Welcome to AtomWatch - world nuclear power news and analysis

This blog is aimed at tracing the world news related to nuclear power development internationally and in particular countries. Being an independent resource, we accept all kinds of opinions, positions and comments, and welcome you to discuss the posts and tell us what you think.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Concequences of pollution

In previous post, I presented a brief analysis of the situation in nuclear industry in Russia. Before going on with other modern analytical articles, I would like to turn back to the old days of 20-something years ago and give a description of one of the most severe accidents in nuclear history of the humankind - Chernobyl. For there are facts and figures that raise when we speak about Chernobyl - and they are not just history but also the precent and future.

One remark before we go over to facts. Chernobyl case as no other in history showed that certain policies and lack of information can be as well as harmful for the country and nation as the pollution itself. Will explain more later, just wanted to draw your attention to this.

(this post is partially based on my MA thesis Chernobyl Reporting in Belarusian Printed Media, (Örebro University 2006)

On April 26, 1986, a major accident, determined to have been a reactivity (power increase) accident, occurred at Unit 4 of the nuclear power station at Chernobyl, Ukraine. The accident destroyed the reactor and released massive amounts of radioactivity into the environment. After the accident, access to the area in a 30 km radius around the plant was closed, except for persons requiring official access to the plant and to the immediate area for evaluating and dealing with the consequences of the accident and operation of the undamaged units. Approximately 135,000 people were evacuated. Pripyat, the town near Chernobyl where most of the plant workers lived before the 1986 accident, was evacuated several days after the accident because of radiological contamination. It was included in the 30 km exclusion zone around the plant and is closed to all but those with authorized access. Up to 4,000 people eventually died of radiation exposure, many of them the on-site staff and emergency workers called to deal with the 1986 catastrophe at the nuclear power plant in the Ukraine.

The main problem for the population so far was a constant lack of information about the true state of things around the situation with radioactivity in the country and real health impacts for the people. Several groups of experts, including delegations from UN and the WHO had studied the case carefully to evaluate the impact of the nuclear explosion. Here is a list of major outlines on Chernobyl impacts found by medical commissions from one of the recent reports called “Chernobyl's Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts” published on Sept. 5, 2005:
· Some 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer, mainly in children and adolescents, can be attributed to the Chernobyl tragedy. Although at least nine children have died, the survival rate stands at almost 99 percent. This cancer is slow-growing, however, the children need to be followed and checked.
· There may be a slight increase in the incidence of leukemia and of solid cancers and circulatory system diseases. [...]
· There is no evidence of decreased fertility among people who were exposed to the radiation, nor has there been any evidence of congenital malformation in their offspring.
· Mental health is a critical issue faced by survivor of the disaster. "People don't have timely and accurate information, and this has caused serious troubles," Mettler said (Dr. Fred Mettler, Jr., chairman of one of the three expert groups involved in putting the report together, a radiologist at Albuquerque Veterans Affairs Medical Center in New Mexico - A.K.). "Kids who were exposed who are now 20 years old have been called Chernobyl invalids. They have an annual medical exam by 20 doctors so they think for sure something's wrong."
· Experts noted an increased incidence of cataracts that may or may not interfere with vision. The problems occurred at doses lower than generally though to be a problem. [...]
· Except for the 30-kilometer perimeter immediately surrounding the reactor and isolated other areas, radiation levels have returned to acceptable levels. Strontium and cesium will remain a concern for decades to come.
· Some structural elements of the sarcophagus built to hold the damaged reactor have degraded and pose risks. [1]Gardner, Amanda (2005) Chernobyl Legacy Not as Dark as Feared http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=53259 (January 25, 2006)

I would like to pay special attention to the position mentioning the mental health issue. The biggest problem left by Chernobyl still is the lack of correct and trustworthy information about the situation with nuclear pollution and its consequences to the country. The lack of information and general distrust to what is told by officials and mass media cause even more serious problems for the society then the radiation itself, and it can be clearly seen from the independent medical report extracts from which is given above.

Unfortunately, looks like "nuclear disinformation" or simply hidden information is not only the case in Belarus. Neighbouring Russia and Ukraine were in pretty much similar cituation because they were part of the same system. But when it comes to information about nuclear industry in the world scale - what does an international reader have access to? In the interconnected world of today, problems and accidents in one country cannot remain without impact on other countries, even those located far away. SO what do we know?

In the coming post I will give a list of several resources available on the topic with brief comments.

Monday, August 27, 2007


Here comes an article briefly scanning the pespectives of nuclear energy development in Russia for the coming years, I translated it out of Russian sources such as www.atominfo.ru

Former prime minister of Russia Sergei Kirienko as current head of “Rosatom” (national atomic energy agency of Russia) looking forward to launch at least two new reactors in Russia each year within a five year period, and the same amount of reactors to be launched abroad by Russian specialists.

As Mr. Kirienko stated in his interview in Russian newspaper “Zawtra” that the security level of Russian atomic reactors has risen several times during the last 20 years. According to him, Russian nuclear power plant is a “totally different machine” comparing to the equipment used once in Chernobyl.

Probably such confidence in the abilities of modern Russian reactors causes Mr. Kirienko’s organization to set its main goals as organizational changes, restructuring of several enterprises, and also several large scale changes within the professional community. Nuclear specialist retire and get replaced by a new generation of economists and managers, keen on financial issues but not being aware of nuclear energy industry peculiarities.

In 2006 there were 42 accidents registered on nuclear power plants in Russia. 89% of those were caused by technical, not human factors. During 2007 the statistics appear to be even more unfavorable for “Rosatom”. Only in July 2007 Kursk nuclear power plant had four cases of decreasing the power of reactors. Atomic agency of Russia blames thunders and generally hot weather, although the personnel of the power plant in their non-official comments speak about the technical failure of the worn-out equipment, and also low labor discipline.

On the other hand, the growth of world prices for oil and gas together with global warming threat causes both developed and underdeveloped countries to think over the “renaissance” of nuclear energy industry. But isn’t the large-scale building of new nuclear power plants bring a danger of new catastrophes able to cancel all the great development plans and literally cross out the entire nuclear industry?

Journalists of Associated Press decided to find out the details about the security issues on the world’s nuclear power plants. How many accidents happened in general, and is there a tendency to decrease their amount? Unfortunately, the journalistic curiosity remained unsatisfied. Official IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) web site removes the data about nuclear accidents from public access once every 6 months, in order not to represent the nuclear states “in a negative angle”.

For instance, Japan still cannot recover from bad news. The owners of Kasiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant were hiding from the public the information about the true scale of damage caused by the earthquake on July 16, 2007. Part of the data was simply lost because of the computerized monitoring systems’ failure. But even the remaining detectors’ indications prove that the Japanese engineers made a miscalculation when considering the maximum possible power of earthquake in the region, which was understated several times.

Japan is currently not planning to launch a large number of new nuclear power plants.

The accident in Japan was commented by “Rosatom” as a “simple concourse of circumstances” (comments published by Russian information agency RIA Novosti). “Rosatom”s experts claimed that the messages about radioactive leakage outside the Kasiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant was “just someone’s unjustified fear and a bunch of emotions”, although the leakage fact was accepted by the owners of the damaged plant themselves.

The situation in “Rosatom” resembles much the USSR right before Chernobyl accident, when the aged members of Politburo decided that nuclear power plants were completely secure. Kremlin did not pay much attention to the vital needs of the atomic industry and started planning a large number of nuclear plants construction, together with reorganization leaving the management of the reactors to non-professionals. Everyone is aware of how it all ended. Isn’t that the same way Kirienko’s team goes now?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Atom Watch

What do you usually think about when you hear speaking about nuclear power plant? Hmmm...
Let's try to make a brain storming. Sit down, take a piece of paper and a pen... and write down anything that comes to your mind.
My row of words looks like this:
Chernobyl, explosion, radiactive, desertion, danger, top secret, zone...
Enough to applaude and say BRAVO you are brainwashed?!!
Could well be. Growing up in 80's Belarus and hearing about radiation all the time, mostly from gossips and people in streets and sometimes from doctors in local clinic (all kids in my class at school had enlarged thyroid, so had I and still do)... And as from media - we heard quite opposite. Usually silence. Or just some calm-down statements from higher officials. Needless to say, we all grew up suspicious ti media and relying more on what we hear with our own ears and see with our own eyes.
But anyway scared. This phenomenon is sometimes mentioned as "radiophobia" (read more here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiophobia ).
Modern world opens doors to much larger informational flow then we used to have in ex-USSR or even in modern Belarus. Internet is able to open doors an borders. There comes another problem - how do we "filter" information? Are we still being manipulated, or we are able to create our own opinion on the issue? What do we know about modern world of nuclear technology? Is "peaceful atom" really a good alternative to oil and gas that cause global warming?
Questions to be answered by everyone interested, answered by him-her-self... But once it affects your life, you just cannot remain indifferent.
I am starting up this blog because I am indifferent already. Being a journalist, I made a detailed study of what they write about Chernobyl in Belarusian press, and made several conclusions one of which is that WE ARE NOT GIVEN the appropriate information (will publish some of it later on here). Some of the info is hidden, some "misused".
What I desided to do is to try (at least try!) to publish online some info which could be found on the web or picked from other sources, which can be debated, compared, and simply take into consideration... to see at least the part of the correct and true picture of nuclear energy today.

To collegues journalists: feel free to republish any part of this blog, but please refer to Atom Watch blog and send me the link to your article. I am open to cooperation, you can contact me anytime by email or ICQ. Also you are welcome to post your comments, both professionals, specialists and just anyone interested.
Let's watch - and maybe we together are able to see the true nuclear picture of the world where we live.