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 . 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 .
Until the 1970s, the Plant was used for the extraction of uranium ore and for the production of thorium, a radioactive element used in nuclear reactors. The Plant has been inactive for the better part of 50 years, yet the chemical particles buried in its surrounding area pose a potential environmental and health risk .
The radioactive waste site has been an ongoing source of conflict for the last 10 years. Already in 2010, Greenpeace published a report that highlighted the areas that contained high levels of radiation and informed the Government of Moscow and Radon State Unitary Enterprise of its findings . Radon, the state radioactive waste management organization, responded by stating that over the last 20 years there had been various decontamination projects, with the earliest ecological investigation taking place between 1999 and 2002 .
In 2013 the Polymetals Plant refused to approve a very similar construction project with Moscow authorities only managing to secure support for it in 2018 . There are various ongoing sources to the conflict, such as why only limited decontamination of the area has taken place and why the construction has been approved despite the potential dangers .
The conflict restarted in the summer of 2019, when it became apparent that the Southeast Chord would go through the radioactive site. Additionally, construction had started illegally, without the correct documentation or a prior ecological investigation, although at the time the government authorities denied having started construction .
This triggered a series of various forms of mobilization against the project, involving environmental organizations, grassroots movements, and local government working groups . One of the main concerns is that the dust created by construction will contain uranium and thorium, which are very dangerous if inhaled or ingested . Also, the dust could spread throughout the city and contaminate the Moscow River .
A key event surrounding the construction has been the release of a topsoil study conducted in 2019 by Greenpeace and Tekhno Terra, which found that the present levels of radium, rhodium, and uranium were 11.9 times higher than what is accepted by the Russian Government’s own legislation . The area surrounding the construction zone has been occupied and patrolled by activists and local volunteers since January 2020; their occupancy has been marked by a Sobol minibus- their headquarters .
Up until January 2020, Moscow authorities and state organizations had denied the presence of radioactive waste in the area. Since then, they have acknowledged the presence of radioactive waste, however, claim that the traces are insignificant and that it will not affect construction . The Mayor of Moscow, Sobyanin, stated that the contaminated soil would be removed and that the land would be recultivated .
The conflict peaked between the 17th and 19th of March 2020, which coincided with the start date of construction. Police attempted to evacuate activist headquarters on the night of the 17th, which then escalated on the 19th and resulted in a clash between police and protesters with 61 people getting detained and teargas being used  .
Furthermore, at the end of May 2020 activists took samples of both the water and soil in the construction area, which they sent to Moscow State University Lab. This closely coincided with when residents discovered an enormous turquoise-colored puddle.
The Lab found high levels of cadmium and lead in the water, in addition to the presence of lithium, arsenic, and strontium . The soil results contained higher concentrations of cadmium, copper, arsenic, and lead than is legally permitted, therefore deeming it incredibly dangerous . The studies confirmed that the area is contaminated by both radioactive nuclear and chemical waste.
In response, Radon conducted its own investigation of the water and concluded that it contained sulfate and coppers ions and insignificant traces of metals, nickel, chromium, and chloride . Additionally, Radon claimed that the soil categorized as dangerous is only 0.2 meters deep . In other words, it stated that it is safe to continue with construction work.
Greenpeace has tried to stop - although so far unsuccessfully - the construction of the highway through the legal system. In February 2020, it appealed to Moscow Arbitration Court to rule against the Moscow State Expert's conclusion that deemed construction on the site to be safe, although the Court ruled against their appeal in September 2020 . However, in November 2020, the Court's decision was overturned by Russia's Cassation Court, so Greenpeace's appeal is under review again.  As of yet, it is unclear when a decision will be made.