Sunday, December 8, 2019

Risks of Another Chernobyl at Russian Nuclear Power Plants 'Growing,' Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 6 – Every atomic power station in Russia or built by Rusatom in neighboring countries represents a potential Chernobyl given what is known about their construction and operation, according to Andrey Ozharovsky, an expert on nuclear security at the Russian Social-Ecological Union.

            Many plants are aging and are shut down in ways that suggest there are serious problems, he says; and there is the growing problem of disposing of nuclear wastes from them as well as Moscow’s import for profit nuclear wastes from other countries (

            There are two aspects of the problem that many forget, Ozharovsky says. On the one hand, any problem at one of these plants is an international one because radiation crosses borders. Thus, an accident in Belarus or in St. Petersburg will affect not just Russia but other countries as well.

            And on the other, the radioactive materials continue to be dangerous for centuries or even longer.  The half life of plutonium, for example, is 24,000 years and that of cesium and strontium about 300 years.  That means that even if a plant operates more or less safely, it remains a threat to health and wellbeing long into the future.

            While all Russian plants are a source of concern, the most dangerous ones include the stations in Murmansk, Leningrad, Smolensk, and Kursk Oblasts. The first was built in 1973-1974, and the last three have exactly the same kind of reactors that the Chernobyl plant had at the time of its accident.

            Rosatom makes promises in order to make profits, and  it counts on the fundamental ignorance of Russian officials from Vladimir Putin on down in order to do what it wants. As long as the money comes in, they do not seem to worry. They ignore reports of problems, and they accept Rosatom’s unfounded claims that other countries will continue to use nuclear power.

            In fact, ever more countries are cutting back or even eliminating their use of nuclear power plants.  Specialists say, Ozharovsky says, that by 2050, nuclear power plants will be providing less than three percent of the electricity needs of the planet. “In this case, Russia is simply going against the wind.”

            As a result, the risks of major accidents in Russia like those at Chernobyl and Fukushima are “growing.”  Among the prime candidates for such a disaster is the atomic power station in Belarus because its reactors “are quite ‘dirty.’”  Indeed, “not one of the reactors can be called secure: their work is always a case of Russian roulette.” 

            “The majority of European countries understand this,” Ozharovsky says; “but Russia as always has its own special path.” 

            If Russian manages to get through the next several decades without a major accident, it is likely that Moscow will gradually reduce its reliance on nuclear power given how large the subsidies to this branch have to be.  But if as seems likely there should be such a disaster, it is possible that Russian nuclear power plants might be shut down far more quickly.

            In the best possible case, Ozharovsky says, Russia will retain only one or two and only for military purposes. All the others will be replaced by plants which generate electric power by means of renewable resources, something Russia has plenty of.

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