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Construction of a highway over a radioactive waste disposal site, Moscow, Russia

A strong opposition by local and international activists against the construction of a highway over a radioactive waste disposal site in a southern region of Moscow.


In 2018, Moscow’s Department for Transport and Construction launched a project called the SouthEast Chord, a section of which is being built in the Moskvorechye district [1]. Part of the planned eight-lane highway and bridge is being built across the decommissioned Moscow Polymetals Plant, home to a radioactive dump that stores around 60,000 tonnes of radioactive waste [2]. 

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Construction of a highway over a radioactive waste disposal site, Moscow, Russia
Country:Russian Federation
State or province:Moscow
Location of conflict:Moskvorechye- Saburovo District
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Nuclear
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Nuclear waste storage
Specific commodities:Chemical products
Radium, Thorium , Radon
Industrial waste
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The project was launched by Moscow’s Transport and Construction Department in late 2018 and is being overseen by the ‘Committee on Architecture and Urban Planning of the city of Moscow’ and ‘Genplan Institute of Moscow’, who are responsible for the development of the highway and the bridge [4]. Mostorest won the construction tender unrivaled in April 2020, although their equipment has been present on the site since December 2019 [15]. The contract is worth 24.1 billion rubles or 347 million USD [16].

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Project area:0.00099205
Level of Investment:347,360,706
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:80,000 - 12 million
Start of the conflict:07/2019
Company names or state enterprises:Radon State Unitary Enterprise from Russian Federation - It is in charge of removing the contaminated soil.
State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom from Russian Federation - Owner of the Polymetal Plant
Mostotrest from Russian Federation - It won the construction contract.
Relevant government actors:Moscow Transport and Construction Department
The Committee on Architecture and Urban Planning of the city of Moscow
Genplan Institute of Moscow
Moscow Duma and Special Committee/ Working Group
Ministry of Emergency Situations of the Russian Federation
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Russian branch of Greenpeace
Russian Social Ecological Union
EcoStandard Group
Civic Solidarity
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Air pollution, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Potential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsRisk of cancer and other diseases through food.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights
Potential: Other socio-economic impacts
Other socio-economic impactsDecrease in Housing Values
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Criminalization of activists
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Court decision (undecided)
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Community Fundraising for fines issued to activists
Development of alternatives:Greenpeace has put forth a list of requests to Moscow authorities, which as of yet has not been fulfilled.

Greenpeace demands:
1. Immediately mark the areas that contain radioactive waste and limit citizens entry into the dangerous area.
2. Sample the contaminated soil in the marked area with the presence of members of the public and categorise the samples depending on what type of radioactive waste they belong to.
3.Install a sanitary protection zone and an observation area over the contaminated area. Register all the areas containing radioactive waste or contamination.
4. Develop a plan regarding the next steps in the radioactive area. Discuss the possibility of the total removal of the contaminated soil. If that is not possible, isolate the contaminated area and give it the legal status of a radioactive storage space.
5. Prevent construction work next to the contaminated areas.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:It can be considered an environmental justice failure because despite protest and social mobilisation, the construction of the new road in the vicinity of the radioactive dump continues and is supported by Moscow authorities.

Even though, activists and environmental organisations continue to challenge the state, construction continues. Notably, Greenpeace's latest appeal to Arbithazhnyy Sud G. Moskvy in February 2020, asked that the expert advice which approved the construction of the Southeast chord be declared invalid. The Court overruled their appeal in September 2020.

However, in November 2020, the Court's decision was challenged by Russia's Cassation Court, so Greenpeace's appeal is yet again under review.
Sources & Materials
Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[1] Astrasheuskaya N. (2019) ‘ Radiation fears cloud plans for Moscow expressway’, Financial Times. (Online, last accessed: 20.06.20)
[click to view]

[2] Carroll, O. (2019) ‘Locals fear radiation spikes as Moscow plans road across nuclear waste dump: Everything is very bad’, Independent. (Online, last accessed 20.06.20)
[click to view]

[3] Ozharovsky, A. translated by Kaminskaya M. (2011) ‘ Radioactive dump in Moscow: A ten-year history of reckless procrastination’. Bellona. (Online, last accessed 20.06.20)
[click to view]

[7] Greenpeace. (2020) ‘Greenpeace требует остановить строительство у могильника радиоактивных отходов в Москве’, Greenpeace Russia (Online, last accessed 20.06.20)
[click to view]

[5] Colling, J. (2020) ‘ Plans for road near radioactive site lead to fury in Moscow’, Aljazeera. (Online, last accessed 20.06.20)
[click to view]

[4] Dergacheva, A. (2019) ‘В Москве начали стройку возле ядерного могильника. Радиация может отравить город’, The Village. (Online, last accessed 20.06.20)
[click to view]

[6] Sobianin, S. (2020) ‘Юго-Восточная хорда. Решение экологических проблем’, (Online, last accessed 20.06.20)
[click to view]

[8] Golikova, N. (2020) ‘10 месяцев безрезультатной борьбы: почему на радиоактивном могильнике строят хорду’, Афиша Daily (Online, last accessed 20.06.20)
[click to view]

[10] Kudryavtsev, K. (2020) ‘We’ll stay here until they smoke us out’ As road construction begins over a radioactive waste dump in Moscow, police start forcing local activists off the site’, The Real Russia, Today (Online, last accessed 20.06.20)
[click to view]

[9] Dergacheva, A. (2020) ‘Уровень радиации на месте будущей хорды превысил норму в 60 раз. Что случилось на самом деле?’, The Village (Online, last accessed 20.06.20)
[click to view]

[14]Rusletter. (2020). ‘Arkady Rotenberg leads a chord through the burial ground’ Rusletter. (Online, last accessed 22.06.20)
[click to view]

[11] The Moscow Times. (2020) ‘Moscow Protesters, Police Clash Over ‘Radioactive Highway’ Construction’ The Moscow Times (Online, last accessed 20.06.20)
[click to view]

[12] BBC News (2020) '‘Активисты и экологи заявили о химическом заражении на месте строительства хорды в Москве’ , BBC News (Online, last accessed 24.09.2020)
[click to view]

[13]19rus. (2020). ‘Власти Москвы отдали Ротенбергам контракт на 24 млрд рублей «задним числом»’ 19rus (Online, last accessed 22.06.20)
[click to view]

[15]Maksimova, E. (2020). ‘Что во время самоизоляции происходит с ядерным могильником вблизи места строительства Юго-Восточной хорды и кто за этим следит?’ Yandex. (Online, last accessed 22.06.20)
[click to view]

[16] Greenpeace.(2020) 'Суд по участку хорды у завода полиметаллов продолжится', Greenpeace. (Online, last accessed 19.11.20)
[click to view]

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Last update20/11/2020
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