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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nuclear Plant Hit By Protests




President Boris Yeltsin resumed his vacation Tuesday, but disgruntled workers across Russia continued a series of wildcat strikes to protest wage arrears.


As Yeltsin relaxes some 350 kilometers from Moscow in the Novgorod region, his government is trying to calm sporadic protests that are blocking railways and threatening energy supplies.


The most acute threat is in the southern Urals region of Chelyabinsk where coal miners have blocked access to the Argayashkaya power plant that supplies heat and electricity to Mayak, Russia's only nuclear waste processing plant.


Workers of Russia's civil defense service, which handles major disasters, have been dispatched to the site amid fears that electronic safety systems could fail and send the plant haywire.


First Deputy Energy Minister Alexander Yevtushenko flew to the region Tuesday in an attempt to resolve the crisis that has cost the Chelyabinsk region some 53 million rubles ($8.5 million), Interfax reported. By late Tuesday, no agreement had been announced.


On the island of Sakhalin in the Far East, miners continued to block access to the island's main power plant for the 11th day to protest against wage arrears stretching back seven months.


As a result, local citizens have endured power cuts of up to 14 hours per day. Sakhalin is not connected to Russia's national power grid, rendering most of the island's 650,000 inhabitants dependent on the plant for electricity.


On Tuesday, the Miners Council undertook to let through 25 wagons carrying 1,500 tons of coal each day. Without the coal, it was feared the power plant would be forced to close down completely. Rank-and-file protesters had not confirmed Tuesday evening that they would allow the coal to be delivered.


The Sakhalin miners have vowed not to lift the blockade completely until seven months of wage arrears are paid. The protest has cost the region 1 million rubles, NTV television reported.


In Moscow, the head of the Interior Ministry's information department sounded a menacing warning to protesters when he said Tuesday that measures could be used to clear striking miners from the rails in Sakhalin. He did not elaborate.


Also in the Far East, some 100 miners demanding 6 million rubles of wage arrears lifted a blockade of a railway linking a coal plant to theShakhtygo rsk sea port after only three hours.


Unrest escalated in the Far Eastern port city of Vladivostok on Tuesday where municipal ambulance workers went on strike to demand four months of back pay, leaving only four ambulances out of a fleet of 30 to deal with emergencies, Itar-Tass reported.


One piece of positive news for the government was that coal miners in Kemerovo lifted their blockade of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, allowing traffic to pass unimpeded for the first time in a month.


Miners across Russia rocked the government in May when they blocked key railway lines such as the Trans-Siberian in a protest action that cost the Railways Ministry an estimated 355 million rubles in lost freight.


The government has repeatedly said it will not begin negotiations until workers lift blockades of crucial rail arteries.


The losses could not come at a worse time for Russia.


On Aug. 1, some vital components of what is expected to be a painful austerity program for Russia came into effect. The International Monetary Fund has warned Russia it must straighten out its finances and boost tax collection.


The unrest is not confined to the coal sector. Russian air traffic controllers announced Tuesday that they will begin striking on Sunday to protest wage delays and the confusion surrounding who exactly is their employer.


Last week, some 300 pensioners in the Urals region of Perm blocked a tram line in the city center to protest a two-month pension delay.


Returning from a two-week vacation, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov warned Tuesday of coups and civil war should Yeltsin remain in power.


"When 20 million Russians walk out to demand the president's resignation, he will have to leave and a government of popular trust will be formed," he said, referring to a national strike slated to take place in October.


Andrei Kortunov, director of the Russian Science Foundation, a political think tank, said Yeltsin's departure on vacation at such a tense time was in keeping with his mercurial character. He also withdrew from the spotlight during the Chechen War, leaving his underlings to take the political heat, Kortunov said.


"Yeltsin is consciously removing himself from the situation in the hope that the young reformers will solve the problem. He is waiting for a miracle solution that most probably will never happen," he said.


"Yeltsin has always been proud that he can relate to the working class," Kortunov said. "To admit the people who helped install him as president are now protesting against him is a very unpleasant thing for Yeltsin."


Yeltsin unexpectedly cut short his vacation in Karelia last week, saying he had urgent matters to attend to in Moscow. But other than meeting Anatoly Chubais, his envoy to international financial institutions, he did little of note. He is not expected to return to the Kremlin until mid-August.