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UKRAINE-ENVIRONMENT: New Radioactive Waste Unit Causes Concern

Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW, Jun 19 1995 (IPS) - The radioactive waste depository set to be constructed at the giant Zaporozhskaya nuclear power plant in eastern Ukraine will pose a new, serious threat of nuclear contamination, Ukrainian environmentalists warn.

The depository, which is to be built in collaboration with the American Duke Engineering and Service Co., will be located in the immediate vicinity of the largest nuclear powerhouse in existence.

Last month a sixth power unit with one million kilowatt power generating capacity was put into operation at Zaporozhskaya station, making it unique in the world. The station along with ill- famed Chernobyl plant is the backbone of Ukraine’s energy sector, serving, in particular the principal coal and manganese mining region of Nikopol-Marganets.

The waste depository along with its the new complex worth two billion dollars in construction costs serve as a major tool for the Ukrainian authorities in their propaganda campaign to eradicate the “Chernobyl Syndrome” and rehabilitate nuclear energy.

“The Ukrainians and world public are led to believe that the new power capacities will give the country the status of a world energy superpower while the depository enhances security,” Nalalia Grigoryeva, local columnist writing on environmental issues, told IPS in a telephone interview.

Some independent Ukrainian scientists however fear that the government has not done enough homework on the potential environmental hazards that may come with the construction of the dspository.

“When the decision to build was taken, no ecological assessment was made,” claims Arkady Shapar, Head of Nature and Ecology Institute in Kiev.

“The government decided on the issue behind closed doors because they wanted to provide work for construction organisations, that had recently completed building the largest in Europe Energodar thermal power station and had to find something else. No other arguments were taken into account.”

According to international rules, nuclear stations should be located in areas free from the risk of flooding. However, the Kakhovsky reservoir, the largest man-made lake in the Dnieper river basin shimmers just a few dozen metres away from Zaporozhsky power plant. In case of unusually high spring flood or dyke breach the station will be inundated in no time, Shapar warns.

The nuclear waste depository on the shores of the reservoir with high level of subsoil water along with unsuitable geological conditions in the region poses additional threat to the population, ecologists contend.

New construction at Zaporozhye poses a more immediate threat to environment as well. Even today the Nikopol-Marganets area is one of the most notoriously polluted areas in the former Soviet Union.

The two largest thermal electric power stations in Europe situated within one mile of each other have already undermined the thermal balance of the Kakhovsky reservoir. The sixth power unit at Zaporozhskaya plant will make matters even worse, environmentalists say.

The workers are now putting the finishing touches to two accompanying 120-metre evaporation pans, which would widen the zone of radioactive particle-bearing aerosol and water vapour dispersion by up to 100 kilometres. And large cities like Zaporozhye and Dnepropetrovsk — each with populations of more than one million — are located within these areas.

Aerosols and vapours may also mix with the discharge of the thermal stations, blowing 330,000 tons of dust and gases into the atmosphere annually, to create an even deadlier cocktail.

Environmentalists are also concerned that the functioning of evaporation pans will lead to increases in water losses in the cooling system of the station, resulting in more frequent blow- throughs of the cooling pond — that is, discharges of contaminated water into the Kakhovsky reservoir.

But these issues are not taken up by the Nature Conservation Ministry in Kiev — at least not in its nine-volume report on “The Justification of Ecological Safety of Construction and Operation” of the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant.

According to environmental campaigners, the report does not give any analysis of several major accidents at the power plant in the last decade which led to loss of life and radiation leakages. There is also no evaluation of the risk of unprecedented lumping of six nuclear reactors together on a single site.

The completion of the new powerblock at Zaporozhye came soon after the ninth anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster when Ukrainians mourned thousands of victims of the explosion of the fourth nuclear reactor at Chernobyl plant on April 26, 1986.

The disaster contaminated 57,000 square kilometres of land with radio-active fall-out principally in the Ukraine, Byelorussia and Russia. More than 3.5 million people were affected with 160,000 having to be relocated.

Seven thousand of those who took part in taming the reactor have already died and 14,000 have been disabled. Around six per cent of Ukraine’s national budget is still allocated to clean-up operations.

The Ukrainian government, bowing to international pressure, has now agreed to close down Chernobyl station by the year 2000. The Ukrainian government is asking for four billion dollars from the international community to complete this job.

But local ecologists warn about the possibility of more, such accidents to come in the light of what they say is government’s indifference to the harmful consequences of building new nuclear reactors without ensuring adequate safeguards.

“Our nuclear bureaucrats don’t feel any guilt, any responsibility. We should watch them very closely and act now to prevent future disasters,” says Vladimir Kuznetsov, Director of Russian Information and Analysis Centre for Nuclear Power Accident Prevention.

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