National Geographic : 1990 Mar
Baykal, 40 miles southeast of Irkutsk, than painfully composing in his dacha. That lake, a mile deep and 395 miles long, seems made for contemplation. A man can ponder the origins of its unique species-1,500 kinds of plants and animals found nowhere else, including freshwater sponges. Or the staggering arith metic of its volume, 5,500 cubic miles, one fifth of all earth's fresh water. Or, in autumn, lose himself in the orange glow of birches upon the mountains round about. Rasputin has long fought to rescue Baykal from pollution. Much of this enters Baykal from tributary rivers dotted with industries. And right on Baykal's shore is a wood pulp mill. Experts say that, thanks to elaborate cleaning pro cesses, the mill's waste water is barely toxic purer than the effluent from U. S. mills and that its tall stack emits only traces of sulfur compounds. But it is there, a concrete and steel eyesore, sending up a high plume of smoke and vapor beside the world's most interesting lake. Many Irkutsk citizens, incensed at its presence and distrusting the experts, want the mill closed. The pulp, however, is badly needed for mak ing rayon tire cord, and the ministry of pulp and paper seems to be trying to wait out the protests. IT'S 9:30 AT NIGHT when Rossiya (Russia) pulls into the Irkutsk railroad station, on the fourth day of a 5,800-mile journey from Moscow to Vladivostok. But the station clock shows 4:30. For locomotive engi neers and Aeroflot pilots, the eight time zones Nearly blotting out the sky ofNovokuznetsk, smoke pours from the KMK steel mill, built in the 1930s during the rule of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. The pollution is blamed for a host ofailments in the city, which led authori ties to close part of thefacility. Citing a sur plus of steel, some argue that the plant should be shut down altogether. On a muddy, unpaved street in the new city of Neryungri, children of coal miners play near a fire-prone wooden house. Health hazards and substandard housing, along with the lack of such necessities as soap, led to a strike by coal miners in the Kuzbas region (far right). The strike spread throughout the country before concessions were granted. Despite government laws banning such strikes, some miners struck again and tried to oust the Communist Party union leadership.