Kaisha Atakhanova, 47, is leading the campaign to prevent nuclear waste from being commercially imported into the Republic of Kazakhstan. A biologist specializing in the genetic effects of nuclear radiation, Atakhanova founded and directs the Karaganda Ecological Center (known as EcoCenter), which promotes grassroots democracy-building and environmental protection within government and civil society.
Atakhanova recently helped defeat legislation that would have allowed even more nuclear waste to be commercially imported into the country. She and her allies argued that Kazakhstan's mineral wealth made it unnecessary for the country to earn money from waste disposal, and pointed out that contamination would discourage international tourism.
EcoCenter's broad and well-orchestrated campaign led the national parliament to drop the legislation in late 2003, and the victory has encouraged the growth of a grassroots environmental movement in Kazakhstan. Atakhanova, 47, continues to direct the EcoCenter, and has helped to develop a nationwide network of more than 100 activist groups.
Kaisha Atakhanova was awarded one of six 2005 Goldman Environmental Prizes in a ceremony in San Francisco on April 18. Atakhanova plans to invest her $125,000 prize in educational and environmental projects in Kazakhstan. She spoke to Grist through a translator.