RUSSIA FACES HUGE ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES

Russia has enormous environmental problems presenting a serious danger to other countries, including the United States. This is the sobering message of a delegation of Russian parliamentarians visiting the US this week.

Meeting with members of Congress and federal agencies, the group cites these examples: Nearly half of Russia's 26 nuclear reactors are unsafe; as many as 17,000 containers of radioactive waste and a dozen nuclear submarines have been dumped into the Barents, Kara, and White Seas; chemical weapons left over from World War II were dumped into the Baltic Sea where their containers are now corroding; more than 600 toxic waste sites (some radioactive) are located in Moscow, 200 in Omsk, and 1,400 in St. Peter sburg.

"Our greatest concern is pollution by radioactive waste," said Vladimir Vorfolomeyev, delegation chairman and president of the Russian parliament's environment committee. "All levels of radioactive waste have insufficient storage. This is problem No. 1."

Murray Feshbach, a research professor at Georgetown University in Washington and retired US government official, reports other major environmental problems as well: Three-quarters of all surface water in Russia is contaminated; half of all arable land is salinated, eroded, waterlogged, compacted, or contaminated with herbicides or pesticides.

"It's not about Russia only, it's about all of humankind," Mr. Vorfolomeyev said through an interpreter. "These things have no borders." For example, one of Russia's deteriorating nuclear power plants (of the same design as the one at Chernobyl) is just 710 miles west of Alaska.

Because of its economic difficulties, Russia is spending less than 0.5 percent of its budget on environmental protection and cleanup, said the Russian parliamentarian, who appealed to other nations for financial and technical assistance.

Of the $1.8 billion in new bilateral US aid for Russia and the recently unveiled $28.4 billion from industrialized nations, a portion is designated for environmental assistance.

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