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Land and Resources, Environmental Issues

Semipalatinsk, Semey, Sea of Azov, Kola Peninsula, nuclear wastes

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

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 Ukraineís Chernobylí nuclear power plant affected Russia primarily in Bryansk Oblast. Less well-known than the Chernobylí disaster were accidents at the Mayak nuclear weapons production plant near Chelyabinsk in 1949, 1957, and 1967, which together released significantly higher emissions than Chernobylí. 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, most are still docked at Russian ports as a result of a lack of money and facilities for storing nuclear wastes.

Airborne pollutants have caused damage to vegetation in many areas of Russia. Norilísk, located about 300 km (about 200 mi) north of the Arctic Circle, emits more sulfur dioxide from its copper, cobalt, and nickel smelters than any other area in the world. Other sources of large-scale air pollution include the nickel, cobalt, and copper smelters on the Kola Peninsula. Winds spread these contaminants across northern Europe, where the pollutants have caused widespread destruction of Scandinavian forests. Airborne pollutants have also affected large areas of forests in the Kuznetsk Basin and the southern Urals. Forests in more accessible parts of the country suffer from deforestation caused by extensive logging. Since 1991 the rate of deforestation has increased in the Ussuri region in extreme far eastern Russia because of the activities of foreign logging operations.

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 by-products and untreated sewage. Many Russian cities are not equipped with adequate sewage treatment plants. Pollution, damming, and overfishing caused the production of fisheries in inland bodies of water to decline by four-fifths from 1948 to 1983. In some areas the decline was much higher. The commercial fish catch in the Volga River in the 1980s was one-tenth the size of the catch in the 1930s.

Soil resources have been adversely affected by mismanagement. Broad areas of land in southern Russia suffer from erosion. Wind erosion has affected the more arid areas in the North Caucasus, lower Volga River basin, and western Siberia. Airborne pollutants and chemical fertilizers have contaminated some land areas.

There is an extensive network of national reserves and parks, which has been expanded greatly since 1991. Adequate funding for personnel is lacking, however, and poaching has increased as a result. Recycling in the country is still in its infancy.

Article key phrases:

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