This picture illustrates one of the five water reservoirs where liquid radioactive waste from the nuclear plant in Mayak in South Ural have been stored since 1951. The five reservoirs are separated with ramparts from the river Tetcha. Every year, 10 million cubic metres of liquid radioactive waste are being dumped in the water reservoirs. Today, about 400 cubic metres of radioactive water are being held back from the river system only by a simple rampart.
In a shocking letter sent to the Russian prime minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, this summer, the district governor of Chelyabinsk, Pyotr Sumin, writes that within three or four years the water reservoirs will have reached their maximum capacity. In the letter, disclosed by the environmental group Ecodefense, Sumin warns about catastrophic consequences.
"One of the biggest and most acute problems is the risk of the ponds giving after and consequently a flood which would inflict serious consequences on the river system leading to Iset, Tobol and Ob."
|The Techa River near the Mayak plant emits radiation.|
|Photo: Thomas Nilsen|
The district governor goes on: "The situation has been reported repeatedly to the president, the government and the federation council. Unfortunately, in spite of a number of declarations and recommendations from the security council, nothing has been done in order to initiate any remedial actions to prevent the flooding of radioactive water."
The situation was particularly critical this spring, due to substantial amounts of melt water. Only 26 cm prevented the water to overflow the bottom rampart of reservoir number 11. The majority of the radioactivity is located in this reservoir. On a total, the radioactivity is calculated to 10,5 PBq of Cesium-137 and Strontium-90. By comparison, the British reprocessing plant Sellafield operates with a maximum discharge limit into the Irish Sea, of 100 TBq.
Accordingly, the potentially radioactive contamination that threatens the river systems of Siberia is more than one hundred times bigger than the yearly discharges of Sellafield.
The liquid nuclear waste that is induced into the water reservoirs in Mayak every year, originate from the spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant. The plant was built to reprocess 400 tons of spent nuclear fuel every year, but in the passed few years, due to technical problems, only about 15 tons of spent nuclear fuel has been reprocessed annually.
Norway contributes to worsen the situation
Norway contributes to fill up the water reservoirs with radioactive waste. Last year, four railway carriages, financed by Norway, was applied in the transport of spent nuclear waste from the submarine fleet on the Kola Peninsula to the reprocessing plant in Mayak. All in spite of major protests from environmental groups from all over Russia. They claim that Norway only cares about moving the nuclear waste as far away from the Norwegian border as possible. If one of the water reservoirs in Mayak should give in, the Arctic Ocean will yet again be threatened by radioactivity.
|The South Ural nuclear power plant was halted in 1992.|
|Photo: Thomas Nilsen|
Podtyosov says to the Moscow Times, that he has discussed the critical situation with the Ministry of Atomic Energy (Minatom), which claim they lack the financial capacity to do anything about the problems until year 2010.
When the nuclear plant in Mayak was established in 1949, the majority of the liquid nuclear waste was discharged directly into the river Tetcha, leading it further to the river system of Ob. In 1951, when Soviet researchers registered high concentrations of radioactivity in the area where Ob meets the Arctic, and at the same time registered several people by the river Techa who were exposed to increased radiation, it was decided on storing the radioactivity in water reservoirs instead.
As means of reducing the water level of the reservoirs the vice governor, Pyo Sumin, expressed a wish to resume the building of the South Ural nuclear plant. The nuclear plant will be put up right next to the water reservoirs, and will use the water reservoirs as cooling water. In this way, they hope to reduce the water level of the reservoirs.
The local environmental activist in Chelyabinsk, Natalia Mironova, defines this project as dangerous.
"Imagine what would happen if one of the ramparts gave in and the water would flow out. The nuclear plant would lose its cooling water for their reactors, and a new Tsjernobyl accident would be reality", Mironova says.