Water for Life and Peace

2012 Mar 13th

Managing the polluted River Tom in Russia

Green Cross Switzerland and Green Cross Russia are co-financing a research project on safe nature management on the river Tom in the Russian Federation. The project, managed by Green Cross Russia, within the framework of their water programme, and implemented by the Green Cross office in Tomsk, will assess the environmental situation around the Siberian Chemical Industrial Complex (SCIC) in Seversk, just a few kilometers north of Tomsk. The facility, established during the Cold War for the purpose of storing nuclear weapons, is now processing nuclear fuel for the peaceful use of atomic energy. Therefore, sewage waters flowing into the river Tom from the facility now contain different man-made radioactive nuclides.

The Tom is a large right inflow of the Ob, feeding into the Ob 40 kilometres downstream of the SCIC sewage plant. The preliminary investigations showed that the water of the Tom downstream of the sewage issue contains man-caused radioactive nuclides, including neptunium-239, arsenic-76, biogenic natrium-24, phosphorus-32 and other short-living radioactive nuclides. Long-living caesium-137, cobalt-60, zinc-65, plutonium isotopes have also accumulated in bottom sediments and inundated soil and are then transferred with suspension particles downstream of the river, mainly during spring floods.
 
Local citizens including citizens from Seversk do not pay attention to timeworn signs of radiation danger in the area, continuing their way of live despite the dangers. In spite of the fishing ban in the control area of SCIC, some locals fish in the polluted waters, as fish are attracted by warm water resulting from the sewage. During the summer, one can see pasturing cattle on the meadows inundated by sewage waters.
 
On 5 June 2008, the last of 5 industrial plutonium reactors of the SCIC stopped operating. This had been previously impossible, as it supplied 25% of Tomsk and nearly 50% of Seversk with hot water for heating. However, the modernization of the Seversk Heating Electric Generating Station and heating powers of Tomskenergo allowed for the shutting down of the nuclear reactors. The GC research project will now examine the actual contamination and suggest a safe nature management system for the population in the region.
 
The information acquired during the project realization phase will be partially used to publish a book about the consequences of nuclear weapon materials production in the Siberian Chemical Industrial Complex. The results of the radio ecological examination in the SCIC affected area will be used during the dialogue between the Tomsk Green Cross and the administration of the Tomsk region regarding the planned Seversk APP construction in the Tomsk region. The methodology of the project may also be given to other regional offices of Green Cross Russia and other organizations for realization of such projects.
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