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Moscow reveals deep nuclear secret

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(December 19, 1994) Russian scientists have disclosed that for more than three decades the Soviet Union secretly pumped billions of gallons of atomic waste directly into the earth. They say the practice in Russia continues today.

(424.4198) WISE Amsterdam - The Russians told a small group of Western experts that Moscow had injected about half of all the nuclear waste the Soviets produced into the ground at three widely dispersed sites, all thoroughly saturated. The three sites are at Dimitrovgrad near the Volga River, Tomsk near the Ob River, and Krasnoyarsk on the Yenisei River. The Volga flows into the Caspian Sea and the Ob and the Yenisei River into the Arctic Ocean. The amount of radioactivity injected is up to 3 billion curies. (By comparison, the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine released about 50 million curies of radiation, mostly in short-lived isotopes that decayed in a few months. The accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania discharged about 50 curies. A curie is the amount of radiation given off by one gram of radium and, in any nuclear material is equal to the disintegration of 37 billions atoms per second.) The injected wastes include cesium-137 with a half-life of 30 years and strontium-90 with a half-life of 28 years and a bad reputation because it binds readily with human bones.

The Russian scientists claim the practice is safe because the wastes have been injected under layers of shale and clay which in theory cut them off from the earth's surface. But already the wastes at one site have leaked beyond the expected range and "spread a great distance". The Russians did not explain what that means exactly. (Meters? Kilometers? Or did it reach the surface?) The disclosure has set off a debate among experts over the likely consequences of the radioactive injections. Decades or centuries might pass before scientists know whether the injections are catastrophic or harmless.

Upon learning of the injections, Dr Henry W. Kendall, a Nobel laureate in physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that 'Far and away this is the largest and most careless nuclear practice that the human race has ever suffered."

Source: International Herald Tribune (NL), 22 Nov. 1994.