Nuclear waste history(4)

Nuclear waste history(4)
After numerous requests, we finally obtain a meeting with a top regional politician, Svetlana Kostina is deputy minister for nuclear safety in Chelyabinsk.
This is a conversation with her.
Q: Can we now live without danger near the river Techa?
Svetlana Kostina : It's no longer dangerous to live near the Techa River. But all a along the river, river water cannot be used for farming. The people who live near the river have been informed. They follow these restrictions.
Q: Shouldn't people be stopped from living there?
Svetlana Kostina : Today, there are no legal reasons linked to radiation levels obliging us to evacuate. I've said so before: the radiation level dropped under the level set by international norms. So there is no legal reason to stop people from living there. So officially, there are no problems.

In Muslimovo, the banks of the Techa are prohibited. But security is weak: people and cattle still use them. It's 75 tomes higher than natural radiation. Before leaving Russia we take advantage of the night for a rather special expedition. Back at the CRIIRAD lab, Chrisitian prepares the samples. The samples go into a counting chain which will measure radioactivity and detect the presence of certain radio-elements. Given the result, there's no doubt about it. A good caesium-137 contamination. It's more than obvious. It's incredible. Several days later, the final redults are in. First of all, the analysis shows that the Teecha River remains heavily contaminated. By tritium which official reports have never mentioned. Secondly the water contamination continues to lead to a major accumulation, notably of caesium-137, in the soil on the banks. Such a concentration of caesium has transformed this soil into redioactive waste. We measured up to 180,000 Bq per kilo in soil taken at the bridge. And of course the doses of radiation for people walking there are high. And since the water and soil are contaminated, there is a transfer to the food chain. We had more than 600 Bq per kilo on contaminated fish in Muslimovo and milk contamination with 24 Bq per kilo of caesium-137. Therefore the population living in muslimovo, through radiation coming up from the ground along the Techa and through the food chain contamination, is exposed to very high doses. That means Muslimovo is contaminated. The most pertinent question is: Why haven't the people of Muslimovo been evacuated?

A few days later complementary analysis shows that sediment from Techa is highly contaminated by the most toxic elements: plutonium-239 and -240. The level is at 2200 Bq per kilo when it should be zero. Plutonium is the explosive used in nuclear bombs. Military or civilian nuclear plants have one thing in common, they all produce radioactive waste often discharged into the environment.

France also has an atomic plant. The La Hague reprocessing plant is the same type as the one in Mayak. Yannick Rousselet of Greenpeace France has studied the plant's impact on the environment for 20 years. Here we are perfectly in line with the radioactive rejection pipe that comes from the Cogema site right behind. This 4.5 km long pipe goes out to sea empires at 1700 meters from the end of the La Hague point. Underneath us, the equivalent of 33 million 200 litre barrels of nuclear waste goes through this pipe every year and is dumped in the sea. If these products were conditioned in barrels, since 1993 it would be strictly forbidden to dump them.

The 1993 international treaty banned dumping waste at the sea. But only from ships. It might seem paradoxical, but discharge by terrestrial conduit remains legal. The pipe at La Hague discharges 400 cubicmeter of radioactive waste daily into the Channel's currents. Some discharged element like iodine-129, can be measured in the Arctic. Greenpeace filmed its divers taking underwaster samples. Results from the CRIIRAD lab show that certain seabeds have become nuclear waste themselves. This pipe discharges caesium, cobalt and other, which then enter the food chain, in seaweeds, crustaceans and shellfish. After our investigation on the pipe and what we demonstrated, we realized there was another agent that is an issue: toxic gases. How could we catch them? The best way to reach the exit of the stack was with large kites. We attatched a small pipe along the rope. We pumped the air and collected the gases from the stacks outside the site. Our results showed very high levels, tens of thousands of Bq per litre of air, in the radioactive waste rejected by La Hague. We were the first to ever measure them.

After finding krypton in the environment, we decided to check what was really going on. For that purpose, we used American software which Cogema also uses to observe the dispersion of this krypton-85. We took the source of krypton that exits through the stack and followed it over Europe. Depending on the winds, within 2 or 3 days, all of Europe was affected by these rejects. Our experiences measured or easily established the reprocessing calendar of La Hague's spent fuels on the roofs of Ghent University and Geneva University. In fact, due t the waste of La Hague, we practically have a permanent accident situation. It's as if we had a problem on a nuclear plant and had a permanent leak. There's a permanent but legal accident situation.

The samples taken from La Hague were analysed by Bruno Chareyron at the CRIIRAD lab. The Greenpeace kite samples show very high krypton activity in the air above La Hague, emissions of 90,000 Bq per cubic meter. These emissions occur every time there is a dissolution which happens during the plant's operating hours. Thus the krypton can reach an average level, also recently measured by Areva, of 1000 Bq per cubic meter permanantly in the villages around La Hague. So the population around La Hague permanantly breaths in radioactive kryton, i.e. radioactive air. La hague has one of the world's highest limit authorisations. If you look at the krypton quantity that was rejected by all the nuclear weapon tests, the 500 atmospheric tests, this is what it represents. You see that the site of La Hague in a single year, let's say 1999, rejected more krypton-85 in the air than all the atomic explosions caused by man for several decades. Since this gas has a 10-year lifespan, it progressively accumulates in the air. This chart shows that from the 60's to the 2000s, the concentration of radioactive krypton in the Northern Hemisphere has increased. That is due to the waste of the reprocessing sites that include La Hague.

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