Nikitin is chairperson of the Bellona Environmental Rights Center in St. Petersburg, Russia, which defends the rights of Russian citizens to unspoiled natural resources and reliable information. Until 1985 Nikitin was a Soviet naval captain who served as the chief engineer on nuclear-powered submarines. From 1987 to 1992, he worked as a senior inspector for the Department of Defense's Nuclear and Radiation Safety Inspection Department. He became a public figure in 1996 when he was arrested by the Russian security police and charged with high treason after contributing to a Bellona report on the risk of nuclear contamination from the Russian Northern Fleet. He was found not guilty by the Russian Supreme Court in 2000.