Watchdog groups find high radioactivity in Russian waterways

Posted: Wednesday, November 01, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Dangerous radioactivity has been found in waterways flowing from a Russian nuclear complex in Siberia at levels higher than would come from 10,000 commercial nuclear reactors, U.S. and Russian nuclear watchdog groups said Wednesday.

''We were shocked at the levels of contamination,'' said Tom Carpenter, director of the Government Accountability Project's office in Seattle, Wash., who helped conduct tests of water in the Tom and Romashka rivers.

The groups reported evidence that pollution from the Siberian Chemical Complex constitutes the largest nuclear river contamination anywhere in the world. They demanded an immediate end to dumping of nuclear waste from the complex, site of secret nuclear weapons development during the Soviet years and where an explosion spread radioactivity in 1993.

Carpenter said in an interview that levels were too high to have originated at a nuclear power plant or normal reprocessing activities and suggested the possible presence at the site of an unacknowledged nuclear weapons-grade reactor or giant nuclear accelerator.

The exact source of the radioactivity was not determined during testing in August by environmentalists from the U.S. group and the Siberian Scientists for Global Responsibility, he said. The Government Accountability Project is a nongovernmental legal and environmental group that watches the nuclear industry and defends nuclear whistle-blowers. The Siberian group is a nongovernmental organization that monitors nuclear pollution.

Calling the radioactive problem ''out of rational control,'' the groups also urged the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria, to send an emergency response team to cordon off areas of high contamination and determine the level of danger to humans from food contamination.

Carpenter said scientists took samples in areas of cattle-grazing and fishing. He showed a picture of fish that registered with levels of radioactivity more than 20 times normal and said it would be harmful if it was eaten.

The analyses showed strontium 90 in plant life along the Romashka River of 10,000 picocuries per liter, the report said. The permissible level for U.S. drinking water is 8 per liter. Dangerous levels of phosphorous 32 also were found, it said.

''The magnitude of the reported ... release of beta radioactivity to River Tom is staggering,'' the report said, many times greater than other known nuclear pollution problems in Russia or pollution of the Columbia River from the Hanford, Wash., nuclear reservation.

The conclusions were based on laboratory examination of samples conducted in Russia, Canada and the United States, Carpenter said.

Findings were presented at a news conference by Carpenter and Norm Buske, a physicist and oceanographer with the watchdog group who said the nuclear waste was being ''straight-piped'' into the environment.

''This has not been done anywhere in the world since the Cold War,'' Buske said.

Local residents call the Siberian complex ''the largest and greatest nuclear facility in the world.'' During Soviet times it featured five nuclear reactors and produced weapons-grade plutonium. Two nuclear reactors continue to produce electrical power for surrounding communities, but they could not account for the extreme radiation levels, Buske said.

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