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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Maps Put Geologists on FSB's Hit List

The Federal Security Service searched the office of an Irkutsk research institute that supplied environmentalists with maps of radioactive pollution around a local plant, and two geologists who prepared the maps are likely to be charged with revealing state secrets, Moscow environmentalists said Tuesday.

The Irkutsk branch of the FSB on Friday confiscated the maps from the office of Baikal Ecological Wave, which had commissioned the maps from the Sosnovgeos geological institute last year. Sosnovgeos was searched Monday.

Yulia Zhilina -- a co-chair of Baikal Ecological Wave, a member of the International Socio-Ecological Union -- said she had no reason to believe the maps produced on contract by the state institute were secret and she questioned the timing of the raids, nearly 10 months after the maps were distributed.

"Geologists told us the maps did not have the concrete quadrants that would cause them to be labeled secret," Zhilina said at a news conference in Moscow. "And they were distributed back in February together with a report on radioactive pollution to the Angarsk and Irkutsk administrations, Gosatomnadzor [the state nuclear watchdog], the weather service, the regional radioecological council and local health services." The question of secrecy, she said, was never raised.

In their search of the environmental group's office Friday, the FSB officers also confiscated lists of foreign volunteers who come to Irkutsk every year to help with research, Zhilina said. "Perhaps they want to accuse us of spying? Or of selling secret information abroad?"

With the maps and their 107-page report, environmentalists wanted to attract attention to increasing radioactivity around a chemical plant near Angarsk, a town of 300,000 people, she said. The plant is involved in the production of nuclear fuel."What we want is for the authorities to properly investigate this threat to people's health," Zhilina said.

Alexei Yablokov, president of the Center for Ecological Policy of Russia, said at Tuesday's news conference that the FSB case could have been intended either to protect the interests of the Angarsk plant or to prevent the environmentalists from scuttling a planned oil pipeline from Angarsk to China. Yukos and Transneft, which are bidding to construct the $2.5 billion pipeline, both denied any involvement in the FSB's case.

Ivan Blokov, the director of Greenpeace Russia, agreed that protecting state secrets did not appear to be the regional FSB officers' main concern. "If they were worried about secrets, what were they doing all these 10 months?" Laughing, he quoted a letter from the governor of a Siberian region who asked the FSB to make all ecological data about his region secret. "Because it scares investors off," Blokov said.

Svyatoslav Zabelin, co-chair of the International Socio-Ecological Union, also said the FSB's motives in Irkutsk should be questioned. "Instead of dealing with ecological safety, they are doing everything the other way around. They are telling everyone -- don't cooperate with the ecologists."

The environmentalists' report were backed up by data collected by postgraduate students of Tomsk Politechnical University who studied the concentration of radionuclides in trees.

Leonid Rikhvanov, head of the university's mineral resources department, said in a statement provided by Baikal Wave that a large concentration of radionuclides was found in trees 11 kilometers from the Angarsk chemical plant.

"Such results, in my view, must be understood as undoubted documented fact of the negative effect of the industrial activities of the plant on the environment," Rikhvanov wrote in his statement, dated March 28. "Systematic research on tree stumps, on soil, on snow should be conducted to measure uranium-235 isotopes, fluoride and other elements, and also medical and biological research to assess the effect of these [radioactive] releases on the environment and people."

The authorities did not inititate any further research into the extent of radioactive pollution in the region, as the environmentalists requested, Zhilina said. Instead, the environmentalists and geologists became the targets.

The deputy head of the FSB's Irkutsk office, Alexander Nikolyuk, said Sunday that no criminal charges would be filed against the environmentalists, but charges of disclosing state secrets would be filed against "those who supplied secret information" to them.

The environmentalists believe this means the Sosnovgeos geologists. "We have already hired an attorney to defend them," Zhilina said. "We cannot just abandon them. They work for a state institution and are a much easier target than we are."

No one answered the telephone at Sosnovgeos on Tuesday afternoon Moscow time, already evening in Irkutsk. But one of the geologists who cooperated with Baikal Wave, Vsevolod Medvedev, said in an interview posted on the web site that the maps were not secret. Medvedev said he had the impression the case was more about Baikal Wave than about the maps.

"The thing is that back in the summer the head of the Angarsk plant wrote a letter to the FSB asking it to protect it from attacks [from environmentalists]," he wrote. The FSB did not respond to questions Tuesday.

But environmentalists provided a copy of a letter the Angarsk plant director wrote April 5 in response to Rikhvanov's statement, which indicates the director was worried.

"This statement on official university letterhead that has been widely disseminated now by the public environmental circles of Irkutsk and Angarsk morally and economically damages the interests of the Angarsk plant, forming a negative attitude among the population to nuclear energy as a whole."

Although the FSB official said no charges would be filed against Baikal Wave, the FSB has opened a criminal case on the revelation of state secrets and Interfax reported Tuesday that the environmental group was on a list of organizations that "illegally had documents that contain a state secret."

Zhilina said her organization will try hard to prove that the maps were not secret. But Yablokov said that it would be next to impossible.

"Look, Roskartografiya [the federal geodesy and cartography agency] gave us this brochure," Yablokov said. "It is classified. See the numbers? It is a document dated 1996 that outlines which maps must be classified. We looked at it and understood that everything -- virtually any map beginning with a scale of 1 kilometer to 1 centimeter on which you could identify the coordinates of a secret object -- could be made secret.

"That map did not have the coordinates that could identify a secret object. But the problem is not this. The problem is that this instruction is classified. We cannot use it in court. But it could be used against the geologists.

"Before, there were [Alexander] Nikitin and [Grigory] Pasko. If we don't manage to protect these people [the geologists], no one will cooperate with us in the future and it will be very difficult for us to work. We absolutely must save our sources."