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Cleaning the Bolshoi riverbank of nuclear waste

Location:
Krasnoyarsk, Russia
Region:
Eastern Europe & Central Asia,
Pollutants:
Weapons Manufacturing, Radioactivity
Source:
Weapons Manufacturing, Nuclear
Transmission:
water, air
Potentially affected people:
64,000

The problem

During its 30 years of operation, the mining and chemical Combine at Zheleznogorsk discharged its cooling water contaminated with radioactive wastes directly into the Yenisei River. Now, 300 kilometres along the river can be officially declared an environmental disaster zone based on the amount of contamination over that time. The village of Bolshoi Balchug lies immediately downstream from the plant, and at least 64,000 are potentially affected by radionuclides like plutonium-239, cesium-136, and strontium-90.

The main goal of the project was to improve radiation situation in the river bank zone in the Bolshoi Balchug community. Specialists of the Citizens` Center on Nuclear Non- Proliferation have examined the Bolshoi Balchug bank. All "hot" particles found together with surrounding soil were excavated from the riverbank and buried in a proper radioactive waste landfill.

Health Impact

This kind of radioactivity output is measured in micro-Roentgens per hour (mR/h). The background radiation levels a person will encounter in a major city are 10-15 mR/h. 35 mR/hour is considered to be the safety threshold for long-term exposure (though on a long airplane flight these levels may rise to 300 mR/hour, as natural radiation levels increase at high altitudes).

The five hotspots included hazardous levels of radioactive plutonium, strontium, and cesium. Strontium-90 is particularly dangerous: if ingested or inhaled it can lodge in the bone marrow, causing bone cancer and leukemia. Plutonium-239, if ingested or inhalted, can cause lung and liver cancer, and is by far the most long-lasting of any of the isotopes contaminating this site, with a half-life of over 24,000 years. This makes it all the more crucial that each identified hotspot be treated promptly and in its entirety.

Current Activity

All measurements were made with dosimetric instruments verified at the state organizations scintillation survey radiometer SRP-68-01 and dosemeter DRG-01T.

The survey has found 5 highly radioactive "hot" particles with dose rate intensity on the surface of these particles:

#1 - 9320 microRoentgen/hour.

#2 - 8844 microRoentgen/hour.

#3 - 6143 microRoentgen/hour.

#4 - 8739 microRoentgen/hour.

#5 - 7161 microRoentgen/hour.

The places of discovery of "hot" particles were plotted on a topographic map.

300 kilometers along the river were found to be declared an environmental disaster zone, after soil and sediment samples collected from the area showed radiation levels hundreds of times higher than permissible levels.

The main goal of the project was to mitigate the radiation in the river bank zone in Bolshoi Balchug community. The project included:

• an independent radiological survey of the river bank (1300 m) in Bolshoi Balchug community and mapping of radioactive hotspots;

• detection and extraction of active “hot” particles from the soil and submitting them for burial to a specialized landfill;

• informing the population and authorities of Krasnoyarsk region about radiation pollution of the territory in Bolshoi Balchug community through mass media;

• bringing results of independent survey to the attention of local authorities and appropriate controlling units;

• making the Mining-Chemical Combine perform a rehabilitation of polluted areas through public response in mass media and governmental agencies.

Outcome

In the period from September 14 to October 4, 2006 specialists of the Citizens` Center on Nuclear Non-Proliferation examined an area of the Bolshoi Balchug bank longer than 14 km, and up to 50 km wide. All measurements were made with dosimetric instruments verified at the state organizations scintillation survey radiometer SRP-68-01 and dosemeter DRG-01T.

All "hot" particles found together with surrounding soil were taken from the soil and placed into a lead container. On November 22, 2006 the “hot” particles were handed over to a specialized organization "Quant" Ltd for proper disposal.

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