Traditional Medicine in Russia
What is Traditional Medicine?
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines traditional medicine as, “the sum total of knowledge, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures that are used to maintain health, as well as to prevent, diagnose, improve or treat physical and mental illness.” Any form of folkloric or alternative medicine will be categorized as a facet of traditional medicine in this paper, and
Russia has a very active history of practicing this sort of complementary healthcare (World Health Organization).
Herbal components common in traditional medicine
The Origins of Traditional Medicine in Russia
Russia’s treatment methods are extremely diverse because of the wide variety of different ethnicities that inhabit the country. Although a vast
majority of its citizens reside in the urban centers in the Western area, a myriad of minority factions live throughout the rest of the country that have been there almost as long as the duration of human existence. These groups include the tartars in the Volga region, the people living in the
North Caucus Mountains, Siberian groups, and citizens of what is now the Ukraine and Belarus (everyculture.com). This range of territories and different peoples in what is now Russia experienced a significant disparity in climate and environment. Convalescents of different regions required specific care unique to the conditions in which they were living. These different groups developed natural remedies through systematic experimentation of the healing properties of plants, which was perpetuated by the abundance of different plant species in Russia. Their research began to yield beneficial results, and this knowledge was passed down throughout
generations to create the foundation of folk medicine. (World Health Organization)
Various Methods of Traditional Medicine
Different modes of practicing traditional medicine have grown expansive in Russia. Although it has such rich natural resources ideal for making herbal remedies and a strong foundation for traditional medicine, it has also borrowed techniques from other cultures. Russian imperialism and religious propagation throughout Asia and Europe exposed practitioners to new approaches to medicine (www.articlesbase.com). The ancient practice of acupuncture, which is characterized by stimulating specific regions of the body through the insertion of a needle, came to Russia from China. Allegedly this method developed when a soldier complained of a stiff shoulder, but could not find a cure to alleviate his pain. It wasn’t until he was pierced by an arrow in his leg that the pain subsided and the soldier quickly explained what happened to a physician, who began experimenting with the technique. (nccam.nih.gov)
Acupuncture disseminated throughout Asia as traveling scholars and physicians made their way throughout the continent. India
included it in its own traditional medicine techniques, which is collectively known as Ayurveda. Ayurveda also made its way to Russia through the spread of Buddhism. It is founded on the tenants of balance and harmony between three elements, or humors: wind (air and space), bile (water and fire), and phlegm (water and earth). According to Ayurveda, which has a strong Buddhist foundation, these three humors must be in perfect balance in order to be in perfect health. In order to achieve this balance, Ayurveda preaches the practices of yoga, exercise, and meditation. It also stresses the importance of good hygiene, and relies on plant based medicine mixed with minerals or metals. However, the safety of the metal addition to herbal remedies has been called to attention, as heavy metal poisoning is very deleterious. The validity of this concern has not been
definitely confirmed. (www.ayur.com)
Another common practice in Russia is cupping. It is an ancient form of bloodletting that has been seen all over the world. A practitioner makes an incision on the patient and places a cup over the wound, which creates enough pressure to extract blood. In Russia, it was believed that the cold and dampness could make one ill, and therefore they practiced a modified version of this method. They would heat up glass cups before placing it on the individual, andmove it in a circular motion in order to stimulate circulation in the body. It is believed to cure a range of ailments, including colds, muscle spasms, the flu, bronchitis, and even menstrual cramps (www.kneadfultouchmassage.com).
The Importance of Traditional Medicine
Russia’s prevalent use of traditional medicine as a means of healthcare has been particularly helpful given the decline in their medical systems following the fall of the Soviet Union. The country had always taken healthcare very seriously, and medical attention was readily available to its
citizens essentially free of cost. However, the system was underfunded and unable to maintain supplies. As a result, many hospitals
were ill equipped and lacked basic necessities, such as running water. By the early 1990s, infant and female mortality had increased, as well as the prevalence of infectious diseases, and the life expectancy decreased. Environmental factors such as air pollution and contamination contributed to the high risk of becoming ill, and the over-crowded conditions led to the propagation of diseases. Preventable diseases were infecting and
killing people at epidemic levels, and vaccinations were limited. However, even if there had been an abundance of inoculations, many citizens refused to take them on the idea that they only exacerbated one’s poor health. (countrystudies.us)
Russian citizens began taking command of their own health through traditional medicine, and even grow their own remedies in the gardens of their dachas. The Russian government legalized the use of complementary forms of treatment methods, and the Ministry of Health and Social Development recognized a few of these techniques as legitimate medical practices. Not all forms of traditional medicine will be recongized, despite their legality, because medical science is rooted in standardization, so as to use treatments that have a universal application that any trained physician can administer. However, traditional medicine is much more individual, in terms of both the patient and the practitioner. The two medical philosophies are practiced in conjuction in Russia, which has one of the highest amounts of practicing traditional medicine doctors in the world.
Nuclear Waste Disposal
Nuclear Waste Disposal at the end and after the fall of the Soviet Union
Joseph Stalin initiated the nuclear program in the 1940s in response to the Manhattan Project in America. The program survived the fall of the Soviet Union and continued into the reestablishment of Russia. Like most civilizations in transition, Russia struggled politically, economically, and socially. As a result, nuclear waste disposal became haphazard and was sometimes dangerously conducted. Pervading political systems provided little oversight into the issue of how radioactive materials should be treated. However, even if there had been more regimented legislation pertaining to the disposal of nuclear waste, Russia simply couldn’t afford to safely treat their radioactive materials. The disposal sites they had were quickly reaching maximum capacity, and there was not enough funding to build new ones. The situation was becoming more critical and by the 1980s it came to a boil. Russian citizens protested the poor handling of nuclear waste after a history of less than ideal disposal methods in both the Soviet Union and Russia.
Traditional methods of disposing waste products in the Soviet Union included dumping materials into the Arctic Ocean and the Baltic Sea, storing it in waste sites in the north or to the Far East of the country, or by sending it out on ships and reprocessing spent fuel. These precarious methods led to several accidents in which nuclear waste contaminated the facilities or the environment directly. For example, in 1956, a storage tank at the Mayak dumping site containing volative nuclear waste exploded and irradiated 23,00 square miles, affecting hundreds of thousands of people, causing one of the worst nuclear accidents ever seen. The consistent exposure to radioactive waste posed the risk of detrimentally altering the ecosystem both in and surrounding the bodies of water used as dumping sites. The waste was likely diluted by the water, but in the event that it condensed and maintained its radioactivity, it would lead to harmful aftereffects. Such a contamination would lead not only to the destruction of the terrain and local wildlife, but also to the human population as well. Irradiated water and fish would significantly strike the economy centered on fishing.
The practice of dumping nuclear waste came under fire in the 1980s. The Soviet Union was a member of the London Dumping Convention, which had established nearly a decade earlier that hazardous nuclear waste was not to be disposed of in the sea, or any other major body of water. However, Soviet citizens began to voice a public outcry that arose from speculations involving a breach of that agreement. Reports emerged detailing massive disposals of nuclear waste, both liquid and solid, into various oceans and seas, including the Barents Sea, Kara Sea, and the Sea of Japan. Additionally, nuclear reactors and submarines fueled by nuclear power had been releasing hazardous material into the water after suffering major damages. The public pressure forced government action of the recently reinstated Russia, which resulted in a detailed report outlining all nuclear disposals into the seas. This report, known as the White Book, indicated every specific incidence of submarine accidents or purposeful dumping, and provided an estimate for the amount of radioactive waste in the water given the amount of contamination that lasted from 1959 until the last recorded incident in 1993, which was several thousand cubic centimeters.
Russian submarine powered by nuclear fuel
The state of aquatic nuclear waste dumping was not the only aspect of disposal in disrepair; land storage was also unsatisfactory. Accidents at some of the facilities had put them out of commission, and the other sites could not accommodate the quantity of waste. The waters surrounding the Andreeyvna Bay nuclear waste facility, located on the shores of the Barents Sea, are completely barren of fish and aquatic life because of the numerous leaks of radioactive fluid. Additionally, ships used to store excess waste were also becoming too full and were themselves a potentially dangerous source of disposal (Russia).
Nuclear Waste Disposal Now (21st Century)
Russia began taking steps to ensure safe and environmentally friendly disposal of nuclear waste products after its publication of the White Book. Government agencies have been created to take over responsibility of safe storage and transportation of nuclear waste, and also of rectifying any damage caused through negligent disposal. The State Nuclear Energy Corporation, or Rosatom, took over for the Navy as the chief overseer of safe nuclear fuel management. They are responsible in both militaristic and private matters of nuclear fuel practices. The Rostekhnazor, the successor of the Gosatomnadzor (Federal Inspectorate for Nuclear and Radiation Safety), came into fruition in 2004. They became a condensed agency comprised of their predecessor, the Federal Service for Technological Oversight, and the Federal Service for Oversight of the Environment an the Use of Nature. The Rostekhnazor was created with the hopes of forming a more efficient department in handling waste management matters, as opposed to having to comply to the jurisdiction of several different divisions. The agency ensures the safe and ethical disposal of nuclear wastes from various facilities, proposes new regulations in which how this waste should be handled, moniters nuclear activity, safeguards industrial safety, and accounts for materials and physical protection (Russia).
In 2006, Russia participated in a conference in Munich in order to learn about new waste management techniques being implemented around the world. With the aid of the International Atomic Energy Agency and its contributing members, Russsia decided to construct waste management facilities, disarm nuclear-powered submarines, decontaminate military bases, and to collect radioactive waste from polar ice caps (Russia to Discuss). The submarines have since largely been deactivated, but that has not been enough in ensuring safe nuclear waste management. Storage units are still being filled to their maximum capacity, and have been since the 1990s. Several propositions have been made since then to add more land facilities and more funding has been provided to do so. Also, temporary storage units are being built at Andreyeva and Gremikha. Both are active nuclear waste facilities, however they had fallen into poor condition. Andreyeva is one of the largest storage facilities in Russia, but the buildings and containment units were nearing collapse and not effectively storing waste. Clean-up of Andreyeva has been initiated and is projected to be complete in 2015. Gremikha was in a similar situation. A former naval base, it was also one of the largest nuclear waste facilities in the country. It houses spent fuel and reactor cores from submarines, and the area surrounding the storage facility was very highly irradiated. Measures have been taken to clean up the site, and in 2009 fuel tanks were removed and transported to a reprocessing facility. The rest of the fuel is to be removed and sent for reprocessing by this year (Russia).
In 2010, Russia passed its first bill to regulate nuclear waste disposal. The bill’s projection includes a 50% increase in safe storage and a decrease in waste not isolated by the environment by 2025. The plan also includes the installation of temporary storing facilities. Also in 2010, $1 billion was allocated towards nuclear waste clean-up (Ozharovsky).
Future of Waste Disposal and Cleaning up
Russia has taken significant and admirable steps in addressing the severe problems associated with their nuclear waste management techniques. However, they are not yet fully absolved and it remains a fairly low priority. In 2001, the ban of importing nuclear waste was lifted and plans to add nuclear waste sites in Siberia are underway. Challenges still present themselves in the restoration of areas damaged by negligent disposal, particularly at land-based storage sites that have neared depletion. Newly discovered contamination spots are still emerging, and restoring the polluted sites has taken decades–which has not been to the satisfaction of enivironmental activists who question the long duration of clean up processes (Ozharovsky). For the time being, Russia’s plans for reversing its nuclear waste damage include interim disposal sites and continuing to address the contaminated areas. As long as they maintain careful disposal practices, uphold their devotion to safe cleanup measures, and continue their relationships with foreign powers equipped to resolve some of their radioactive waste issues, then Russia will continue on its way to protecting its citizens and environment from nuclear hazards (Russia).
“Russia to Discuss Nuclear Waste Disposal Projects with IAEA | Russia.” RIA Novosti. Web. 28 Nov. 2011. <http://en.rian.ru/russia/20061011/54709598.html>.
Ozharovsky, Andrei. “Radioactive dump in Moscow: A ten-year history of reckless procrastination.” Bellona. Web. 6 Sept. 2011.
“Russia.” Nuclear Threat Initiative: Home Page. Web. 28 Nov. 2011. <http://nti.org/db/nisprofs/russia/naval/waste/wasteovr.htm>.
“International Nuclear Waste Disposal Concepts.” World Nuclear Association. World Nuclear Association, June 2011. Web. http://world-nuclear.org/info/inf21.html.