Tuesday, October 19

Chernobyl fears a resurgence when river dredging begins in the exclusion zone | Environment

The river that runs through the Chernobyl nuclear reactor is being dredged to create an inland navigation route, potentially resurfacing radioactive sludge from the 1986 disaster that could contaminate the drinking water of 8 million people in Ukraine, scientists and conservationists warn. .

The dredging of the Pripyat began in July and is part of an international project to create the 2,000-km (1,240-mile) long E40 waterway linking the Baltic and Black Seas, passing through Poland, Belarus and Ukraine. The river, which meanders less than 2.5 km from the reactor responsible for the world’s worst nuclear disaster, has already been dredged in at least seven different locations, five of which are within 10 km of the reactor, according to the report. Save Polesia coalition.

This goes against recommendations from the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) that the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone should not be disturbed due to long-lasting pollution from the Soviet-era explosion. The Ukrainian dredging company Sobi won the tender to excavate 100,000 cubic meters of sediment and work began in July this year, according to a publication in the company. Facebook page. The mail says that the waterway is important for improving river transport and trade with neighboring countries, namely Belarus.

Dredging of the Pripyat River within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

Dredging of the Pripyat River within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Photograph: Courtesy of Sobi

The Ukrainian government commissioned the dredging work for around 12 million Ukrainian hryvnia (£ 320,000). While a consortium of government ministries, companies and the EU commissioned a feasibility study, several NGOs, including Save Polesia, WWF and BirdLife, have warned that the government is breaking the law by failing to conduct an environmental impact assessment (EIA). , which is required by the regulations of Ukraine. They say that the E40 feasibility study In 2015, the Gdansk Maritime Institute did not adequately analyze the implications of radioactive contamination from dredging within the exclusion zone, which is 100 km upstream from Kiev. Ukraine’s Ministry of Infrastructure, which is leading the E40 project, did not respond to The Guardian’s request for comment regarding the EIA.

The French NGO Association for the control of radioactivity in the West (Acro), following research commissioned by the Frankfurt Zoological Society, warned: “The construction of the E40 will have a radiological impact on construction workers and the population that depends on the rivers… the IAEA recommends leaving the contaminated sediments in the Kiev reservoir in its place, to avoid exposing the river population down. In this context, the construction of the E40 is not feasible ”.

Lead researcher Dr David Boilley, nuclear physicist and president of Acro, told The Guardian: “The fact that they want to build a dam and have the ships go through the bottom of the Chernobyl reactor, to me is incredible. This is the most polluted part of the exclusion zone ”.

Sobi manager Dmitrij Nadeev told The Guardian the company commissioned an investigation into radiation and took soil samples. “The safety of our workers is a top priority,” he said. “The analysis showed that the work can be done safely, but all workers received personal protective equipment (PPE) and dosimeters. During the work, the scientists took daily water samples downstream of the dredge ”.

Nadeev refused to share the radiation study with The Guardian or show evidence that the workers wore PPE. Ukraine’s infrastructure ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Soviet scientists long maintained that it was not necessary to study the long-term impacts of radiation on the population and that the official death toll from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster is only 54. However, some estimates suggest that the Persistent pollution from the blast could mean one in five People in Belarus still live on polluted land. “The exclusion zone should be an exclusion zone for centuries; this means there are no people living in it and there is no activity on the river, “Boilley said.

A partially built and abandoned cooling tower in Chernobyl

A partially built and abandoned cooling tower in Chernobyl as a protective enclosure towers over the wrecked number four reactor in the distance. Photograph: Sean Gallup / Getty Images

The E40 would run from Gdańsk in Poland, through southern Belarus to Kherson in Ukraine. It would be the longest waterway in Europe, 25 times the length of the Panama Canal. Government ministries and a coalition of organizations are pushing for the construction. Small boats can already pass, but it will deepen and widen to allow the passage of boats up to 80 meters long.

E40 inland waterway map

A second feasibility study is currently underway in Poland to decide which route is the best, and results are expected in the coming months. The government appears to be proceeding with plans for the Siarzewo dam, one of 13 to 15 dams that should be built on the Vistula River. Construction costs for the E40 are likely to exceed 13 billion euros (11.7 billion pounds), the majority of which will be spent in Poland.

Conservationists are also concerned about the loss of biodiversity. The waterway would run through a region called Polesia, an area two-thirds the size of the UK, often referred to as the Amazon of Europe because of its incredible diversity of wildlife, including 1.5 million migratory birds, as well as bison. , wolves and lynxes. and bears. Sixty internationally important wildlife sites on route E40 would be affected by its construction.

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