Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Problems at Russia’s Nuclear Power Stations Now as Serious as They were at Chernobyl in 1986, Ecologists Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 26 – Thirty-four years ago today, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant suffered a meltdown that released massive amounts of radiation, poisoning the area around the station and compromising the environment and public health. Tragically, environmentalists say, the problems at Russia’s nuclear stations are “no less” today than they were then. 

            Vitaly Servetnik, vice president of the Russian Social-Ecological Union, says that on this anniversary as in recent years, the authorities and the media treat Chernobyl as something awful but also as something that cannot happen again (7x7-journal.ru/articles/2020/04/24/problem-s-mirnym-atomom-ne-menshe-chem-vo-vremena-chernobylya-ekolog-vitalij-servetnik-o-radioaktivnom-nasledii-sssr-i-ugrozah-yadernym-aktivistam).

            But that is not true, he continues. “Our problems with the peaceful atom are no less” than they were then.” Instead, there is an even greater variety and in even more places around the country. And his group is committed to supporting activists who are working to address this issue in the regions where plants and nuclear waste sites are located.

            “About 70 percent of the reactors in Russian atomic power plants were built in the 1970s and had a planned work life of 30 years.” Consequently, most of them are well-past their expiration date and should have been replaced or shut down. But Rosatom has simply extended their time in service, Servetnik says.

            Not only has the government’s atomic power agency done so without consulting experts, it has made the problem worse by increasing the pressure at most plants so as to be able to produce more electricity even though that strategy means that the plants are more not less likely to suffer accidents.

            In Europe, all Chernobyl-type graphite reactors have been shut down as too dangerous; but in the Russian Federation, they continue to be used and at higher pressures. Some of the largest of these facilities are the Leningrad, Smolensk, and Kursk atomic power stations, the environmentalist continues.

            Since Chernobyl, another and even larger problem has emerged: the storage of nuclear waste. Moscow has operated on the principle of “bury and forget,” Servetnik says.  “The majority of Russian atomic power stations are in the European portion of the country, but radioactive wastes … are processed and buried in the Urals and Siberia.”

            As a result, he says, one part of the country gets the benefit of nuclear power while an entirely different part suffers from it.

            This problem too is made worse by the way in which the Russian government operates. Russian law bans the import of radioactive waste, “but there is an exception: they can be imported for reprocessing.” What Rosatom has done and is doing, Servetnik says, is import these dangerous materials to make money and buried them for the time being.

            As always on Chernobyl anniversaries, there have been numerous stories about that disaster because everyone fears radiation. Three are especially important: The first notes that on the date of the accident only one person died but that since then tens of thousands have suffered premature deaths from radiation (snob.ru/selected/entry/123733/).

            Second, those who helped with the cleanup 34 years ago are being forgotten, in large measure because Moscow used more non-Russians than Russians to take part in that dangerous work (belsat.eu/ru/in-focus/chernobyltsy-v-belarusi-i-ukraine-chuvstvuyut-sebya-zabytymi/ and stanradar.com/news/full/39303-tadzhikskie-likvidatory-vspominajut-rabotu-na-chernobylskoj-aes.html).

            And third, ever more evidence is being presented that the Soviet authorities knew well in advance about the problems of Chernobyl but did little or nothing to head them off (apostrophe.ua/news/society/accidents/2020-04-26/znali-zaranee-gromkie-faktyi-ob-avarii-na-chaes-kotoryie-pyitalis-skryit-/195163).

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