March 27, 2014
1997 Goldman Prize winner Alexander Nikitin was awarded the Prize for revealing the potential for a nuclear catastrophe due to Russia’s aging nuclear submarines based near the Norwegian border.
Until 1985 Alexander Nikitin was a naval captain in the Soviet Northern Fleet, where he served as chief engineer on nuclear powered submarines. From 1987 to 1992, he worked for the Department of Defense as the senior inspector for its Nuclear and Radiation Safety Inspection Department. After he left the Navy, Nikitin felt obliged to reveal to the world the potential for nuclear catastrophe and to help Russia handle its fleet of decommissioned nuclear submarines.
Nikitin joined the Bellona Foundation, a Norwegian non-governmental organization addressing environmental issues in various regions, including Russia. As a specialist with first-hand knowledge of the issue and the region, Nikitin provided detailed information and was able to map the region’s radioactive sources.
In 1996, Nikitin was imprisoned on charges of high treason and devulging of state secrets through his reporting on the nuclear issue. He spent almost five years in jail before being acquitted of all charges. Because he was in jail, Nikitin was not able to attend the Goldman Prize award ceremony in 1997.
In the excerpts below, Nikitin explains how winning the Goldman Prize affected him and his work:
“At the time when I received the Goldman Prize I was accused of treason, and the prosecutor had requested 12 years of imprisonment for me. I needed support and recognition of our work… The Goldman Prize was a symbol of the world’s acknowledgment of the importance of our work. It was a great stimulus for me to continue the fight. We fought and we won.
Those who receive the Goldman Prize get the recognition in their home country and all over the world. I received a lot of congratulations from both well-known and ordinary people from different countries. But the most important for me was that of well-known Russian environmental leaders, such as Aleksey Yablokov, Svet Zabelin and others, who invited me to work with them on their team. It was a great team of environmental leaders and authorities, and I became one of them. It was important not to get lost and find my own place. I think I managed to do so.”
Nearly 17 years after Nikitin won the Prize, his work as an environmental defender continues:
“The Goldman Prize became a stimulus for my future activist work- defending people who are fighting for their environmental rights. In 1998, we opened a new project ‘Environmental Rights’ and established a new organization in St. Petersburg. Today the Environmental Rights Center BELLONA is one of the biggest, sustainable and well-known non-governmental organizations in Russia, and I am honored to have lead this organization for 15 years. It is a long-term project because in Russia and all over the world there are more and more people each year who are joining the fight for a better environment. We ought to help them in it.”