Government Dumping of Nuclear Waste Still Poses a Threat … Decades Later
Governments have also covered up dumping of nuclear waste in the ocean. As the International Atomic Energy Agency notes, 13 countries used ocean dumping to “dispose” of radioactive waste between 1946 and 1993.
According to the United Nations, some companies have been dumping radioactive waste and other hazardous materials into the coastal waters of Somalia [well after the treaties were signed], taking advantage of the fact that the country has had no functioning government from the early 1990s onwards. This has caused health problems for locals in the coastal region and poses a significant danger to Somalia’s fishing industry and local marine life.
Wikipedia also provides a breakdown by region:
[North Atlantic] 78% of dumping at Atlantic Ocean is done by UK (35,088TBq), followed by Switzerland (4,419TBq), USA (2,924TBq) and Belgium (2,120TBq). Sunken USSR nuclear submarines are not included.
137 x 103 tones were dumped by 8 European countries. USA did not report tonnage nor volume of 34,282 containers.
[Pacific Ocean] USSR 874TBq [i.e. terabecquerels], USA 554 TBq, Japan 15.1TBq, New Zealand 1+TBq and unknown figure by South Korea. 751×103m3 were dumped by Japan and USSR. USA did not report tonnage nor volume of 56,261 containers.
[Sea of Japan] USSR dumped 749TBq in the Sea of Japan, Japan dumped 15.1TBq south of main island. South Korea dumped 45 tones (unknown radio activity value) in the Sea of Japan.
As the Norwegian environmental group Bellona Fondation reported last month, Russia has just admitted that it dumped 19 radioactive ships plus 14 nuclear reactors – some of them containing fissible material – into the ocean:
The catalogue of waste dumped at sea by the Soviets, according to documents seen by Bellona, and which were today released by the Norwegian daily Aftenposten, includes some 17,000 containers of radioactive waste, 19 ships containing radioactive waste, 14 nuclear reactors, including five that still contain spent nuclear fuel; 735 other pieces of radioactively contaminated heavy machinery, and the K-27 nuclear submarine with its two reactors loaded with nuclear fuel.
Per Strand of the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority told Aftenposten that the information on the radioactive waste had come from the Russian authorities gradually.
“No one can guarantee that this outline we have received is complete,” he said.
He added that Russia has set up a special commission to undertake the task of mapping the waste, the paper reported.
A Norwegian-Russian Expert Group will this week start an expedition in areas of the Kara Sea, which the report released by Russia says was used as a radioactive dump until the early 1990s
Bellona’s Igor Kurdrik, an expert on Russian naval nuclear waste, said that, “We know that the Russians have an interest in oil exploration in this area. They therefore want to know were the radioactive waste is so they can clean it up before they beging oil recovery operations.”
He cautiously praised the openness of the Russian report given to Norway and that Norway would be taking part in the waste charting expedition.
Bellona thinks that Russia has passed its report to Norway as a veiled cry for help, as the exent of the problem is far too great for Moscow to handle on its own.
Kudrik said that one of the most critical pieces of information missing from the report released to the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority was the presence of the K-27 nuclear submarine, which was scuttled in 50 meters of water with its two reactors filled with spent nuclear fuel in in Stepovogo Bay in the Kara Sea in 1981.
Information that the reactors about the K-27 could reachieve criticality and explode was released at the Bellona-Rosatom seminar in February.
“This danger had previously been unknown, and is very important information. When they search and map these reactors, they must be the first priority,” said Kudrik.
Researchers will now evaluate whether it is possible to raise the submarine, and attempt to determine if it is leaking radioactivity into the sea.
(Here is a slideshow of one of Bellona’s earlier expeditions to research Russian nuclear ocean dumping in the same region.)
Wikipedia provides details of nuclear submarine accidents, including the K-27:
Eight nuclear submarines have sunk as a consequence of either accident or extensive damage: two from the United States Navy, four from the Soviet Navy, and two from the Russian Navy.
K-27: The only Project 645 submarine, equipped with a liquid metal cooled reactor, was irreparably damaged by a reactor accident (control rod failure) on May 24, 1968. 9 were killed in the reactor accident. After shutting down the reactor and sealing the compartment, the Soviet Navy scuttled her in shallow water of the Kara Sea on September 6, 1982, contrary to the recommendation of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Nuclear scientists might defend previous ocean dumping by saying “we thought it was safe”. And this may be true.
But a previously-secret 1955 U.S. government report found that the ocean may not adequately “dilute” nuclear materials.