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Environmental problems of Northern Eurasia

Radioactive Contamination

<<< The Mayak Facility in the Southern Urals | Environmental Problems Index | The Semipalatinsk Test Site >>>

Tomsk and Krasnoyarsk

Three other vast nuclear complexes exist in Eastern Siberia, near the cities of Tomsk and Krasnoyarsk. The former secret city near Tomsk was known as Tomsk-7 (now Seversk), and the two near Krasnoyarsk were called Krasnoyarsk-26 and -45 (now Zheleznogorsk and Zelenogorsk) (Table 19.5). At these plants were located nuclear fuel production reactors, fissile (bomb) materials production, and injection and other storage facilities for high level radioactive wastes. Much of the Krasnoyarsk-26 plant was built underground at huge expense, to protect the operations there from nuclear attack.

Largest uncontained releases of radioactive materials

Table 19.5 Largest uncontained releases of radioactive materials

These locations are the sites of the world's most extensive depositions of uncontained radioactive wastes, totalling an estimated 1.45 billion curies of liquid wastes alone. Table 19.5 identifies Tomsk as the location where the largest releases of radioactive wastes into the environment have taken place (Bradley, 1997). Scientists at the complex state that about 127 000 tonnes of solid radioactive wastes and 33 million cubic metres of liquid radioactive wastes have been stored underground at Tomsk-7 (Izvestia, 1 August 1991). Some liquid wastes have been discharged directly into the Tom. It has been reported that the storage ponds at Tomsk-7 contain radioactive wastes at essentially the same levels as Lake Karachai at the Mayak plant, often termed the most contaminated place on earth (Nuclear Safety and Cleanup Report, May 1994).

Injections of liquid wastes have been carried out at these sites since the 1960s, being pumped into the ground at depths of up to 370 metres (Bradley et al., 1995). These vast quantities of injected high-level wastes do not present an immediate danger to human beings, but as they are uncontained it is possible that they could slowly migrate towards the Yenisey and Ob river systems. Of far more significance are the million curies of radiation released into the Yenisey river from the reactors at Krasnoyarsk-26, of which over 100000 curies remained in 1995 (Bradley, 1997). Although much of this is contained in the bottom sediments, these sediments are subject to extensive scouring in high flood situations (Donnay et al., 1995). All of these potential sources of environmental contamination are being continuously monitored.

Tomsk-7 became known to most non-Russians in 1993, when a widely reported accident occurred at its Siberian Chemical Combine on 6 April of that year. A chemical explosion occurred in a large uranium processing tank, destroying the tank and much of the building that housed it, and sending a radioactive plume several tens of kilometres to the north-east (Bradley, 1997). Although not nearly as large as the explosions at Chernobyl or Mayak, the Tomsk accident contaminated about 123 km2, most of which was a very low populated area (Gilbert, 1993). However, it did include two nearby villages, one of which, Georgievka, required decontamination procedures. Children were evacuated from Georgievka, but not until more than a week had elapsed following the explosion (Donnay et al., 1995).

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