A CONTRACT between Russian, American and Japanese organisations, to hasten a long-awaited radiation clean-up, was signed in Moscow last month. This incident may mark the first concrete step taken by the concerned parties towards solving the staggering problem of radiation pollution off the Pacific coast of Russia in the Far East.
Under the contract, Japan, which has been partially helping finance disarmament attempts of Russia since 1993, will foot the bill for building safe facilities for reprocessing and storage of liquid radioactive waste. The cost of the entire operation is expected to exceed us $25.5 million.
Russia was a signatory to the London anti-Dumping Convention of 1972, but its government commission report of 1993 - commonly known as the Yablokov Report (after its chairperson Alexei Yablokov), revealed that contrary to the declaration which came into force from 1959, Russia had been regularly dumping radioactive waste in the adjoining seas. At present, Russia maintains that it has stopped all dumping activities, and although there is information that its navy still generates upto 20,000 cubic metre of liquid waste arm :ll,, this is being stored in land- based bins.
Radioactive contamination off the Pacific coast is a major cause for concern, especially for the eastern nations. The Yablokov Report disclosed that between 1966 and 1992, liquid waste with a radioactivity level of at least 12,337 curies was dumped in the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean. In fact, Russia's last recorded dumping of 900 cubic m of liquid waste in the Sea of Japan provoked a furious outcry from Japan.
In 1993, an amendment to the anti-dumping convention imposed a blanket ban on dumpinr of any kind of nuclear material in the seas. Russia then refused to sign the amendment, at least for the time being, citing financial bottlenecks as the reason.
A recent examination of Russia's land-based radiation waste dumps, which presently house spent nuclear fuel, revealed that most were almost full. The recently signed agreement provides for the storage of reprocessed liquid nuclear waste on board a tug vessel measuring 60 metres by 20 metres. According to the plans, the ship would be built in the naval dockyard in Komsomolask-on-Amur, where, ironically enough, most of Russia's nuclear submarines were earlier commissioned.
The reprocessing will be conducted in the Siberian city of Bolshoi Kamen. The plant would be modelled after its US counterparts. However, the signatories made it clear that Russia must be prepared to bear all serving and maintenance costs - expected to be over a million us dollars annually.
Plans are also afoot to build a full-fledged nuclear graveyard in the Far East, as the floating storage unit is expected to be live for not more than 20 years. Under the proposed scheme, radioactive materials will be stored in the manner it has been done in the US: bonded securely in cement and paper in stainless steel containers.