INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM The Atomic Shipbuilding Center, the city of shipbuilders, the city with heightened radiation levels—Severodvinsk always stood out for its environmental conditions. What’s more, it has two of the largest enterprises right in the center of town. Both are directly connected with the construction and repair of submarines with onboard nuclear reactors. And 20 kilometers from the residential neighborhoods is Mironov mountain: a cemetery of low-level nuclear waste. In these circumstances, a population of approximately 164 thousand people is holding out. Every day children are born and their health is at risk. Video clip (00:13): IRINA OVSYANNIKOVA Title: RESIDENT OF SEVERODVINSKA “They say that every second child is born with some kind of abnormality. Well, it’s not that it’s exactly a deformity, but some kind of small pathology. Maybe it doesn’t just happen in our region. Perhaps, it happens in many places.” Video clip (00:08) Title: RESIDENT OF SEVERODVINSK —“Well, if children aren’t being born healthy, that’s already something we need to talk about.” —“And are children really not being born healthy here?” —“Even the pediatricians will tell you that!” The year 2008 provided a clear example of this when, on October 24, a leak of nuclear waste occurred in a factory with the innocuous name “Little Star.” Against all expectations of the city administration, the leak was not quickly fixed, and the toxic emissions had an immediate effect on the health of city residents. Video clip: (00:30) ELENA Title: RESIDENT OF SEVERODVINSK “I got my medical test results back, and they said: ‘cause undetermined.’ But then, in the maternity hospital, they discovered—I don’t even remember who…doctor or nurse—that it was connected with the emissions. At that time there was a military exercise going on in the city, and the whole city was covered with this smoke. And it was said that they were also unloading fuel from some kind of ship and there was a leak. But no one told us about this. If others simply saw the smoke, I was in the epicenter of all this. And that’s the cause they [i.e. the doctors] named.” At that moment, Elena lost her unborn child. The diagnosis was “premature termination of the pregnancy in the first trimester.” At the present moment, doctors cannot say how many women may have suffered because this burst of radiation. Regardless, according to doctors, the statistics on illnesses discovered among newborns have not been determined. However, Elena is convinced: she was not the only victim of the emissions. Video clip (00:21): ELENA Title: RESIDENT OF SEVERODVINSK “At that moment, they told me that, during the week when this all happened, there was a massive “purge” of pregnancies. It was early on in my pregnancy but there were premature terminations among people later on in their term: 7 and 8 months. At that moment it seemed to me that it was my grief alone, so I didn’t talk with anyone. Maybe, someone with similar circumstances was lying in one of the neighboring beds. I just didn’t talk with anyone.” In a few years, Elena gave birth to a health child. In order to carry the pregnancy to term, the young woman was forced to put forth a lot of effort and spend a good deal of money. Vitamins are necessary for the fetus to develop, but these were sometimes not available in the city. Drugs that a pregnant woman in Severodvinsk needs were prescribed in the maternity hospital. And Elena was forced to pay for every package of medicine on her own. Video clip (00:24): ELENA Title: RESIDENT OF SEVERODVINSK “I never received free vitamins. Additionally, it took certain pills that, as a certain moment, would not be available in our city, and so I ordered them from St. Petersburg. They brought me 5 packages and I paid 3000 rubles. And these were special pills for pregnancy.” Since then, problems with the health of newborns have not decreased, and free medications have not appeared in maternity hospitals. Pediatricians have noticed a frightening trend: for the past few years, pathologies and illnesses of newborns are spreading in waves. Thus, until 2008 a large number of children were born with an open foramen ovale, which refers to a small abnormality in the development of the heart. After the spike in premature terminations of pregnancy four years ago, the city was hit with a wave of cases of spastic dysarthria. This pathology causes disruptions of diction and salivation. Last year, doctors were astonished by the large number of cases of functional heart murmurs. And, in 2012, along with a spike in allergies among infants, doctors already had encountered a several instances of the extremely rare sudden infant death syndrome. Video clip (00:28): VLADIMIR Title: PEDIATRICIAN “This is a condition when there is a cessation of breathing or heartbeat in children up to one year of age, and no causes of death are discovered during the postmortem autopsy. And, if there no pathologies are discovered—for example, congenital malformations, intrauterine disease—then a diagnosis of this syndrome is made. Sudden infant death syndrome frequently occurs during sleep. “ Ecologists have long recognized that Severodvinsk a very unusual city. Truly, the basic problem of morbidity is seen as a result of the geographical location of the city and the nearby industries. Aleksey Klimov has been studying the ecology of the northern territory for more than ten years. The scientist is certain: the climate of Severodvinsk shortens the life of its population, and local industry only aggravates the situation. Video clip (00:32): ALEKSEY KLIMOV Title: ECOLOGIST “We have a city located in a zone of geomagnetic abnormality, and we must be serious about this. Here there are faults, cracks in the Earth’s crust, and even a nuclear power plant project in Rikasikhi region was removed from the agenda because nuclear power plants are not built in regions with cracks in the Earth’s crush. These magnetic abnormalities affect the people’s health, and for this reason most of the residents suffer from high blood pressure at fifty years of age.” Additionally, scientists are astonished the measures that are taken literally every month in the nearby industries. Any operation with the nuclear fuel cannot occur without leaving a trace. Work is carried out just a few kilometers from residential neighborhoods. Here they load the payloads for rockets in nuclear submarines. Video clip (00:24): ALEKSEY KLIMOV Title: ECOLOGIST “According to projections and all recommendations, you can’t carry out operation number 1 on the unloading of spent nuclear fuel within the boundaries of the city. Because this operation is complex and potentially very dangerous. But we have already processed all recycled nuclear submarines, and, by the way, how quickly was it done?” Ecologists have declared Severodvinsk a city with unfavorable climatic conditions and an ambiguous environmental situation. That means the residents need special protections. In the past few decades the city has, in this respect, lost its unique system for improving the health of the population. Video clip (00:22): ALEKSEY KLIMOV Title: ECOLOGIST “First, the city lost the Soviet system of iodine prophylaxis. In the past, it was simple: a centralized system in which all stores sold salt, and iodine was added to the salt. In other words, iodized salt. And everyone knew clearly: the residents get enough iodine to avoid thyroid disease, and this is very important in fighting radioactivity or any increase in background radiation or doses.” The Soviet citywide system was replaced by the local, factory system. A significant number of large-scale measures were taken to protect workers from the radiation they encounter practically every day: free liters of milk, vitamins once every two months, coupons for foods with intensified nutrition. Plus, constant monitoring of health. Video clip (00:18): ALEKSEY MIRONOV Title: DEPUTY CHIEF ENGINEER OF SHIPBUILDING COMPANY “SEVMASH” “This is the usage of individual dosimeters for work, it’s using means of defense, it’s additional special vitamin-enriched food for the workers, it’s periodic medical examinations of the workers. The company workers themselves know about this. There are signs warning them about this in the factory cafeteria and in every shop.” But the factory workers themselves relate skeptically to management’s words. They are thankful for the vitamins, but warn that not everything in the company runs so smoothly. According to rumors, the company is intentionally underestimating the level of radioactive radiation in one of the industrial centers of the city in order to make a good impression on local residents and, simultaneously, not worry the workers. Video clip (00:23): SERGEY Title: COMPANY EMPLOYEE “It’s said that they tighten up the readings so as not to scare people and other organizations, because if they were to show everyone the real level of rations, naturally it would cause a big commotion. They just insert a certain value that varies in the minimum units, because even when research is carried out in the city, people in the factory are very afraid of it.” Residents of Severodvinsk can only guess about the situation in factories. Residents avoid the so-called company park that was specially built as a sanitary zone. Local poplars serve as a barrier from radiation. Also, the local population recognizes certain “signs.” For example, if the roads near the factory management office are washed not with water, but with a solution with a specific smell, it means there were emissions. Video clip (00:10): ILYA & NADEZHDA ANDREEV Title: RESIDENTS OF SEVERODVINSK “A few years ago the leaves here turned orange, seemingly because of the factory, but then they said that everything was normal, and that it was just a natural occurrence.” Video clip (00:09): ANNA LEBEDEVA Title: RESIDENT OF SEVERODVINSK “Well, I heard…well, on the internet…people write that allegedly there were emissions and they didn’t inform the public. Video clip (00:08): ILYA & NADEZHDA ANDREEV Title: RESIDENTS OF SEVERODVINSK “Of course, here you can’t say that because of A, there’s also B. But, in this town we have radioactive atomic shipbuilding factories. Therefore, naturally, I think that there is some kind of background radiation.” Video clip (00:05): IRINA OVSYANNIKOVA Title: RESIDENT OF SEVERODVINSK “I think the radiation level is probably high, but we simply don’t feel it and are already used to it.” Video clip (00:08): ALEXANDER PILIKIN Title: RESIDENT OF SEVERODVINSK “Radiation? This city is full of it, especially the factory. There it’s off the scale. People come here and are surprised: ‘How do you live here?’” But, in the Severodvinsk Center of Hygiene and Epidemiology, they had not even heard about the danger of radiation for residents. They say that the situation in the city is calm, and there have not been any flare-ups. Laboratory research related to our claim is also clean: the ground in several parts of the city and the water from the river Solza show practically ideal indicators: the general background radiation is 11-13 micro-reontgens per hour. The norm is up to 30 such units. Video clip (00:19): MAKSIM PETROV Title: CHIEF DOCTOR OF THE SEVERODVINSK CENTER OF HYGIENE AND EPIDEMIOLOGY “As for the city of Severodvinsk, the density of caesium-137 fallout is minimal. At the present day it consists of 0.01 curies per square kilometer. This is truly a very small figure, and it does not pose a serious threat to residents.” The only way to verify the words of the experts is to carry out one’s own experiment. We took to the streets of Severodvinsk with a pocket dosimeter. The average figure in several places in the city was 17 micro-reontgens per hour, which is not beyond the limit of safe exposure. However, ecologists are certain that the most dangerous sources of radiation cannot be measured with a simply dosimeter. Video clip (00:30): ALEKSEY KLIMOV Title: ECOLOGIST “Isotopes are transferred along the seafloor, they concentrate in the soil, and we also have problematic spots in the city—I’m not going to name them—and there is a risk in these places that the isotopes will appear, because at some point they buried nuclear material deep in the group in the city. But this is all in the future. But at the present moment, I asked and researchers said that in Severodvinsk there are areas with increased levels of isotopes.” The problem is also that the specialists analyze only elements that take a long time to break down. The isotopes that decay quickly disappear eight days after appearing, but still manage to deliver a blow to the environment. This is the result of the radioactive emissions. They also have an affect on the population, foremost on its smallest and most defenseless members. That is why pregnant women and newborns need special protection in Severodvinsk. Video clip (00:15): ELENA ARASLANOVA Title: CHIEF DOCTOR OF SEVERODVINSK MATERNITY HOSPITAL: “These are vitamin groups B, C, and P. They are necessary for all kids and all pregnant moms. Vitamin D1 is aimed precisely at protecting the child from the environment.” However, pregnant women in Severodvinsk seldom hear about these vitamins. A program for receiving prescriptions exists in the city maternity hospital, but the patients near uniformly say that only a few people get free vitamins. And these people receive them only at the beginning of the year, when they are in stock. The rest of the time pregnant women are forced to spend their own money on prescriptions and vitamins. In general, they are given prescriptions for expensive medicines. Video clip (00:20): NATALYA Title: PATIENT OF THE SEVERODVINSK MATERNITY HOSPITAL —“I’m spending more than 1000 rubles a month on these prescriptions. A few women are even paying 2000.” —“And do you receive vitamin enriched food?” —“ Are you serious? If they gave me oatmeal with mold in it, then I highly doubt there were any vitamins there. Then, however, they apologized and brought me sausages.” However, the administration of the maternity hospital claims that it does not even know about the lack of medicine in its own institution and the patients don’t pay a cent for their medications: each regularly receives free prescriptions in the network of social pharmacies. Video clip (00:20): ELENA ARASLANOVA Title: CHIEF DOCTOR OF THE SEVERODVINSK MATERNITY HOSPITAL “Not at all! For six years there has been a program in our hospital through which all pregnant women receive vitamins. You have just simply baffled me! No one has ever complained, they all go and receive their prescriptions, and we don’t event write out prescriptions for medicines you must pay for, unless there are some special circumstances. Maybe in some other hospitals they do this, but we don’t.” But this is the only maternity hospital in Severodvinsk, and that means that all pregnant women pass through its physicians. All therapists at the women’s prenatal dispensary declined to comment on camera. But behind the scenes they explain: there really are not enough vitamins for everyone. And it is necessary to support pregnancy with medications. Thus, it is necessary to write prescriptions for non-subsidized medications. Audio clip (00:10): OBSTETRICIAN-GYNECOLOGIST Title: BY TELEPHONE “Well, we don’t make them buy these medications. If they don’t want to, they don’t have to buy them.” In these documents it is shown that every year the Severodvinsk Maternity Hospital should spend 500 thousand rubles on vitamins for pregnant women, plus 300 thousand on special food. This includes vitamin-enriched juice for improving the quality of breast milk. But the pregnant patients do not always find out about this. Because in order to receive this product, they themselves need to ask the doctor and then order it at the women’s prenatal dispensary. The physicians themselves will not offer the juice. Video clip (00:15): ELENA Title: PATIENT OF THE SEVERODVINSK MATERNITY HOSPITAL “I didn’t ask about it because I was busy with other things. But then some girls from the ward went and specially asked for this juice and received a prescription. That is to say, they waited for it, then they went to the women’s prenatal dispensary on certain days. Well, in short, it’s hard to get this juice. While young residents of Severodvinsk and their newborn children wait for vitamin reinforcement from the doctors, the wave of illness isn’t slowing. In 2012, premature terminations of pregnancies in the city resumed. Video clip (00:26): EKATERINA Title: PEDIATRICIAN “The most interesting thing is that there was another spike. It turns out that the same thing happened around four years ago and today it’s very widespread. Maybe, it’s the ecological conditions. Because this develops, and it wasn’t just a wave: in one month, there are one or two mothers. Then, after some time, it happens again, and all in a certain time frame—between the 12th and 14th weeks of the pregnancy, when everything is going very well.” Video clip (00:28): VLADIMIR Title: PEDIATRICIAN “Absolutely healthy parents come to our city from other regions, whose genetics are not burdened, and their children are born with signs of some birth defects, fetal diseases. Many things might account for it: the external atmosphere, our climatic conditions, the lack of sunshine, the heightened level of radiation, well, and other external factors. Even without listing radiation as the first cause, one thing is clear: the environmental situation in Severodvisnk remains unfavorable. Namely for this reason, more young families are trying to leave the city, if only during pregnancy. Indeed, in their native Severodvinsk, the guarantee of a healthy birth decreases with each year.