Polar dawns come in different shades, often with streaks of rare beauty lacing the skies. Not so in Polyarnye Zori, a town in northern Russia whose very name means ‘polar dawns’. Most of the time a giant cloud hangs over Polyarnye Zori, while kids dive into the warm water outfall of the local nuclear power plant.
Polyarnye Zori is five hours south of Murmansk on the slow train that stops off here and there at ramshackle factory towns where the factories have long since closed. These places are the victims of the Soviet century. Polyarnye Zori has fared better than many places along the line. Here there is still employment at the huge nuclear power station that dominates the town.
On television news coverage of President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Oslo earlier this week, we noticed protesters lining a road holding signs in Russian. ‘Close Polyarnye Zori,’ read the banners. Medvedev’s visit to Norway was pretty successful. Russia and Norway have settled a long-standing dispute about their common maritime border in the Barents Sea. That goes a long way towards smoothing relations between the Norwegian and Russian communities that live alongside one another in the far north.
But Polyarnye Zori remains a problem. Neither Norway nor Finland are happy about having an aging nuclear power station so close to their borders. Meanwhile, folk who live in the Russian town are in no mood to respond to pleas from their Scandinavian neighbours. For Polyarnye Zori is the one place in the region where there are some rays of economic hope to brighten the polar wilderness. Curiously, it is the only nuclear power plant we know that has its own ski slopes. They are open not just to workers at the power plant, but also to anyone else curious enough to alight from the slow train at Polyarnye Zori.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries