Zheleznogorsk Combine admits radioactive discharge

Publish date: June 18, 2001

Written by: Vladislav Nikifоrov

Combine’s representatives admitted the fact of radioactive accidents. Earlier they claimed they had never happened.

Fragments of nuclear fuel with very high radioactivity level were found on the banks of the Yenisey River in Siberia. Based on these findings, experts from Krasnoyarsk Biophysics Institute proved that Zheleznogorsk Mining and Chemical Combine suffered at least two serious accidents 30 and 20 years ago. Nuclear industry officials have claimed until today that the combine is absolutely safe.

According to the Combine spokesman, Pavel Morozov, it happened during the first years of the combine’s operation when radioactive materials were dumped into the Yenisey River. “Yes, the operation of our combine can be traced down to Igarka town in the Russian Arctic, but those traces are just spots with high level of cesium-137 content,” Morozov said. According to scientists, Yenisey River is polluted with radionuclides for the length of 1,500 km, down to the Arctic Ocean.

Currently the specialists of the Combine are working on eliminating the pools with liquid radioactive waste, generated during production of weapons-grade plutonium. The first out of seven pools has been already emptied, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the chief engineer, Yury Revenko, preparation for the liquid radwaste elimination began 10 years ago when two plutonium production reactors were shut down. Equipment was manufactured specially for cleaning up steel tanks filled with liquid radwaste.

Now Combine officials say they will turn their attention to the remediation of the Yenisey River. 30 years of the Combine’s operation led to high radionuclides content in river’s sediments. Besides, several emergency discharges of radioactive water used as reactor coolant took place. Now the maps with polluted radioactive spots are being made at the Combine. The remediation, however, can begin only after the state allocates the proper funds, what seems unlikely now, Yury Revenko said.

Zheleznogorsk, also known as "the Iron City", is situated approximately 50km north of Krasnoyarsk on the eastern side of the River Yenisey in Krasnoyarsk county, Siberia. The city has a population of 90,000 and was known by its code name Krasnoyarsk-26 until 1994. The Mining and Chemical Combine with its three plutonium producing reactors and a radiochemical plant are well shielded 250m to 300m underground. The first reactor was shut down on June 30th 1992, and the second followed on September 29th the same year and the third (AD-2) has been in operation since 1964.

In 1985, a facility to store spent nuclear fuel from the VVER-1000 reactors (third generation of Russian light water reactors) was taken into use. This storage facility is right next to the half-completed RT-2 reprocessing plant. At present the facility stores a total of 3,000 tonnes of spent fuel while it has a capacity of 6,000 tonnes.

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