Ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to China next month, Beijing has signed an agreement with Moscow to jointly monitor cross-border rivers to ensure water quality, the state media reported today (Feb 22 2006). The water bodies under joint surveillance include Heilong, Wusuli, Erguna (Argun) and Suifen rivers and Xingkai Lake.
In November 1994 a team from Greenpeace Sweden visited the Krasnokamensk region in Eastern Siberia, in order to document the alleged environmental problems associated with uranium production in Russia. The following is a report on this visit.
This research trip is part of a larger campaign conducted by GP Sweden to document the environmental problems associated with the Swedish nuclear cycle. Uranium mining is notoriously plagued by environmental contamination. It was therefore decided to conduct an in-depth study of the facilities which mine and process the uranium used in Swedish reactors.
Approximately 40% of all uranium imported into Sweden comes from the former Soviet Union. According to Albert Shishkin, the General Manager of TECHSNABEXPORT, company which holds a monopoly on foreign sales of Russian uranium, all of the uranium exported to Sweden from the CIS comes from Russian enrichment centers. At the same time, according to Mr. Shishkin, the natural uranium that is used as raw resource for these centers is no longer delivered from any other Former Soviet Republic besides Russia. Thus it was decided to concentrate the research on the mining and milling complex which produces uranium in Russia.
Preliminary research demonstrated that the only existing uranium mining and milling works still running in Russia are operated by the Priargunskiy Mountain Chemical Combine. The Greenpeace team visited the facility between 14 and 18 of November. In order to gain permission to enter the facility, the team had to pose as a crew of a television production company.
During the visit to this area information was gathered in a number of ways:
-through accessing official documentation;
-through observation during a guided visit to the Combine;
-photo and video documentation;
-through interviews with national, regional and industry officials;
-through interviews with local population and workers at the Combine.
It must be noted that many of the workers refused to repeat on camera any of the statements that were made to us in private. This was motivated by fear of dismissals or reprisals from the Combine’s management.
The Combine is located in the vicinity of the town of Krasnokamensk, in the south eastern section of the Chita Region in Eastern Siberian district of Zabaykalye, close to the Chinese and Mongolian borders.
When uranium was first discovered there, it was an unspoiled Siberian steppe area with gently rolling hills covered by prairie grasses and teaming with life. The area is the cradle of great Asian nomadic civilisations. Ghengis Khan, the Huns, the Golden Horde — all of these conquerors of continents started out as herders on the steppes that Krasnokamensk is presently situated on. Their more settled descendants — today’s Mongols and Buryats are still living in the area. Interestingly, the valley where the main uranium deposits are concentrated were never settled by the locals, who referred to it as the «valley of death» and avoided herding cattle there.
Krasnokamensk is a formerly closed secret town, with the population of 76 000. The uranium works is the only industry in the region. Every job in Krasnokamensk is either associated directly with the Combine, or provides services for the combine and its workers. The town is quite autonomous — it contains a hospital, schools, agricultural production (including greenhouses for growing vegetables) and a food distribution network.
Within 20 km. of the main town are located satellite villages of Krasnokamenskiy (now practically empty of people) and Oktyabrsky (pop. approximately 3400).
Until this year the town’s God and Tsar was personified by the General Manager of the Combine. No municipal governing structure existed. Every decision was arbitrarily made by the Combine management. Last year an election was held, and the first independent municipal government was chosen.
THE URANIUM WORKS
The Priargunsky uranium deposits were discovered in 1964. The discovery was a result of a concerted effort to locate and start developing uranium deposits throughout Russia, undertaken in order to invigorate the nuclear weapons programme. At the time the weapons programme as well as the nascent nuclear power programme were suffering from a chronic shortage of the material. The Priargunsky discovery went a long way toward eliminating this shortage. Despite later discoveries of large deposits in other republics, the Combine was providing up to 40% of all uranium used in the Soviet Union. The uranium produced there was used solely for the internal Soviet needs — at first primarily military, and later more and more civilian.
According to the General Manager of the Combine, it is presently the largest uranium mining and milling complex in the world. This standing can only be challenged by the Comeco works in Canada.
Just like the town, the Combine has a high degree of self sufficiency. It produces much of the machinery, chemicals and all of the energy that it needs. At present the Combine operates the following facilities:
—3 underground uranium mining complexes
—1 open pit uranium mine
—1 open pit coal quarry (to satisfy the energy requirements of the Combine and the town)
—One 500 Mw coal burning plant
—Ore processing plant (RPK)
—Mountain — Metallurgical plant (GMZ)
—Sulphuric acid production plant (SKZ)
—Machinery manufacturing and refit base (RMZ)
In addition, a number of facilities are owned and operated by the Combine, although they are located outside of the Krasnokamensk region. These include 1 uranium mine in Mongolia and a chalk (?) quarry approximately 200 km away.
The production process is as follows:
1. Uranium ore is removed from the mines or open pit.
2. The ore is graded and separated by enrichment.
3. Sufficiently high enriched ore is taken to the Central Ore Yard for storage. Lower grade ore is dumped into «empty ore piles.
4. Ore from the Central Ore Yard is transported to the RPK.
5. At RPK the ore is milled and washed. The resulting fine grained powder is transported to the GMZ.
6. At GMZ the ore undergoes a series of chemical processes, which yields U3O8 in powder form. The purity of the product is up to 99%. The level of enrichment of U235 is 0.71% (natural).
7. The U3O8 is packaged and shipped to foreign customers or enrichment plants.
In recent years, due to the practical disappearance of demand for military uranium, and to the steady decrease in nuclear energy capacity in the country, the Combine has been forced to reduce production capacity by 40%, and look for foreign markets in order to continue its operation. Two Mongolian mines, and two other mines in Krasnokamensk have been temporarily taken out of operation as part of the decrease in capacity.
At present, 100% of the Combine’s production is sold abroad. The main customers of the Combine are: France (Cogema), Germany (Urangeselschaft), UK (Springfield?), Spain, USA, Argentina and indirectly Canada (Comeco). A Swedish company (no name was given) has just made an approach for purchasing 100 tons of unenriched U3O8 directly from the works, rather than from enrichment facilities.
The entry into the international market has not been smooth. The Combine has a contract with a US middleman firm called Concord since 1992. Most of the Combine’s production is sold through Concord. Until this year the firm paid regularly for the provision of the material. However, in 1994, Concord received a large shipment of uranium, which practically emptied all of the Combine’s reserves, and did not pay. Altogether Concord owes 8 million dollars to the Combine. The firm owes the total of approximately 125 million dollars to the nuclear sector of Russia. TECHSNABEXPORT has taken Concord to court, and the management of the Combine expects Concord to become bankrupt.
As at all other uranium mines in the world, the Priargunsky works has serious negative consequences for the environment and human health. Some of the main components of the Combine responsible for such contributions are:
1. Uranium ore storage;
2. mill tailings;
3. low enrichment ore removed from mines and quarries;
4. radon gas contamination;
5. mine water releases;
6. contaminated coal burned at the power station.
1. URANIUM ORE STORAGE
Uranium ore removed from the mines and quarries is transported by truck to the Central Ore Yard (TsRD). Once there, the ore is left in large piles until it is loaded onto another truck and taken to the RPK for primary processing. The Ore Yard is an open area, of approximately 200 by 100 meters. The area is covered by ore heaps of up to 5 meter height. The heaps are uncovered, and exposed to the elements. The Yard is constantly full of uranium ore dust, raised by the loading and off-loading trucks. It is situated on an exposed hill top, buffeted by winds. As a result, the dust is spread out to a large area.
According to the Combine’s environmental officer, the dust is maintained within a 500 m radius. However, according to our observation, the dust clouds from the Yard are carried much further afield, settling in a grey cover on roads, fields, pastures and village streets. This spread is further added to by dusting from the backs of open trucks transporting the ore.
Finally, vehicles travelling out of the industrial zone transport the uranium dust that has settled on the road on the tires to an even greater area. Thus a large area surrounding the Combine’s industrial zone is covered by a layer of radioactive dust.
2. MILL TAILINGS
The largest concentration of operational radioactive emissions by the Combine into the environment is found in the pulp tailings released from the GMZ. These tailings contain a uranium solution in sulphuric acid. Since the pulp is emitted from the production line where the uranium has been separated from impurities, the concentration of radioactivity in it is quite high. The volumes of releases are unclear, but are on the order of tens of thousands of litres per day.
The tailing storage ponds today cover an area between 5 and 10 sq. km. There are three ponds altogether. Only one of them is used at a time. The ponds are expected to reach capacity in two years. At that point a new pond will be constructed. The tailing ponds are surrounded by 2-3 meter high earth and gravel berms. The bottom and sides of the ponds are covered by 2 layers of plastic sheeting, to prevent the seepage of the liquid into the ground water.
According to the environmental officer of the Combine, as well as to the chairman of the municipal environmental committee, the plastic bed cover is liable to rupture. When this happens the radioactive pulp enters the ground water. To avoid contamination of drinking water, the town is forced to use the water supply from a point 200 km. distant.
According to the same sources there have so far been no rupturing of the surrounding berms. However there have been a number of cases of ruptures of pipes which carry the pulp to the ponds. This is a result of the corrosive effect that the acidic pulp has on the metal of the pipes. The walls of the pipes are corroded from 12 mm to 1-2 mm in 2-3 years of operation. After this period the pipes need to be changed. However, due to supply shortages of new pipes this is often postponed past the operational life of the pipes.
Whenever a rupture occurs, the pulp spills out outside of the ponds. The pump station at the GMZ is then shut down, and an attempt is made to recover the spilled pulp and dump it in the pond.
According to the municipal environmental officials, the ponds require constant monitoring. There are sampling wells arrayed in cascades down hill from the tailings. the wells are monitored regularly (once a month). In the future, when the ponds are filled to capacity, they will be covered by a layer of soil and replanted. However, monitoring of the potential seepage will have continue. The official could not give me an estimate of how long in the future this monitoring will have to continue.
The view of the tailings is daunting — as you stand at the point of effluence, a meter wide pipe belches out a thick brown liquid, which spreads in slowly thickening waves out on the surface of the pond, while the radiometer is going crazy. Wherever you look, you see a frozen field of yellowish gunk, surrounded by withering grass and rows of gravel, with pieces of plastic sticking out from under it. The shores of the ponds are covered by rusty length of pipe with dried and frozen greyish material stuck to the inside walls. Here and there on the shore, you see yellow spots of old spills, some covering quite large areas. Somewhere on the far side of the ponds you see distant profiles of rolling Siberian steppes.
3. LOW ENRICHED ORE REMOVED FROM MINES AND QUARRIES
A large amount of radioactivity released to the surface during mining operations is contained in the so called «empty ore», that is, in soil removed from the mines and quarries during mining. Despite the misleading name, this material is not entirely free of uranium. It simply contains it in concentrations that are seen as too low for profitable recovery. Nonetheless, the sheer volume of these removals cause concern.
When the ore is removed from the mine or quarry, it is loaded onto trucks. The radioactivity of each truck load is then measured. If the level is above a certain point (the precise level is held secret), the material is sent to the TsRD. If the measurement is below this level, the truck load is dumped onto one of the large piles of «empty ore».
It is difficult to estimate the total volume of these piles, but it is clear that the volume is large. These piles are veritable mountains, reaching hundreds of meters of height. They dwarf the nearby hills, and make the production zone which is totally surrounded by them, appear to be lying in a valley. These piles are certainly radioactive. When standing on top of, or close to one of them, the gamma levels are up to 50 times greater than background. In addition, the dust from these piles is spread by the wind, and is deposited further afield, in a manner similar to the one describe in the section on ore storages.
Until last year the piles were not in any way marked or fenced in. This resulted in a wide-spread use of the material from these piles for the construction of private houses, driveways, garage walls, and road beds. In 1990 a gama-spectronomic expedition identified at least 17 anomalies that were the result of such activity. 15 of these have been eliminated. However, there is a strong suspicion that there exists a much greater number of still unidentified sites where the problem remains.
4. RADON GAS CONTAMINATION
Perhaps the best known threat associated with uranium mining is that of radon gas and its daughter products. The Krasnokamensk works are no exception.
The ventilation of underground mines is provided by means of pumping high pressure air under the ground. The compressors are functioning 24 hours every day. In addition, pressurised air is used to run the mining equipment, which is largely pneumatic. The pumped air is then release through ventilation shafts sunk into the mines. The concentrations of radon in the ventilation shafts is quite high — 6 000 bq/sq m. on the average. The ventilation shafts do not provide sufficient capacity for the exiting air, however. thus radon is also forcefully expelled from below to the surface though cracks in the ground.
Radon is heavier than air, and when released tends to descend to the ground level where it is inhaled by the workers and the population living close to the ventilation shafts and above the mines. It also concentrates in the buildings constructed above the mines.
A more detailed discussion of the effect of these dynamics is presented below, in the section devoted to the situation in the village of Oktyabrsky.
5. CONTAMINATED MINE WATER
Water is liberally used in the underground mining operations. It is used to cool the equipment, to fight down the uranium dust in the air of the mines, to wash the protective clothing and equipment, to rinse the ore from the transport carts. Until 1991 the waste water was pumped out of the mines, and simply released to the environment. It is unclear what the fate of the water is now. Apparently some of it is reused, while another portion is released into mill tailing ponds. There are reasons to believe that a certain amount of waste water is still simply dumped. We observed frozen streams of water emanating from the mine entrances, and from the facilities where the ore is off loaded from the transport carts.
A gamma-spectronomic expedition discovered high radiation levels in the Bambokaysky valley, a few km. away from the production zone. The maximal detected value was 230 micro roentgens/hour (2.3 micro Sv/hr) It is known that until 1991 the valley was used as a collector for contaminated mine water. At this point the valley is used to pasture cows, and to grow hay for animal feed.
6. CONTAMINATED COAL BURNED AT THE POWER STATION
The energy for the uranium works and the city of Krasnokamensk is provided by a 500 Mw coal burning power station. The power station is supplied with fuel from a near-by coal quarry. In mid-80’s it was discovered that some of the coal from this quarry contains more uranium than is permitted by sanitary norms. It was decided that the contaminated coal will not be used. Since then the coal that is burned at the power station is tested to make sure that its uranium content does not exceed permitted norms. Given a functioning scrubber system, the uranium contained in such coal would be captured to such an extent that emitted concentrations would not exceed sanitary norms.
Besides uranium, the power plant releases large amounts of other contaminants. It has been calculated that 78 427 tons of contaminants are released annually. These include:
It is expected that as much as 79.5% of these emissions are captured by the scrubber systems. However, this presupposes permanently functioning scrubbers. During our 5 day stay in Krasnokamensk, the scrubber system would break down at least once per day, for an average of 1-2 hours. This was easily determined by the change in the color of smoke coming from the stack from white to black.
When the scrubbers are not functioning, it is expected that the amounts of releases, including releases of uranium are in excess of permitted concentrations.
HEALTH EFFECTS OF THE COMBINE FOR WORKERS AND POPULATION
It is very difficult to accurately determine the possible negative effects that the Krasnokamensk uranium works may have on the health of the workers and the population. Until recently health monitoring and health care in the city and at the Combine were provided by a special medical service, a so called 3rd Directorate of the Ministry of Health Care. This directorate, currently known as «Federate Directorate of Medical Extreme Problems of the Ministry of Health Care» specialises in providing medical services to the military, nuclear and other closed sectors. The 3rd directorate has its own staff of doctors, its own hospitals, labs, research centers and supply sources. All of its activities and all of the information at its disposal was until this year hidden behind a veil of strict secrecy. Thus, until recently none of the information concerning health effects of the Combine operation was ever made publicly available.
It was commonly held, both by the regional medical authorities and by the man on the streets, that information that is currently being provided by the service is very scarce and untrustworthy, and has as its goal concealing any facts which may point to the negative effect that uranium mining may have had on human health. This is further evidenced by the contradiction between official statements concerning the state of health among Krasnokamensk inhabitants and results of a study performed by the Irkutsk division of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences. Further details concerning this study are presented below.
Until October 1994, the 3rd Directorate had a complete monopoly on the health care in Krasnokamensk. All of the medical facilities in the city, including the hospital, sanitary-epidemiological service (the body whose responsibilities include preventive steps to minimise the negative health effects associated with environmental and industrial causes), Combine’s infirmaries and health monitoring service were run by the Directorate.
Since October 1 1994, as a result of pressure from regional health authorities and local medical personnel (who even resorted to a strike and a hunger strike), and despite strong protests from the management of the mine and the 3rd directorate, the municipal medical facilities, including the hospital and the polyclinic, were handed over to the civilian service. A new chief physician, appointed by the chief physician of the Chita region started work approximately 1 month prior to our arrival in Krasnokamensk.
According to the regional health officials, there is a desperate need to conduct independent study of the state of health in Krasnokamensk. The sparse information that is available points to alarming tendencies in the health dynamic of the population.
The Irkutsk study mentioned above, entitled «Primary Medical and Ecological Expertise of Certain Population Centers of the Chita Region» is perhaps the most comprehensive independent analysis of the health situation in parts of Krasnokamensk that are located in the immediate vicinity of the uranium works.
It notes that in 1991 approximately 65 % of all deaths among men occur before the age of 60, while in 1989 this figure was 74%. The study also acknowledges that there is «a steady increase of death as a result of tumours among males in Krasnokamensk…the proportion of death from tumours to other causes of death among males has increased by 3.2…the age of death from tumours among males is decreasing.» Also: «In studying the state of health of the female population it was determined with certainty that there is an increase in cancer and pre-cancer diseases, which in some locations exceed the average by 2-3 times».
The study notes that «the percentage of children born with hypotropheic disorders is high (more than 4 times higher than in Irkutsk)…cases of intrauterine developmental problems are found in 51% of pregnancies in Krasnokamensk, which is a highly negative determinant».
Disease rate among children in Krasnokamensk was determined to be 10-20% higher than that among children in other cities of Zabayakalye with particularly adverse environmental condition.
Despite these clearly alarming factors, the 3rd Directorate health authorities in Krasnokamensk informed us in an interview that the state of health in the city is fully satisfactory, and is in fact better than elsewhere in the country. They refused to comment on the Irkutsk study. During the same interview these officials informed us that uranium presents no threat to human health, and can be eaten or inhaled safely.
WORKER SAFETY MEASURES
The Combine is required by law to take appropriate measures to minimise negative effect of uranium mining and milling on workers’ health. These measures include:
-Issuing personal protection equipment (respirators, gloves, head cover) for each shift in contaminated areas;
-Issuing protective clothing for each shift in contaminated areas, laundered by the Combine after each use;
-Constant water spraying of areas with a large volume of uranium dust (inside mines, open pits, at the ore storage yards, inside the mill complex);
-Constant ventilation of mines and open pits (the latter by using free standing aeroplane turbines);
-Gamma and radon level measurements taken regularly at sites of high risk, and job assignments made on the basis on these measurements, with the goal of maintaining exposure for workers at levels below permitted maximum;
-Regular health checks (performed by an independent service);
-Regular inspections to ensure that these rules are adhered to.
Our research discovered that none of these measures were fully in effect.
-Protective gear is often not issued for extended periods due to shortages. A number of mine workers informed us that respirators were often not issued for months at a time, and that even when they were issued, their number was kept down to 1-2 per shift. In a dusty environment this is an insufficient number. The respirators become clogged, and the workers end up taking them off. Over the 5 days of working in the area, I do not remember seeing a single respirator on the face of a driver of uranium transporting trucks, a job associated with constant dust exposure.
Similarly, inside the uranium mill we often observed workers working in direct contact with raw uranium ore without gloves, protective hats and respirators.
-Protective clothing is often not issued. Some miners have told us that they have been wearing their personal work clothing for years, taking it home and washing it themselves.
-We did not observe any water spraying either in the open pit or at the uranium ore storage yard, although the air in both areas is permanently full of uranium dust when the work goes on.
-Ventilation of the underground mines seemed to be adequate. However, the turbines in the open pit were standing still during our visit, and it is not clear how regularly they are turned on.
-Radiation level is measured regularly, reportedly once a week, at every work station. However, the workers are not informed about the results of these measurements. Nor can any of them remember a single case of a worker being transferred to a different work station due to having received excessive doses of radiation.
-Workers employed in areas with a risk for radiation exposure undergo an annual health check. According to the workers, however, these checks are often cursory and superficial, limited to asking how the worker is feeling. Apparently blood and urine samples are taken, but the workers are never informed about the result of the analyses. In general, all of the workers we spoke with had very low trust in the medical authorities responsible for these checks.
-The monitoring of application of these safety rules is performed by two bodies: Sanitary Epidemiological Service, and Combine’s environmental service.
The SES checks every work place once every 3 months. It is admitted that the frequency is insufficient, but due to shortage of personnel and the large size of the Combine an increase in frequency is impossible. In addition, as mentioned above, the SES in Krasnokamensk is run by the 3rd directorate. Its objectivity in enforcing safety rules and reporting violations can be questioned. Nonetheless, the chief physician of SES admitted that certain violations, especially violations of personal safety equipment use was very wide spread.
The Combine’s environmental service has staff permanently attached to each mine and plant of the combine. However, their effectiveness is questionable. For example — the head of the environmental service informed us that violations of safety regulations are «extremely rare». As mentioned above, our own observation determined that the number of workers working without respirators (which he admitted constituted a violation) is very high.
THE VILLAGE OF OKTYABRSKIY
For me personally, the damaging effect of the Krasnokamensk uranium works is most clearly evident in the case of the Oktyabrskiy settlement.
Oktyabrsky is a village with a population of 3 400. It was founded in 1964 by geologists who were surveying the area for uranium. Now most of the village population consists of mine workers and other Combine employees. The village has a kindergarten, a school and an infirmary.
Administratively Oktyabrskiy is a part of Krasnokamensk, although it is situated 20 km outside of the main body of the town.
Oktyabrsky consists mostly of single or two family wooden houses. Each house is surrounded by a plot, used by the inhabitants to raise farm animals, and plant small vegetable gardens.
The village is located directly inside the industrial zone of the Combine. It is surrounded from 3 sides by entrances to the mine shafts. Piles of radioactive earth removed from the mines come right up to the village boundaries. Contaminated mine water flows through the streets of the village. The underground mine shafts extend right under the houses of the village.
In addition, the village is located downwind from the power station, the RPK, the GMZ and the TsRD (the last three located about 3 km. away). Approximately 30% of the prevalent winds are from the direction of these facilities. The winds from the ore yard and the mines carry uranium dust into village streets.
The village is soaked in radiation. An aerial gamma spectronomic expedition determined that the average uranium content in the soil of Oktyabrskiy exceeds the background by as much as 20 times. According to the hydro-meteorological service of the region, the presence of other nuclides in the oil exceeds the norm by a factor of 2.
However the biggest danger is presented by radon gas and its daughter products in people’s houses and underground food storages. Mine ventilation forces radon to rise from the mine through cracks in the soil. The Combine management hotly disputed the relationship between operation of mines under the village and the presence of radon in the houses. However, a long term study determined that there is a definite increase in the amount of radon in the houses during the periods of the day when the mine operation is at its peak. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that during the winter months the low temperatures and scarcity of heating fuel force the inhabitants to severely limit any ventilation of the houses.
The amount of radon detected in the water supply wells has been determined to be as much as 77 500 bq/cu.m., with the average of 6000 bq/ cu.m. These values are comparable to the levels found inside mines prior to ventilation. The permitted levels of radon in new houses may not exceed 100 bq/cu.m.
The «Medical and Ecological Expertise…», conducted by the East Siberian division of Russian Academy of Medical Sciences concludes that the radon in Oktyabrsky reaches such levels, that the dosages received by inhabitants, given an average stay indoors of 20 hours per day, exceeds maximal permitted exposure doses for population. Most of the non-working population (with the exception of school children) spends close to 20 hours per day inside the houses. Of the working population, the average number of hours spent inside the houses is 13 hours. However the majority of the working population is employed at the combine, and thus are exposed to effects of radon at work place as well.
In 400 of the village’s 1099 households the levels of radon are such that given an average exposure of 20 hour per day, the dosages exceed the maximal limits permitted for PROFESSIONAL EXPOSURE. Even given a 13 hour presence in the house, the exposure to levels surpassing professionally permitted, is found in nearly 50 households.
Another medical study reveals that in the village of Oktyabrskiy the rate of pulmonary cancers exceeds by a factor of 2.5 the requirements for declaring an area to be a zone of environmental disaster.
The Expertise concludes that «The optimal course of action is an immediate cessation of all construction of public and private housing in the village, and a subsequent elimination of the existing housing».
Or, as the head of the radio-ecological service of the regional health authorities put it: » you have to either shut down the mines or move the village».
At present bureaucratic work is under way to obtain a legal mandate to evacuate the village. The local representative of the nuclear inspectorate is planning to have the village declared a «zone of nuclear catastrophe». Similarly documents are filed to have the village declared a «zone of environmental disaster». If and when these measures are adopted federal and regional funding will be made available to re-house the inhabitants.
Meanwhile the Combine has made a few offers to the inhabitants of the most contaminated houses to re-house them near the city of Irkutsk (about 1000 km distant). However most of these offers were rejected, due to the uncertainty of living and employment conditions in the new town. A small number of other families have managed to relocate (often with the aid of the Combine) to an apartment in the town.
The team that visited the Priargunsky Mining and Chemical Combine determined the following:
1. The Combine, originally created to support the military nuclear sector, has outlived its usefulness to the country.
2. The Combine exists only for the sake of supplying uranium to the Western nuclear industry (among them Sweden).
3. The Combine’s day-to-day operations result in a radioactive contamination of a large area. This contamination will remain for many years to come.
4. The health services in the area can not be trusted to provide a truthful picture of the damage to human health that the Combine’s operation has caused, and continues to cause.
5. Nonetheless, it is evident that the state of health of the population is not good. There are reasons to believe that the bad state of health is related to the environmental contamination caused by the Combine’s operation.
6.The measures aimed at protecting workers’ health at the Combine and limiting their exposure to radiation at work place are inadequate.
7.The Combine’s operation severely threatens the health of the entire population of the village of Oktyabrsky located on the territory of the Combine.
Greenpeace believes that the situation in the area of Krasnokamensk and at the Priargunskiy Combine is a clear illustration of the environmental and health dangers inherent in the nuclear chain. We hold that it is highly immoral on the part of western nuclear operators to export the danger inherent in production of uranium necessary for the operation of their reactors.
We call on the Western community to stop supporting uranium production throughout the world, and to begin aid programs aimed at helping re-profile the existing uranium works toward providing environmentally benign services, and at the clean up of territories contaminated by their operation.
By Dima Litvinov