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Moscow receives Urals nuclear alert

Special report: Russia

Ian Traynor in Moscow Saturday August 18, 2001 The Guardian

Russian officials in the Ural mountains have warned the government in Moscow that the Arctic and the rivers of parts of Siberia risk turning into nuclear disaster zones from radioactive waste stored in reservoirs that are close to overflowing.

A letter to the Russian prime minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, from the governor of the Chelyabinsk region, which includes the huge Mayak plutonium-producing and nuclear waste-reprocessing plant, appealed for urgent action to avert disaster.

"Open water reservoirs contain about 400m cubic metres of radioactively contaminated water. The levels of this water are about to become dangerous," warned the letter from Petr Sumin.

"The Techa cascade of lakes is a major potential source of radiation disasters _ There is a danger that the dam will burst, causing catastrophic consequences for the rivers Iset, Tobol and Ob."

The sprawling Mayak complex in the Urals produced a disastrous nuclear accident in the 1950s when an explosion spread radioactivity across an area of nearly 10,000 square miles.

There was further calamity in the 1960s when an artificial lake filled with nuclear waste dried up and radioactive dust was spread across the region.

The area is thought to be probably the most radioactively contaminated zone in the world. It is also the centrepiece of Russian plans to import the world's nuclear waste for safekeeping and local officials want to resume the building of a new nuclear power plant suspended in 1992 for lack of funds.

The Sumin plea was sent to Mr Kasyanov last month and leaked this week to Vladimir Slivyak, a Green activist.

President Vladimir Putin signed the unpopular nuclear import legislation last month.,2763,538598,00.html

-- Martin Thompson (, August 17, 2001


So whats the problem? I'm sure Russia will still take our nuclear waste after we've produced it. After all they've got experience with dealing with incidents like Chernobyl.

-- Guy Daley (, August 18, 2001.

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