Information about possible radioactive leak at Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant scarce — but causing panic

Viktor Teryoshkin/Bellona

Publish date: May 21, 2008

Translated by: Charles Digges

ST. PETERSBURG - A panic has gripped this city since yesterday as rumours about a possible emission of radioactive substances from the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant — located 50 kilometres to the West of St. Petersburg in the city of Sosnovy Bor — continue to spread.

The origin of the information, however, has yet to be established. But St. Petersburgers wary of official information and the routine insufficiency of official sources to supply adequate updates have charged local pharmacies for iodine, a minor palliative against radiation poisoning.

Bellona activists have measured background radiation levels in St. Petersburg and found them to be within normal limits.

“Bellona will continue to investigate the situation and follow events,” said Rashid Alimov of Bellona’s St. Petersburg office and editor of Bellona’s Russian web pages. “In December 2005 rumours about an accident at the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant were started after an explosion at the (nearby) Ekomet-S (smelting) plant, which killed three workers.”

Alimov said that the current panic, therefore, may have some basis in fact.

“We think in light of current circumstances that it is necessary to let independent experts into the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant,” said Alimov.

The Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant runs on three Chernobyl-style RBMK-1000 reactors, said to be fatally flawed by many independent experts. The projected engineered life span of two of the plants reactors ran out in 2003 and 2005. But their period of usage was extended without conducting state required environmental impact studies.

The Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant has suffered various and frequent incidents. For example, on May 15, the plants number three reactor was automatically shut down during modernization operations, after which it was restarted. Today, the fourth block was restarted after repairs.

“The events occurring in the course of the last week cannot be put off on usual normal sustained conditions of use. The third and fourth reactor blocks at the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant were used in un-sustained transitional regimes that could have caused any number of incidents to take place such as a tripping of the emergency power down system,” said Alexander Nikitin, director of Bellona’s St. Petersburg office, the Environmental Right’s Centre Bellona.

“Un-sustained regimes can be accompanied by leaks of radioactivity. As is known, un-sustained transitional regimes for the use reactors were used at Chernobyl,” he said.

A substantial release of radioactive substances into the environment took place at the plant in 1975, but full official information about the accident has still not been made public despite official requests by Bellona 30 years later well after the incident’s classified status has run out. Doctors and geneticists point out that as an apparent result of this accident, the number of children born in St Petersburg with chromosomal disorders spiked.

One local school told Bellona Web that they received information about this most recent radiation scare via a telegram from the education committee of the St. Petersburg Administration. But the committee would not confirm sending the telegram to Bellona.

Nataliya Malevannaya, head of the Ecological Committee of Sosnovy Bor, suggested that the current rumour about a radiation leak could have arisen from planned safety drills that are now taking place at the plant.

“We took serious measurements today in Sosnovy Bor and didn’t not any elevation of the background radiation level,” said Oleg Bodrov of the Green World Sosnovy Bor environmental group.

Workers and officials at the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant told Bellona Web that no special safety measures were being taken there and that iodine prophylactic treatments were not being administered to the staff.

In November 2004, the town of Privolzhe was swept up in a similar panic that resulted from the emergency shut down of the Balakovo Nuclear Power Plant’s second reactor, which coincided with Emergency Service Ministry drills. Authorities evidenced an extremely low level of preparation for the situation. The uncoordinated efforts of bureaucrats at various levels were also not reassuring.

As a result, bureaucrats laid blame for the panic at the doorsteps of bogus “enemies of the state” and environmentalists. It seems the same will happen with the latest panic coming out of Sosnovy Bor.

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