Two men from seemingly different worlds, Alexei Yablokov, a Russian, and Francis Macy, an American, noticed that they have an enemy in common: dead ignorance. The Cold War is said to be over. But these two men know better, know that uranium mining sites, nuclear weapons production sites, and nuclear warhead testing sites are the most poisonous tracts of land on earth. Both men know that studies have documented that radioactivity is escaping from these sites by earth, by air, and by water. Both men know that there is no safe level of exposure to Plutonium 239, the man-made, bomb-grade metal with a radioactive half-life of 24,400 years. Alexei and Fran know that, in human terms, the Cold War will go on forever.
Alexei Yablokov, founder and president of the Center for Russian Environmental Policy, correspondent member of the prestigious Academy of Sciences, and former environmental advisor to Boris Yeltsin, is the acknowledged dean and elder of the Russian environmental movement. Already interested in environmental processes as a young boy, Alexei became a Ph.D biologist with a profound grasp of how radioactivity alters the living tissue of the earth. After joining the Soviet Parliament as a deputy member, he succeeded in declassifying and making public information detailing the ravages of radioactivity across his country, particularly as regards the hitherto top-secret South Urals nuclear catastrophe. He tells us: “The biggest enemy of the environment in Russia, are those that think we cannot afford clean-up until we contaminate much more by becoming rich.” Alexei has lead for years Russia’s largest federation of grassroots organizations, the Socio-Ecological Union (SEU) – MinAtom’s chief debunker.
“The Cold War has left a legacy of sites that are the most dangerously toxic territories on the surface of the Earth.”
Francis Macy is a Soviet scholar who organizes exchanges of environmental activists and specialists, particularly in the area of nuclear contamination. Since 1961 Fran has made over forty working visits to the USSR and its successor states. In the 1980-90s, Fran participated in the Nuclear Guardianship Project initiated by his wife Joanna, and edited its publication, The Nuclear Guardianship Journal. The Project promoted citizen involvement in the long-term safe management of radioactive waste. Fran is a director of Tri-Valley CARE, an NGO that monitors the badly contaminated lands surrounding the Livermore Laboratory in Califormia. He tells us: “The Cold War has left a legacy in the United States and in the former Soviet Union of uranium mining sites, nuclear weapons production sites and weapons testing sites that are the most dangerously toxic territories on the surface of the Earth. Governments have recently revealed that the radioactivity on these sites is not contained, but is migrating off the sites through the air, the soil, and water systems.”
Cooperation between Alexei and Fran began in 1991 when, at the invitation of Lydia Popova and the Green World organization, Fran arrived in Russia with a high level delegation of environmental specialists to observe the fifth anniversary of the Chernobyl catastrophe. Together with Alexei and Lydia, the delegation held presentations in Moscow, Minsk, and Kiev – presentations that drew much media interest. The friendship and understanding that grew between Alexei and Fran over the course of the tour culminated in the establishment of the Nuclear Watchdog Network – a coalition of grassroots organizations monitoring nuclear sites through Russia and the Ukraine. In the intervening years the two men have organized numerous renewable energy presentations and seminars, arranged exchanges of scientific delegations, and strengthened NGO capacities in both their lands by pooling scientific data and sharing specialist expertise.
Two men who have battled for their lifetimes – and ours – against dead ignorance.