MOSCOW – The dangerous experiment of irradiating crops and food products with gamma radiation in the Western Russian Republic in Tatarstan has spakred interest among journalists and outcry from the public as protests have descended on the republic’s capital of Kazan. The Russian nuclear industry is keeping its mouth shut to questions posed to them by the press and environmental circles.
Last Thursday, a protest against irradiating Tatarstan’s agriculture and food products as a sanitation measure – a cooperative initiative between Tatarstan’s administration and Izotop, a division of Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom, begun in the last few months – was held in the centre of Kazan. The Anti-Nuclear Society of Tatarstan, the Social-Environmental Union, the Kedrovy Dom (Cedar House) environmental club, the Student Environmental Brigade, the All-Tatarstan Social Centre, representatives of the Yabloko opposition political party and even the Communist party took part in the demonstrations.
Signatures against the gamma sterilization programme were also collected at the demonstration. Despite the overcast weather, the protest drew wide interest from the media and residents of Kazan.
Kazan’s Anti-nuclear Society
Albert Garapov of Kazan’s Anti-nuclear Society said in reference to foodstuff irradiation that, “in and of itself, this programme is extremely dangerous and many questions arise.”
“In the beginning of the 1980s,” Garapov continued, “the Soviet Union conducted experiments on mice with irradiated food. It had a very bad effect on the lab mice: They became seriously ill, various mutations were observed and overall degeneration. In some measure because of this, requirements regarding radiation safety and foodstuffs were significantly stiffened.”
The irradiation of seed material with the aim of increasing its germination ability and irradiating agricultural products prior to their storage – so called gamma sterilization – is a project that Moscow’s Izotop is undertaking via an agreement with the Tatar administration. Bellona Web was among the first publications to report on the project.
After this, the project drew the attention of Tatarstan media and environmental organisations. According to them, the territory where the experimental irradiation is occurring is the Bulgar Arysh farm in the Spassky Region of Tatarstan. The 116.ru news agency reported that not only had 120 tons of wheat been irriadiatd, but also 30 tons of potatoes. “Will (the irradiated foodstuffs) bear the label ‘radiation processed’ or is informing Russian consumers totally unimportant?” 116.ru asked.
Local reported have also tried to bring to light who and on what basis the dangerous experiment was allowed to proceed – but were unable to come up with answers: “The 116.ru news portal asked the Ministry of Agriculture to comment on the project in order that its specialists could official confirm that irradiation of foodstuffs was safe. However, no answers have yet been forth coming. Similarly no representatives of the Bulgar Arysh farm where able to be reached for comment – the telephone number listed on their website when unanswered which leads to a completely foggy picture,” 116.ru reported.
Bellona waiting for answers
Before Bellona Web’s first article on irradiation of crops in Tatarstan was published, Bellona Web attempted to attain commentary from representatives of Izotop. After several phone calls, representatives asked that Bellona Web send them questions by email, which Bellona Web did. Answers were not forthcoming.
Here are the questions Bellona Web sent:
1) What source of gamma irradiation is being used? What are its characteristics, activity, mass, and isotope content? What kind of biological shielding does it have? What is are the mass and measurements of the container? How is the physical safety and defence against possible theft guaranteed?
2) What kind of installation is used for the irradiation of seeds?
3) How many such installations have been used in Tatarstan this year? In what regions and on what farms?
4) What permission documents for the process of irradiating sees do you possess? What a government environmental impact study conducted?
5) How was the public informed about the experiment?
Izotop has by law an obligation to answer these questions and they will soon be resent by registered mail.
Tatarstan’s public came out against the foodstuffs irradiation programme and a corresponding appeal was sent to both the government of Tatarstan and Russia on October 11.
[picture2 left]The public considers that the gamma-sterilization project violates human rights to an ecologically safe environment. This right is fortified by corresponding articles in the constitution of the Republic of Tatarstan and the Russian Federation and international documents. The public considers it necessary to stop work on the above mentioned gamma sterilization project, and considers necessary the observance of law and the rights of current and future generations to an ecologically safe environment,” read the letter.
A dangerous experiment
Those who initiated the experiment insist that foodstuffs are subjected to such low levels of gamma radiation that the radiation is completely safe. But they ignore an obvious contradiction. If, on their insistence, the gamma rays kill “parasites, pests and maggots,’ then obviously they are doing some damage to the living cells of potatoes, wheat and other crops.
Chemistry and life
Ecologists unexpectedly found confirmation of the dangers involved in irradiating foodstuffs in a 1975 edition of the Russian science journal Chemistry and Life.
“In order that potatoes not sprout during storage, they are processed with gamma radiation. This method is becoming more widespread. However, the latest research of radiobiologists shows that such processing does not occur without leaving a trace: After irradiation radio-toxic substances begin to form in the bulbs, a biologically active unification that could have unfavourable impacts on (the human) organism,” said the journal.
[picture3 left]“Scientists with the Biophysics Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR in the city of Pushchino separated a substance from irradiated bulbs a substance of high mutagenic activity,” Chemistry and Life continued. “Mice who were fed food with this substance were observe to have a quantity of lethal mutations in their sexual organs that exceeded the control group by two to five times. An especially high number of these substances was observe with the two to three millimetre surface of the bulbs.”
Whether residents of Tatarstan and indeed all of Russia will be forced to participate in experiments on consuming irradiated foodstuffs, and whether they will be forced by forewarnings to cut off two to three millimetres of a potato will become clear when Bellona Web received answers to the questions it sent to Izotop.