CSS colloquium: Elena Kochetkova, National Research University Higher School of Economics, St. Petersburg/University of Helsinki

Rivers as Sacrifice? Pulp Production and Water Pollution in the Soviet Union, 1940s-1960s

2016.10.11 | Randi Mosegaard

Date Wed 07 Dec
Time 14:15 15:45
Location Room G3.1 (1532-314)


This presentation examines discursive practices of water pollution and protection in the two post-war decades in the Soviet Union. Based on water management, I aim to show how environmental policy developed in the USSR in the 1940s-60s, and what first attempts to overcome the industrial pollution were. My paper explores the case of pulp industry, a larger polluting factor due the increase of production after WWII. I examine two paper and pulp plants, one located on the shore of Lake Baikal and another production unit in Svetogorsk in the North-West of the country on River Vuoksi. I illustrate how discussions around Baikal were influencing the conditions in other, far located regions on the practical level. My arguments says that Baikal problems (about whether construct the plant there or not) provoked a discussion on pollution of rivers in other industrial zones and stimulated the development of environmental initiatives. They included proposals for water protection primarily made by scientists of the Academy of Sciences, as well as projects on water treatment proposed by some engineers. In the late 1950s, Svetogorsk served as an experimental platform to test water treatment facilities before applying them in Baikal.

Such a geographic scope enables me to illustrate the connections of different industrial sites of the country. On the one hand, I consider the role of debates around the Baikal plant construction in initiating the introducing of water protection in an industrial city of Svetogorsk in terms of implementation of instructions and changes in industrial policy initiated on the state level. On the other hand, I study some practical implementations of prevention of water pollution with help of technology transfer from the West. Thus, the paper focuses on the interplay between different actors, namely scientist, engineers, citizens, and state officials. It addresses expertise and views of engineers and environmental scientists had, as well as their reflections on environment and future management of Soviet water basins and industrial production.


Elena Kochetkova is a senior lecturer at the National Research University Higher School of Economics. She is also a PhD candidate at the University of Helsinki where she is finishing her thesis “Soviet Forestry Industry in the 1950s and 1960s: A Project of Modernization and Technology Transfer from Finland”. Her expertise lies in the field of technological and environmental history, Soviet history and history of the 20th century. Among her recent publications is Seeing the Forest and the Trees: Western Forestry Systems and Soviet Engineers, 1955-1964 // Technology and Culture. 2016. Vol. 57. No. 3. P. 586-611.

Lecture / talk