By Paul Goble
Russians may defer to the government under most conditions but when they believe their lives are at risk, they are more prepared to listen to those who say there are reasons for concern than to officials who insist that everything is fine and that everything is under control.
That is one of the lessons of the latest accident at a Russian nuclear power plant, this time at Sosnovy Bor near St. Petersburg. After there was a release of radiation on Friday and one of the turbines was stopped, people began to take money from their bank cards, seek to buy iodine and even leave the area (svoboda.org/content/article/27437109.html).
Social networks spread the alarm, something officials were unable to calm with all their assurances that radioactive levels near the plant were at “normal” levels, because as RFE/RL reported “people are more ready to believe ecologists who presented special reports” than in officials who usually don’t provide any information to the public.
The environmental specialists confirmed that the radioactive levels in Sosnovy Bor were in fact at normal levels but not because there wasn’t any radioactive leak at the plant but because of “a happy accident.” “At the moment of the accident, the wind was coming not towrd the town but toward the Gulf of Finland.”
Oleg Bodrov, head of the Green World ecological group, says he isn’t surprised that people near the plant don’t believe official reports. “they know that it is important for the bureaucrats to report that everything is in order and not to advise about dangers regardless of whether they exist of not.”
They are aware that these officials always seek to present “what is desirable as being what exists,” even when that is not the case. He said that in this particular incident, Sosnovy Bor was saved by the winds, but he added that special investigations would be needed to determine whether workers at the plant had suffered as a result.
The Green World organization says that this plant and other Russian ones like it are no heading into a period of heightened risk not only because of the age of some of the energy blocs but also because officials are seeking to increase the size and productivity of these plants given rising demand.
Bodrov says that such risks could be minimized if no new blocs were added and if Russia would follow neighboring Estonia’s approach and begin to use alternative means for the generation of electric power.