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Devoted to saving Lake Baikal, she won even Putin's ear

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"It is extremely dangerous for people who live in Irkutsk and along the Angara River, because underground waters move in their direction," says Rikhvanova. "I don't think Rosatom has considered the danger to the region and to Lake Baikal. They do not provide information to the public about their plans, or the possible damage."

Rikhvanova still lives in her cramped Soviet-era flat in Irkutsk, trying to juggle motherhood, scientific work, and environmental activism. "I have studied Lake Baikal all my life and worked and protested," she says by phone. "It hasn't been easy, but it has been interesting."

Rikhvanova has endured frequent harassment from the FSB security service, including several search and seizure raids of her home and office. Last year her adult son Pavel was one of 20 people arrested after a still-unexplained attack on her group's environmental encampment, apparently staged by nationalist thugs, in which one activist was killed and several injured.

She describes it as an attempt to intimidate her. "Pavel is still in prison, although I believe the authorities know everything that happened," she says. "My son never belonged to any nationalist groups."

Environmental activism is growing increasingly hazardous in Putin's Russia, say other ecologists. "If you oppose Transneft or any other state company, you can expect to come to the attention of the state security services," says Roman Vazhenkov, Baikal campaign coordinator for Greenpeace-Russia. "We have growing limitations on freedom of speech in Russia. I know that Marina has had a lot of that kind of trouble. She's been heavily involved in opposing reckless development near the lake, and I fear her troubles are just beginning."

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