Saturday, June 02, 2007


We love both vodka and Eugene Onegin, but we cannot deny that when it comes to the responsible disposal of nuclear waste, our friends in the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics have never been what we would call excessively conscientious. (A 1990 Atlantic article entitled "Rad Storm Rising" carried the unappetizing subtitle "A ghastly tour of a land of radioactive sausage, poisoned onions, and bald children," and quoted Soviet officials who, lips loosened by Glasnost, made bold to confess that the entire nation was "being transformed into a nuclear-waste dump.") We vividly remember reading, a couple of years after the Chernobyl incident, that Russia had been ditching its radioactive waste in the North Atlantic for several decades even then:
Beginning in 1965, twenty nuclear reactors, most with their fuel rods still inside, were dumped from nuclear submarines and an icebreaker into the Arctic Ocean north of Russia. In 1994 the Oslo-based Bellona Foundation estimated that radioactive dumping in the Kara Sea north of western Siberia and adjacent waters constituted two-thirds of all the radioactive materials that ever have entered the world's oceans.
But that's not the worst of it: the containers in which much of the jettisoned waste now resides were made of reinforced cement, with an estimated underwater lifespan of fifty years. Which means, according to the imperial abacus, that we should begin to harvest the poisoned fruits of Soviet foresight around 2015 -- a mere eight years from now.

Alas, we may not have to wait that long. Our dominant colleague Avedon Carol alerts us to a Norwegian newspaper report claiming that ecological catastrophe is only a day away:

The vast amount of radioactive waste that is the legacy of Russia's nuclear-powered submarines has been known to be a looming environmental disaster - now it can be far worse.

Research now indicates that the enormous tanks holding discarded submarine fuel rods in the Andreeva Bay may explode at any time, creating a nuclear nightmare for Northern Europe . . . .

A new report from Rosatom, the Russian government's highest nuclear authority, shows that there is a grave danger that the stockpile can explode. For Norway the consequences could exceed the fallout from the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, and no one knows how imminent the danger is - if it is a question of years - or hours.
"In the best case a small, limited explosion in just one of the stored rods can lead to radioactive contamination in a five-kilometer (three-mile) radius. In the worst case, such a single explosion could cause the entire tank facility to explode. We have no calculations for what that could lead to," Aleksandr Nikitin of environmental group Bellona told Aftenposten.

"It will at least, at a careful estimate, hit Northern Europe. There are enormous amounts of radioactivity stored in these tanks," said Nils Bøhmer, nuclear physicist and head of Bellona's Russian division . . . .

The large tanks, each containing 21,000 rods, are near the sea. Salt water has entered the tanks and lead to the rapid disintegration of the metal pipes. The salt water has then entered the pipes, breaking down the rods, releasing small uranium particles that fall to the bottom of the metal pipes.

"The conclusion of Rosatom is that when the amount of particles on the bottom reaches five to ten percent in relation to the amount of water, potentially explosive critical mass will occur," Kudrik said.

Rosatom uses the term "uncontrolled chain reaction" for what will occur.

Nikitin has had a prison term and a five year battle to be totally cleared of espionage charges by the Russian Supreme Court as his price for compiling Bellona's first report on radioactive contamination at Kola.

UNRELATED SIDEBAR: If you found the above item insufficiently disturbing, just say so; we have plenty more harbingers of the apocalypse where that came from. Also via Avedon, here's our esteemed colleague R.S. James of Grouchy's Liberaltopia on Andrew Speaker, the airline passenger diagnosed with "super TB":
He’s now in quarantine at a Denver, Colorado, hospital while officials at the Center for Disease Control figure out how to treat him and whether he should be prosecuted for flying against their orders, although he denies they told him not to fly.

But the story gets curiouser and curiouser; apparently Speaker’s father-in-law, Robert C. Cooksey, works as a microbiologist for the CDC in — hunhhhh? — the area of tuberculosis research. Cooksey is currently denying that his lab had anything to do with his son-in-law’s infection with TB, but, then, he does work for the government.

Okay, a little background here: We know what the CDC is supposed to do — research, prevent and cure disease, especially potential national epidemics like tuberculosis — but there have also been allegations that the Black Ops Boys have appropriated some CDC scientists to assess and develop biological weapons, such as incurable strains of diseases like TB.

Here’s a big What If: What if Speaker’s father-in-law was a little careless in the lab one day and left with a contagious bit of weapons-grade super TB on his clothing which his son-in-law then somehow ingested?

This would explain why CDC officials were so slow to act in this case, allowing Speaker to fly around Europe and North America before taking him into custody — they weren’t cleared to know about the super TB his new in-law was working on.

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