The world beneath Baikal
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Word of poet
In 1957, when the public first heard about plans for a cellulose plant at Baikalsk, people who had mutely obeyed the Soviet government for 40 years finally howled in protest. Local scientists, writers, fishermen, and ordinary citizens banded together to fight the plant, igniting an environmental movement that was a direct forebear of all Soviet activism to come. Their protests were mostly ignored. Yet at a time in the Soviet Union when the fires of free speech were being stamped out wherever they appeared, a small flicker burned fiercely in the Siberian wilderness.
After years of protest, the lake's defender were rewarded in April, 1987, when the Soviet government issued a comprehensive decree protecting Lake Baikal. Among other things, it abolished logging anywhere close to the lake shore and decreed that the cellulose plant be "reprofiled" for activities harmless to the environment by 1993. Exactly what those activities might be has not been decided.
Meanwhile the dumping of industrial waste into Baikal continues, and bilious smoke still rises from the plant 24 hours a day.
For over 30 years this very iussue has been the centerpiece of discussions and arguments between scientists, environmentalists, developers, industrialists and governmental officials. The environmentalists lost the battle to stop construction of this huge factory on the shores of Baikal in the 1960's. Since then, there have been various efforts to use common sense and find an alternative to the existence of the Pulp and Paper Plant at the southernmost point of Baikal. Some of these efforts have been more obvious, but mostly they have consisted of "routine" work by researchers, scientists, and those who cared.
Dozens of international expeditions that worked on Baikal during recent years have come to the unanimous opinion: Baikal remains the cleanest reserve of fresh water, but the local alterations in its ecosystem near the Baikal pulp-and-paper plant and the region where the Selenga River flows into Baikal, impose their negative effects on its inhabitants.
The intensive exploitation of the Baikal Territory adversely affects the primordial, easily injured Siberian nature. We haven't yet learnt to live in harmony with it, and the way to this seems to be long.
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