The Nuclear Industry in Siberia, Russia

Seversk, Kurchatova street

Professor Leonid Rikhvanov says he has a number of questions about the potential damage to the community from reactors that have been used since the Soviet Era .His plea comes as the Siberian Chemical Combine  (SCC) in Seversk, a secretive city located 15 miles north of Tomsk, prepares for the construction of a new experimental fast reactor  known as BREST-300…

‘I would also like to raise the question of conducting a complex study on how the SCC’s reactors have affected the environment over the past 50 years. Before making a decision on new projects, it’d be worth estimating the outcomes of the old ones’…Siberian Chemical Combine in Seversk, a secretive city located 15 miles north of Tomsk, prepares for the construction of a new experimental fast reactor.

‘And lastly I would ask about warheads [housed at SCC as recently as the 1990s]. Have they been replaced or not? If not, in what conditions are they kept?’He added: ‘I’m not radical and I support the idea of nuclear energy. But the approach to its use, and to estimating risks, should be totally different. Russian nuclear enterprises as they are now are so dangerous that it’d definitely be better if they didn’t exist at all.’

On April 6 2015 it was reported in Seversk that construction was already under way of a pilot plant for the production of fuel for the experimental BREST-300 reactor.The new reactor will work on special ‘pills’ made from the spent nuclear fuel and taken from the old reactors, with officials saying it will allow waste-free production of energy.  It is thought the pilot plant will begin operating in 2017, with the full new BREST-300 reactor up and running from 2020.

Prof Rikhvanov stressed that he is not anti-nuclear but insisted that it has to be used correctly with the proper safety and environmental considerations in place. An accident at a new plant at the Siberian Chemical Combine in February 2015 resulted in an employee receiving burns to his hands.And, of course, a massive explosion at the site in April 1993 resulted in the release of a radioactive gas cloud in an incident listed as one of the world’s worst nuclear accidents.Prof Rikhvanov was one of the experts flown into Seversk following the incident, allowing him a rare glimpse inside the secretive city to analyse the state of the plant.

‘First of all, we got to see what is there,’ he recalled. ‘I visited all the production facilities, I saw the reactors, the well where the waste is put to, and the warehouses where the nuclear warheads were stored with my own eyes.’I saw about 23,000 decommissioned warheads stored there. And I doubt they have been moved elsewhere since then. By the way, at the time, they were stored in terrible conditions and I don’t know what it is like now.’ The professor also found out that a facility for storing liquid radioactive waste in aquifers was located near to where the water supply was sourced on the Tom River.  As far as he is aware, the situation remains the same. He said: ‘We pump water from aquifers on the left side of the river, and store some of the most hazardous elements humanity has ever created in aquifers on the other side of the river…

Another concern he has is that the city is ‘still not prepared’ for a mass evacuation in the event of a major incident.’The road to Maryinsk is terrible, the second branch of the railway hasn’t spring out yet,’ he said. ‘There is also no separate railway to ship the radioactive materials to SCC without going through Tomsk. Such freights are now going through city railway station which creates additional risks.’

Excerpts from Olga Gertcyk & Derek Lambie, Expert raises serious questions over state of the nuclear industry in Siberia,  Siberian Times, May 2, 2015

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