Lawsuit against injection of nuclear waste in Tomsk

Publish date: July 3, 1998

Written by: Thomas Nilsen

Local environmentalists in Tomsk have filed a lawsuit against the authorities in the closed city of Seversk (Tomsk-7) in an attempt to revoke a dumping permit for highly radioactive liquid waste from the Siberian Chemical Combine. The underground dumps are only a few kilometers from wells that supply drinking water to the 500.000 residents of the city of Tomsk.

The secret city of Tomsk-7 was one of the main nuclear weapons production sites in Siberia. The deep-well injection of liquid radioactive waste has been ongoing for more than 35 years, and more than 30 million cubic meters of various radioactive waste have been pumped underground to depths of 220 – 370 meters. This waste is reported to contain more than one billion Ci, and is the most radioactive waste dump in Russia.

Environmentalists in Tomsk say the practice of injecting radioactive waste underground is a recipe for catastrophe, although officials say it’s safe.

Konstantin Lebedev, a local environmental lawyer, says the threat is compelling enough that the plant’s dumping permit should be revoked. Lebedev has now sued the authorities on his own initiative. At a preliminary hearing on June 10, the judge delayed the case while more government agencies are named as defendants in the suit, which was originally brought only against the local administration. According to The Moscow Times, the local officials defend themselves by saying that giving the plant its permit was the only way to keep even minimal control over how and where the waste from the secret plants in Seversk is disposed off.

“If we were not to give them license, they would continue dumping anyway,” Valery Konyashkin, head of the department of radiological and environmental safety at the Tomsk regional administration, said in his interview with The Moscow Times.

There are two injection polygons located within the injection area at Seversk. In addition there are two on-ground reservoirs with liquid radioactive waste located some few kilometers from the Tom river. Leakage could be carried into the Arctic Ocean via the Tom and Ob rivers.