Is a German Nuclear Waste Train Poisoning Russians?


Apparently the Germans are still sore about that whole “losing to Russia in World War II” thing, and they’re getting back at them with a unique Trojan horse type solution.

nukeA train carrying nuclear waste in Bristol, England. Image by Chris McKenna

A German train loaded with nuclear waste parked in the residential district of the Russian city of Avtovo recently. Radiation levels were quickly found to be more than 30 times higher than accepted levels.

Rashid Alimov, a member of the ecological organization Bellona, said: “Background radiation levels near the train measured 680 microroentgen an hour, when the norm is 12 microroentgen an hour.”

The area where the train parked is frequently used by local residents, many of whom cross the tracks to get to work. While the radiation levels would only be deadly if exposed to them for an extended period of time, they could still cause health problems.

Activists from Bellona and other environmental groups took the readings recently. They encountered armed resistance when they arrived to take measurements, with one guard pointing a machine gun at them.

The environmental groups have been tracking a train loaded with more than 1000 tons of depleted uranium since it arrived in the port town near St. Petersburg from the Urenco enrichment facility in Germany. The train is making its way to the Ural Mountains, where the nuclear waste will be buried.

Bellona is against the transportation of nuclear waste. Alimov said: “It is much safer to leave such waste where it was used — its transportation increases the risk of emergencies.” He stated that the train disappeared on Monday, but that the group could not say where it went.

Bellona and four other environmental groups have been vocal in their opposition of importing nuclear waste into Russia. They recently held a protest in St. Petersburg where they displayed pictures of children born with radioactively caused deformities and images of radioactive disasters.

They’ve gathered hundreds of signatures recently for a petition that will go to Russian Atomic Energy minister Sergei Kiriyenko. “In the letter we demanded the revocation of the treaty on the import of radioactive waste to Russia,” Alimov said. They also demand that the government release information on the safety of the containers in which nuclear waste is transported.

I’m not personally against nuclear power, nor am I completely for it. Apart from a very few high-profile incidents, they’ve been very safe and pollution from coal burning has almost certainly killed more people than radioactivity poisoning. That being said, transportation and storage of nuclear waste is a tricky and potentially risky proposition.

In countries like Russia, where bribery and corruption can frequently undermine the safety of operations, we could see another nuclear disaster if we’re not immensely careful to ensure that nuclear waste is transported in a way that complies with extremely strict safety standards. But can we guarantee that, and is it worth it if we can’t? I can’t say.

Info from St. Petersburg Times