Liquid radwaste leak near Vladivostok

Publish date: October 26, 1997

Written by: Igor Kudrik

Radiation control authorities have detected increased levels of radiation in the bay outside Zvezda naval yard in Bolshoi Kamen, 35 km east of Vladivostok, in the Russian Far East. The source of the contamination is underground tanks for liquid radioactive waste from the Pacific Fleets' nuclear submarines.

The underground tanks with liquid radioactive waste are 40 years old. The concrete tanks, built for temporary usage only, are developing cracks and radioactivity is leaking out. According to Valery Butov, a former military lawyer who spent three decades working with the nuclear fleet, the overall infrastructure is in a precarious position now.

–It’s time to find another place to store the water, said Butov to local newspaper Vladivostok News.

The amount of leakage and the level of contamination in the bay is unknown. The liquid radioactive waste, formerly cooling water of the submarine reactor cores, is piped above ground to the underground concrete tanks close to the sea in Bolshoi Kamen. The city itself houses some 60,000 people, most of whom are working at the shipyards Zvezda and Vostok. Following the ban on dumping of radioactive waste at sea in 1993, the volume of stored waste has steadily increased.

TNT-5: Storage vessel turned radwaste
Owing to its unsatisfactory condition, a special storage vessel for liquid radwaste, the TNT-5, was transferred from Bolshoi Kamen Bay to Pavlovsk Bay and grounded in the shallows there. According to a recent UN report on implementation of "Agenda 21" in Russia this is unsatisfactory, as, owing to absorption of radionucleides from the radwaste into the metal of its tanks, the hull of TNT-5 itself now constitutes solid radioactive waste. The TNT-5, officially taken out of operation in 1992, still contains 400 cubic meters of liquid radwaste.

The delivery of a floating liquid waste processing facility financed by Japan, designed by American company Babcock & Wilcox and built at Amursky Naval shipbuilding yard, was met with surprising resistance from the local population of Bolshoi Kamen. On August 17 a referendum was held in Shkotovo region, which includes Bolshoy Kamen, in which 90% of the voters said no to the facility. Nevertheless, the local Duma of Bolshoy Kamen, preferring to avoid sentiments in this question, on October 13 decided to grant permission to operate the liquid waste processing facility at Zvezda yard.

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