Russian Military Environmentalists Sound The Alarm

environmentLieutenant-General Alevtin Yunak, chief of the Environmental Security Department of the Russian Armed Forces, is in charge of the environmental protection of Russian army and navy facilities and the decontamination of testing grounds, firing ranges, airfields, and the storage of fuel and lubricants. His brief also includes sites where nuclear submarines await decommissioning, space centres and the areas around them, cleaning up the effects of daily army activities. This is done because every car, ship, plane or spacecraft, invariably affects the environment and people's health. Military environmentalists reduce to the minimum the harm caused by these activities, and protect the environment and people.

The most acute problem, says General Yunak, is posed by spilt oil products at airfields. There are more than twenty of these "critical facilities" in the Russian army. The most contaminated of them are in the Volga area where about 20,000 tonnes of aircraft fuel has been leaking for years through three worn-out reservoirs belonging to long-range aviation near the city of Engels. A similar story can be told in the Ukrainka settlement, in the Far Eastern Military District, where a 20,000-tonne "kerosene lens" has formed at the depth of 25 metres. Moreover, in the city of Yeisk, near the Sea of Azov, a 40,000-tonne kerosene lake has emerged underground. It is coming ever closer to the Taganrog Bay, threatening to turn the Sea of Azov into a dead zone. And finally there is a site near the Chkalovsk military aerodrome not far from Moscow, where about 3,000 tonnes of kerosene have leaked through dilapidated reservoirs to the basements of the apartment blocks in a military town, making the life of pilots and their families unbearable.

It will take at least five to seven years to eliminate one such "lake", Alevtin Yunak says. His assessments are based on foreign experience; in particular similar work has been conducted at a military aerodrome in Lerz, Germany. This period covers an analysis of the critical situation, time to draw up plans to improve it, obtain approval at various environmental protection offices, and conduct a tender for organising the work to eliminate the emergency situation. Only at the end of this marathon does the cleaning process begin.

In Engels, work has been underway since 1994 and none of the reservoirs containing the fuel and lubricants now leaks. By the end of the year, the first of the three decontaminated and re-cultivated areas will be handed over to the local authorities. The second one will be cleaned next year and the third one is to be decontaminated after that. Simultaneously, work is under way at the Chkalovsk aerodrome and in Yeisk.

The Defence Ministry paid a fine of 30 million rubles to the region for incidents at the fuel storage facilities, but General Yunak's work must go on.

Viktor Litovkin, RIAN

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