Vast nuclear dump puts Russia in dock

AN UNPARALLELED legal battle has begun in Russia to stop an ex- Soviet nuclear weapons plant from injecting highly radioactive liquid waste underground - a practice which environmentalists say threatens not only the drinking supply of hundreds of thousands of people but, ultimately, Europe's Arctic fishing grounds.

Local environmentalists in western Siberia have filed a lawsuit against the authorities in an attempt to revoke a dumping permit at Tomsk-7, which produced plutonium and uranium for the Kremlin's nuclear weapons during the Cold War.

The radioactivity of the waste dumped there over the last 35 years is about 1,200m curies - utterly dwarfing the 50m curies released when the 1986 Chernobyl disaster sent a cloud of radioactivity across the northern hemisphere.

"It is a unique case," said Thomas Nielsen, of the Bellona Foundation, an Oslo-based environmental research organisation which monitors the Russian nuclear industry. "This is the first time that an independent local group has tried to take on the authorities in the Russian courts in this way."

Government officials admit that the Siberian Chemical Combine at Tomsk- 7 - for years a closed city known only by its postcode and ringed by miles of barbed wire - injects highly radioactive liquid waste underground.

This is held in what they call "deep wells", 300m- to 400m-deep water- carrying layerssealed by deposits of clay. But they say the waste is safe.

"It is absolutely meaningless to compare this with Chernobyl, as it makes no impact whatever on the environment," Yevgeny Kudryavtsev, head of the nuclear chemical division of Russia's Ministry of Atomic Energy, told The Independent yesterday. But the ministry's opponents, including Bellona, point to the fact that the underground dumps are only a few miles from wells that supply drinking water to the 500,000 residents of the city of Tomsk. They fear a leak, warning that it could one day cause a catastrophe by flooding the food chain with radioactivity.

"This is the biggest dumping ground for such waste in the entire world," said Mr Nielsen. "This also happens to be a few miles from the Tom River, a tributary of the Ob River which flows into the Arctic and the Barents Sea, the fishing ground for the whole of Europe."

Over the years, he said, at least 10kg of plutonium - which will threaten the environment for centuries - has been dumped underground at Tomsk-7, mixed with other liquid waste. There is no known way of extracting and disposing of it.

Bellona believes the law suit, bought by local groups - including a regional organisation called Green World - will be a critical test of the 1993 Russian constitution. This grants the "right to a favourable environment, reliable information on the state of the environment and compensation for damage caused to health and property by violations of environmental laws".

However, the ministry's Mr Kudryavtsev was yesterday bullishly confident about the plant - scene of a serious nuclear accident in 1993, in which a 45-mile surrounding zone was contaminated.

He says the underground dumps are sealed by deposits of clay the "width of a 10-storey building" providing a barrier would last "thousands and thousands" of years. Asked if he could be certain that the waste would not one day escape, he replied: "Are you sure that there won't be a nuclear accident in Britain in the next few days? Can you ever be absolutely sure? It is a meaningless question."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
News
i100(More than you think)
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Arts and Entertainment
John Hurt will voice Prince Bolkonsky in Radio 4's War and Peace
radioRadio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Recruitment Genius: Development Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Development Scientist is required to join a ...

Recruitment Genius: Accountant

£25000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?