The planned construction of a nuclear power plant on the border of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, on Lake Tuzkan, is dangerous. The problem here is not even in the technology or the imperfection of nuclear reactors. As they say, the devil is in the details. When the public is offered information about the ultra-reliability of modern equipment and the minimal risks associated with accidents at nuclear power plants, they are silent about the most critical problem – nuclear waste disposal. The world has not yet developed such technologies that would minimize the damage caused by nuclear waste to the environment. They do not exist, which means that a storage facility for nuclear waste will also be created along with the nuclear power plant in Uzbekistan. However, neither at the official level nor among public and environmental activists, there needs to be a word about where it will be located, what characteristics, and so on. And this information is no less important than the type of reactors and the cooling method.
Impossible to bury
A striking example of human frivolity is the attempt to bury nuclear waste in the ASSE-2 salt mine in Germany. These works were carried out as part of an experiment in the 60-70s. Currently, 126,000 barrels and containers of waste are in the mine at a depth of 700 to 900 meters. Andrey Ozharovsky, an engineer-physicist and an expert on the Russian Social and Ecological Union Radioactive Waste Safety program, noted that although a radiation accident may not occur, radioactive waste is always present since it accumulates in any nuclear reactor.
“The burial of nuclear waste in a mine is a standard procedure in Germany. Experts believed that there was no water in abundance. Otherwise, the salt would dissolve, and the waste would remain isolated from the environment for millions of years. However, at a depth of 900 or 700 meters, the mine began to leak, possibly due to a change in the direction of groundwater. The mine and burial began to erode so much that radionuclides are now on the surface.
This case perfectly demonstrates that burying radioactive waste is problematic for future generations. If in the 60s waste was stored on the surface, then now we would not have such problems. A leaking container would be easier to replace. Therefore, providing care, inspection, and maintenance of containers is necessary. Germany is spending over a billion euros from its budget to recover waste from a leaking storage facility. Thus, all projects involving burial come down to shifting problems to future generations,” the expert emphasized.
The imperfection of science
Nuclear energy, experts say, has repeatedly demonstrated its danger and economic inefficiency. Here’s a simple example: an infographic showing the state of nuclear power worldwide. In full accordance with the emerging trends, the following can be predicted: the number of nuclear reactors worldwide will constantly decrease. The rapid growth, new technologies, and optimism inherent in the 60-80 years are gone forever. After Chornobyl, the number of nuclear reactors stabilized, and after Fukushima, their reduction began.
“The forecast for 2050 says that there will be no more than 50 reactors left in the world; at present, there are about 440. There is a clear trend of abandoning nuclear energy, which is an objective reality,” Andrey Ozharovsky noted.
Together with the number of nuclear power plants, the electricity produced by the world nuclear power industry in kilowatt-hours is also decreasing. Her fall began in 2006.
The radiation background is rising
Albert Garapov, the academician of the International Public Academy of Ecological Safety and Nature Management (IAAEBP) and chairman of the Anti-Nuclear Society of Tatarstan, holds an opinion based on many years of observations. He notes that nuclear energy produces less energy than radioactive materials and waste.
An example by which he supports his arguments is the small VVER-440 reactor, where the fuel’s radioactivity increases millions of times per year of operation. In the vicinity of nuclear power plants, the concentration of some radionuclides is observed, exceeding the natural background by dozens of times. Albert Garapov warns of possible severe hereditary anomalies that millions of people suffer if the background radiation in the environment rises by a fraction of an X-ray.
The scientist also notes that nuclear physics is a young science, and nuclear processes, including the operation of reactors, have a devastating effect over long distances. He cites an analysis carried out on cows, where a decrease in milk yield was found at a distance of 170 km from a nuclear power plant with a capacity of 1.5 million kW. Given the greater human vulnerability, the affected areas for humans will be even more significant by about 20-30 percent. Consequently, the distance of destruction increases to 280-300 km.
The construction of a nuclear power plant in Uzbekistan is planned at about 300 km from Tashkent and only 40 km from the Kazakh city of Shardara (in a straight line).
The other day, an online meeting of the working group dedicated to studying the safety of the construction of a nuclear power plant on Lake Tuzkan took place. The working group included social activists, environmentalists, scientists, and journalists from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia. It was proposed to consider the issue of holding international hearings regarding the construction of a nuclear power plant near the border with Kazakhstan. It is necessary to develop appeal documents to the departments of atomic energy and nuclear technologies of the Uzatom agency and the Ministry of Energy of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
The participants of the working group meeting also noted that the construction of a nuclear power plant turns the country into a nuclear power. The question arises why does this happen when nuclear energy is being phased out all over the world, and this technology is not popular? However, no one raises the issue of allowable emissions into the atmosphere.
“Air releases spread for several kilometers. Fine radioactive aerosol will spread and accumulate on water surfaces. And then, it will move with the flow to other areas. Few people discuss allowed and standard releases. However, no nuclear power plant can function without them. Your hollows and the lowlands will become places for collecting these emissions,” Andrei Ozharovsky stressed.
In conclusion, it was decided to seek public and international hearings regarding the construction of a nuclear power plant on Lake Tuzkan. The purpose of these hearings will be to discuss the safety and hazards of this facility so that the public is aware of the possible consequences of this construction for the regions of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
Written by: Natalya Malysheva, member of the international working group on the study of the safety of the construction of a nuclear power plant on Lake Tuzkan
Image by Janyl Madykova: radioactive waste tailing on the Mailuu-Suu riverbank, 2017 Kyrgyzstan, published in The Third Pole