"They promised to hold public hearings on the project, but nothing was done. They promised to assess possible consequences of accidents at the plant, but nothing was done."
Before dawn one day in July 2007, young men armed with rods and knives attacked the camp and beat the protesters. One of the ecologists died; others were hospitalized. The government described the attackers as ultranationalist skinheads.
They also announced that Rikhvanova's son, Pavel, then 19, was among them.
This is where Rikhvanova's story gets murky, and where the winner of the prestigious 2008 Goldman Prize for grass-roots environmentalism found herself tangled in controversy.
She and her husband, Yevgeny Rikhvanov, forbid Pavel to speak with reporters, because his case still hasn't gone to court. But they say he was lured into the attack by a mysterious young man he'd met at a soccer game.
It had all begun, she says, when a group of thuggish guys came from nowhere and attacked Pavel. Another young man burst from the crowd and helped him to fend off the attack. The two became friendly. Soon thereafter, the new friend told Pavel that he owed him one. He needed to help him in a fight, he said.
And so Pavel went along. It was dark. He didn't understand what was happening, whom he was fighting, until it was too late, his parents say. This account clashes with other versions Rikhvanova has given to reporters, including early insistence that her son was not involved.
On one point, Rikhvanova has never faltered. "It was a setup," she says. "It was an attempt to discredit me."
Rikhvanova's story strikes many of her defenders as entirely plausible, which is a measure of just how shadowy and byzantine Russia has become.
This is a country where journalists are gunned down; oil executives are thrown into jail; and, this fall, a suburban editor who spoke out against deforestation was beaten into a coma. Against this backdrop, almost anything seems possible.
"I don't know how it was done or whose plan it was, but I'm totally confident it was not an accident that her son was arrested," says Svetlana Zlobina, an Angarsk journalist who specializes in environmental coverage. "There are two things they are doing to us: They want to buy us, or they want to scare us."
The organizers of the attack remain at large, and unidentified, the family says. Pavel was arrested, and spent a year in a crammed jail cell that held 12 people and four cots. They had to sleep, and even sit down, in shifts. He told his parents that they were regularly beaten. He was held for the maximum time allowed, then released pending trial.
Among government and industry supporters, the idea that Rikhvanova was set up is dismissed as a ridiculous conspiracy theory. In these circles, animosity toward Rikhvanova lurks close to the surface. Rosatom spokesman Dragunov describes her as "pretty fanatical."
Then there's Vadim Titov, a young, lanky sociologist who is a member of the Rosatom- organized Public Council on Issues of the Safe Use of Atomic Energy in the Irkutsk Region.
Ecological groups, he argues, are funded by the West, and their protests are designed to undermine the stability of the Russian state. He scoffs at their "slogans and posters in squares," and complains about the "radical political movements, anarchists and anti-fascists" who are sleeping out to protest the nuclear plant.
"They are consciously misleading the public," he says. "Often ecological organizations are just pretexts to get funding for people who are not really concerned with ecology."
He describes the attacks on the antinuclear camps as deeply regrettable, but adds that the protesters "excessively demonstrated and obviously aroused irritation."
And Rikhvanova's contention that the attack was meant to warn activists away from the uranium enrichment center?
"This theory," he says crisply, "doesn't have any right to exist!"