Adequate funding for park rangers and other personnel is lacking, however, and poaching (illegal hunting) of endangered animals such as the Siberian tiger has increased as a result.

Airborne pollutants have caused damage to vegetation in many areas of Russia. Copper, cobalt, and nickel smelters emit huge amounts of sulfur dioxide in the northern Siberian city of Noril’sk and on the Kola Peninsula in northwestern Russia. Winds spread these contaminants across northern Europe, where the pollutants have caused widespread destruction of Scandinavian forests. They have also affected large areas of forests in the Kuznetsk Basin and the southern Urals.

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