Radioactive waste to be dumped near Dimitrovgrad’s water wells

Publish date: November 6, 2002

Written by: Rashid Alimov

Dimitrovgrad city court found nothing illegal in the planned underground dumping of radioactive waste only two kilometres away from the city's water wells.

Dimitrovgrad is a city in Ulyanovsk county, its population amounts to 50,000. Nuclear Reactors Institute (NRI), situated there, is one of the biggest Russia’s nuclear centres, operating seven reactors, radiochemical laboratories and plants, producing assemblies of plutonium mixed fuel for fast breeder reactors.

Defending the right for favourable environment, Mikhail Piskunov, the head of Dimitrovgrad Centre for Assistance on Citizens’ Initiatives, filed a claim against local nuclear industry. On October 28 the court rejected the claim.

The Centre for Assistance reports, radioactive waste was brought to the Nuclear Reactors Institute from the Institute of Plant Biological Protection, situated in Krasnodar. They researched effect of high radiation doses on trees, shrubs, and herbs in case of a nuclear war.

When the research was halted, the ionisation sources were transformed into radioactive waste, and it was planned to dump the waste at a polygon of the Radon combine in Rostov county. But when the Institute of Plant Biological Protection got money to dump the waste, nuclear specialists from Dimitrovgrad came forward to offer their service.

The waste was transported to Ulyanovsk county for dumping on the territory of Dimitrovgrad. Dimitrovgrad’s Science Centre of Russian Academy of Technical Sciences acted as a mediator in transportation of the waste.

“Some of the managers of the Nuclear Reactors Institute’s work in this Science Center”, – say the Dimitorvgrad environmentalists. The Centre for Assistance accused the managers of an illegal deal, and named the sum, about one million roubles (ca. $35,000), received by the mediator. Institute of Biological Shielding, Science Center and NRI were arraigned as defendants.


Solid or liquid?

First, 147 vials of liquid waste were planned to be dumped in a polygon of the Rostov’s Radon Combine in a solidified form. But Nuclear Reactors Institute proposed another way to handle the waste, rather dangerous one – pump it underground. The Institute’s director Alexey Grachev said it would be an experiment, in which scientists would study, how radioactive substances, including cesium-137 and strontium-90, dissociate in water-bearing horizons. The license granted to the NRI, which the Dimitrovgrad environmentalists tried to appeal earlier, permits dumping only of the low and medium active waste generated by the Institute. The radioactive waste sent from Krasnodar is high-active.

NRI is going to pump radioactive substances underground only two or three kilometers away from the city’s water wells. The Ulyanovsk inter-regional ecological prosecutor supported claim, filed by Mikhail Piskunov, who demanded a ban on radioactive waste dumping. Mikhail Piskunov and the deputy ecological prosecutor Oleg Petrov mentioned a number of facts, demonstrating that nuclear companies violated the terms of the licences, granted to them by the State Nuclear Regulatory.

“We’re sure, radioactive waste was brought to Ulyanovsk county with the only goal: to dump it underground to get money,” – the plaintiffs say.

Before the trial, Ulyanovsk county administration’s Committee on Natural Resource checked NRI’s activities and banned pumping of the Krasnodar waste underground. Its official letter stipulated such operation requires environmental impact study, Ulyanovsk health service’s approval, and a special one-time license. But the court turned out to be thinking differently. In its opinion to pump the waste underground, NRI needs no additional documents.

Michail Piskunov is very upset of the court’s decision:

– And now, if the court’s decision is carried into effect, it will clear the way to radioactive waste transportations to Ulyanovsk county. And here will be dumped the waste, including ionization sources out of use from different Russia’s regions. So big amounts of this filth are accumulated in our country, that it’s simply unknown, what to do with it. By the way, the world’s trend is to dump radioactive waste only in solid form. But we here have quite the contrary practice. Are we going to drink contaminated water?

Mikhail Piskunov and Ulyanovsk inter-regional ecological prosecutor are going to appeal the court’s decision.

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