The author decided to write this little chapter and to include it in the book at the very last moment before its third edition. Today the name of the Second President of the Russian Federation, and then of its Prime Minister is thoroughly connected with Baikal, and it can not be denied. Especially if the event (decision), which should break with the ambiguity of this relationship, happens. And the reasons for it are the following.
First, V. Putin became the first Russian policy maker who skied on the slopes of the Baikal Mountains near the town of Baikalsk in the early 2000. Second, in 2006 it was he who decided to withdraw the pipeline "Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean” from the shores of Lake Baikal with striking environmental (and now, apparently forgotten by the author) remark that the smallest probability of emergency waste draining into the lake should be excluded. Third, V. Putin became the highest-ranking "passenger" who went down to the bottom of Lake Baikal in the southern part of it in one of the "Mirs".
Those three points one way or another worked to create the best image of the President and the Prime Minister, and the relationship Putin – Baikal seemed idyllic. Now in early 2010 we hear the news that the Prime Minister signed a government decree which allows Baikal Pulp and Paper Plant (BPPP) to produce cellulose again. This document excludes the production of cellulose, paper and construction paper from the list of prohibited activities in the central ecological zone of Baikal natural reserve.
The fact that the Prime Minister tackled in this way the issue, which for many people already seemed resolved, made the public indignant. During the mass meetings in Irkutsk under the slogan "Save Baikal” participants required resignation of Vladimir Putin, who had signed a scandalous decree. It must be said that this type of reaction to his decision touched the Prime Minister and lingered in him. It is no coincidence that at the meeting of the Board of the Russian Geographic Society (RGS) in the middle of March 2010 the Prime Minister raised the issue of BPPP, and pronounced his speech twice – at the beginning and at the end of the meeting. He reminded of his involvement in the "withdrawal" of the pipeline from Lake Baikal, talked about his care for the Baikal residents, mentioned more significant pollutants of the lake and showed the willingness to give financial support for a thorough study of the Baikal problems and prospects. In short, the excuses for injuring Baikal were going one after another. The steps that the Premier had taken and the reactions to it from both sides urge us to look into the prehistory of the decision.
The adoption of the document was most likely to have been prepared at Baikal. Here, after the Premier’s dive into the depths of the lake the meeting was held, during which the influence of the "hapless" plant on the environment was discussed. The negative part, apparently, was played by scientists (most likely, it was necessary). Already cited M.A. Grachev, along with the director of the Institute of Oceanology, academician R. Nigmatulin repeated their opinions about the local and insignificant impact of BPPP on the pollution of Lake Baikal. One of them was basing upon his long-term studies, the other - on personal experience when diving; they both insisted on the fact that Baikal is too large, and human activity, even on the level of BPPP may not significantly affect the lake ecosystem, also capable of self-cleaning.
This view was generally supported by the Prime Minister after the dive – by means of the apparatus "Mir-1" he went to the deepest point of the southern part of the lake (1395 meters) called Obruchev break.However, as the Premier admitted during the brief talk with reporters on the hydrophone, he had not seen the promised transparence. But the reason was not the discharges of hazardous substances, but a lot of tiny creatures - a real "soup of plankton”, according to the definition of Putin.
"- I saw it with my own eyes, and scientists from our Academy of Sciences can confirm: Baikal is in good condition, and there is almost no pollution, - said the Prime Minister when his four-hour journey into the underwater world was over, - Biology of Lake Baikal is almost unchanged. We observe huge amount of plankton and all living creatures, which have always been present in the lake, are in large numbers too." The Prime Minister promised to listen to the environmentalists and do all the practical job on the shores of Lake Baikal «according to its expedience and to the objectives of nature conservation». But at the same time Putin stressed that it is also necessary to think «about the people who live and work here at the lake».
However, not everybody supported the opinions of Putin, Grachev and Nigmatulin. The Chairman of the Irkutsk Scientific Center, Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences Mikhail Kuzmin, Chairman of RAS Alexander Aseev and Vice President of RAS Nikolai Laverov insisted on the fact that not only the plant’s sewage disposal into Lake Baikal but also stocks of ash, sludge and alkali, having accumulated over the years, have a negative impact on the lake, and the smoking chimneys frighten off the potential buyers of Baikal water. There are some documents proving them right too.
The conclusions of the State report about the condition of Lake Baikal in 2006 read: «the ecosystem of the southern part and the coast of Lake Baikal is strongly influenced by BPPP emissions into atmosphere and the highway, which runs along the coast». In the area where the Baikal Pulp and Paper Plant discharges sewage, the pollution of the lake by non-sulfate sulfur is increasing.” The increase of polluting substances is observed in the torrent of polluted groundwater, which moves from the production departments of the plant to Baikal, and sometimes general mineralization of groundwater takes place, despite the work of intercepting water intake. The growing amounts of sludge and lignin wastes of pulp and paper production and the areas of the coast, occupied by them are polluting the groundwater as well [96, pp. 158, 317, 322].
As they say, no comments. But a simple idea comes into one’s mind and heart: "Drop by drop wears away the stone." In this case, all the arguments that the pollution is insignificant are swept aside.
Depressing is the fact that in 2007 the global giant “Coca-Cola”, after getting to know the situation, gave up the idea of BPPP’s restructuring since the amount of work to recultivate the enterprise territory is huge.
During recent BPPP inspections special attention was paid to the condition of sludge storage rooms where million tons of hazardous waste have been accumulated. They all are located right on the Baikal shore. The check-up showed that dewatering the surface of sludge storage rooms to purification facilities was last done in 2008. It is most probable that the poisonous wastes are going to fall into the lake. In addition, BPPP Ltd. have not worked out the project of closing down dangerous objects. At the meeting of the Third inter-departmental commission on the protection of Lake Baikal the Russian Minister of Natural Resources and Environment reported that during the time of BPPP activity 6.2 million tons of waste has been accumulated. Polluting substances enter the groundwater, and then they go into the lake. According to the representatives of Irkutsk regional government, the cost of solving the problem is not less than 4 billion rubles. And if the plant resumes its work again, the amount of harmful waste will only increase.
The presence of sludge is a "killing" argument against BPPP activity. However, there are other opinions about the problem. Some experts and government officials believe that if the waste storage rooms of the plant stop functioning, the consequences could be more disastrous than the resumption of the enterprise’s work. After all, it is not yet decided how long the plant will work and how waste will be disposed. This issue is discussed in respective ministries and departments, and the decision is to be made, but it is already known that the signing of the Government decree on plant start-up wasn’t supported by the President of Russia. Today we still do not know how this divergence of opinions will be solved. In the days when this book was ready to be published, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation postponed the suit of the environmental organization Greenpeace and declared the government's decision to launch BPPP legitimate. The court took the Premier’s side in the dispute with "uneconomical environmentalists”.
To sum up, let’s return again to the fate of the "object" for which he made his unpopular steps.
Here, on the one hand, the arguments fall onto the Prime Minister’s scale. The research of our department (of social and economic psychology BSUEP) in April 2010 among the residents of Baikalsk (more than 400 people) showed that over two thirds of the respondents supported the resumption of BPPP. Many of them believe that environmentalists "are too politicized" and exaggerate the problem: Baikal and BPPP can normally coexist with each other. They consider many arguments of the opposite side far-fetched, ill-considered and populist. According to them, ecologists have not made necessary economic calculations. "Ecology is not economical". Most residents are the patriots of the city, they love their home places and do not intend to leave them in any case. And this very fact is the basis for accelerating the other approach: it is important as quickly as possible to persuade and retrain people to do other activities so that «non-polluting" Baikalsk could get a new status and image.
For several years the idea of creating a special economic zone in Baikalsk for tourism and recreation have been discussed in various circles and it is becoming popular. In environmental terms, it is quite a good solution. There is a prosperous skiing complex near the city, which was chosen for the vacation even by the President of Russia some time ago. The city is located in the mountains of Hamar-Daban, which are distinguished here by fairly mild climate, relic and endemic plants, rich flora and fauna, and it acts as an important basis for both ecological tourism and general rehabilitation.
There are no problems with transport: Baikalsk is located near the railroad and the highway, so it is possible to do welcome tours of Baikal from Baikalsk piers. The most interesting places of Buryatia, Tunka valley and even Mongolia are not far from the city. These advantages, apparently, will be used to retrain the inhabitants of Baikalsk. In particular, the infrastructure of the skiing resort “Sable Mountain”, which can bring millions of income, is already developing. In future, it is quite possible to create the Baikalsk Olympic training base - a sort of Olympic village in the abundant region of Lake Baikal. Honestly, I wish a small part of BPPP would always remain the open-air museum that will show our descendants how short-sighted and heartless people can be toward the sacred places of our unique cosmic house.
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