“The nuclear industry in Russia is as sacred as the cow in India.”

Olga Podosenova has already suffered the adverse effects of radiation herself.

Published: 04. Aug. 2019
Story told by:

37, lives with her family in Ekaterinburg. She is a journalist and the coordinator of the international environmental organisation Ecodefense.

Olga Podosenova has already suffered the adverse effects of radiation herself. When she started to campaign for the end to Russian nuclear waste imports, she was dismissed.

Why have you begun to mobilise against nuclear power?

Because I understood that my family and my children have no future if I do not deal with the problems that the nuclear industry has created. In 1989 I was with other students working at the onion harvest in Kolkhoz in the Sverdlosvk region. We were working on a field next to supposedly empty warehouses. On the second day some of the students complained about severe pains in their joints. On the third day, half of us could not get up, and on the fifth day we were all taken to the hospital. The doctors refused to make a diagnosis which could be connected to radioactivity. They just told us not to have children in the next ten years. Later, we learned that in the “empty” warehouses tons of radioactive material had been stored for years.

“Scientists have split the atom. Now the atom splits us.”

And how has your community responded to your political involvement?

When I joined the anti-nuclear movement in 2001, they were about to enact a law that would allow the import and storage of nuclear waste in Russia. By then I was organising the first protest action in Ekaterinburg. The day after, I was summoned by my boss. He said that it was not possible to be involved in the anti-nuclear movement and to be a government servant. A day later, I was laid off.

Obviously, they couldn ́t frighten you off, because today you are head of a Russian environmental organisation. What does this mean in a country like Russia?

To be against nuclear power in our region is not easy. Local authorities depend on the nuclear industry as well as on the position of the government regarding nuclear energy. In the Urals, officials talk of nuclear power as “Deadman” – either you speak good of it or you have to be silent about it! For us it is very difficult to perform even the simplest actions such as educating the public. The people who live near nuclear plants still have the habit from the Soviet era, to keep silent. This complicates work. People who first ask us for help, suddenly stop communicating with us.

You live in the Ural region, which is worldwide known as the most radioactively contaminated area. How does that affect the daily lives of people there?

The dangers of nuclear power are everywhere for us. My daughter knew from an early age that she should not drink the water from the tap and should not swim in many rivers and lakes. I know that my neighbor jumps up shocked every time, when he hears a loud noise, because he thinks that something has happened in the nuclear power plant. Those who split the atom, probably did not think about people like us. Now, the atom splits us, whether we like it or not.