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Groundwater Monitoring at Semipalatinsk Test Site


Organization of a Groundwater Monitoring System at the Territory of the Former Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site

Tech Area / Field

  • ENV-WPC/Water Pollution and Control/Environment
  • ENV-EHS/Environmental Health and Safety/Environment

8 Project completed

Registration date

Completion date

Senior Project Manager
Kulikov G G

Leading Institute
National Nuclear Center of the Republic of Kazakstan / Institute of Nuclear Physics, Kazakstan, Almaty

Supporting institutes

  • National Nuclear Center of the Republic of Kazakstan / Institute of Geophysical Researches, Kazakstan, Kurchatov


  • Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, USA, CA, Livermore\nForschungszentrum Jülich GmbH, Germany, Jülich

Project summary

From 1961 to 1989 more than 300 underground nuclear explosions have been conducted at the Semipalatinsk Test Site (STS). As a result, a large quantity of radioactive products is concentrated within a comparatively small area posing a great threat to the environment. However, nowadays, the former STS territory is intensively used for various economic activities that often cause natural landscape, hydrogeological and engineering-geological changes and environment contamination. To solve the problems of eliminating the detrimental impact it is required to develop and implement a complex of counter-measures. Among these measures, the groundwater monitoring is of great importance. The groundwater monitoring is observation of the groundwater condition under influence of natural and man-caused factors and evaluation and regular prediction of possible quantitative and qualitative changes in the groundwater condition. The evaluation of the groundwater quality and prediction of the groundwater radionuclide content are of particular significance. The pattern of the radionuclide distribution in the ground water of the former STS that formed during several decades is poorly investigated.

The monitoring will include a system of observation hydrogeological wells available at the former STS. They have been equipped on different distances away from the boreholes and tunnels used for underground nuclear experiments. The wells were mainly intended to study nuclear test impact on the groundwater dynamics. Presently, these wells are not used, however their technical condition makes them quite suitable for investigation of radionuclide transport with ground water. To establish the groundwater monitoring it is necessary to implement a series of work to select hydrogeological wells of appropriate technical condition and suitable for solving tasks related to determination of ways and rates of the radionuclide transport in the groundwater basin. A complex of hydrogeological and laboratory operations will be performed to include sweeping-up, cleaning, flushing-out, and test pumping of wells, and water sampling for laboratory analysis of man-made radionuclides. For the latter, alpha, beta and gamma-spectrometric methods including radiochemical pretreatment will be used. Establishment and operation of the groundwater monitoring will be based on regular water sampling from observation wells according to the developed long-term monitoring strategy. Operation of the groundwater monitoring will provide for:

· control of processes taking place at the former STS that are of potential ecological hazard and associated with groundwater transport of radioactive products;
· obtaining the information necessary to provide the ecological safety during economic activities at the former STS;
· on-line detection, at the initial stage, of any negative tendencies in the radioecological situation development.

As the information about the radionuclide distribution halos will be obtained and specified, other areas of the underground basin will be included into the groundwater monitoring. For this purpose the expansion of the observation hole network is planned to observe uncontrolled transport of man-made radionuclides to vital objects of the economic activities.

The objectives of the project are to comprehensively investigate the hydrogeological basin within the technical fields of the former STS (Balapan, Degelen, Telkem) and to establish groundwater monitoring in ecologically hazardous directions.

To achieve the objectives set forth the following tasks will be fulfilled:

· To develop work hydrogeological models of areas selected by the end of nuclear testing.
· To examine present condition of hydrogeological wells available in areas of underground nuclear testing.
· To accomplish test hydrogeological works in wells and take water samples for short chemical analysis and radionuclide determination.
· To develop up-to-date hydrogeological models and plot maps of water halos and radionuclide transport fluxes. To select locations for effective operation of the long-term ecological groundwater monitoring.
Results anticipated are as follows:
· a set of up-to-date hydrogeological models of areas used for underground nuclear tests and maps of water halos and radionuclide distribution in ground water.
· a mathematical model of radionuclide distribution within the underground water basin and prognostic maps.
· locations for equipping the long-term control points to observe radionuclide transport in ground water of the former STS in ecologically dangerous directions will be selected and a strategy for the long-term groundwater monitoring will be worked out.

The presence of chemical toxic substances and radionuclides in ground water will be confirmed using physicochemical methods. The former weapon scientists participating in the Project are highly qualified specialists from the Institute of Nuclear Physics – physicists, chemists, engineers and technicians widely experienced in nuclear-physical analysis, radiochemistry, mass spectrometry, instrument-making, nuclear engineering and data processing. A high level of qualification of specialists from the Institute of Geophysical Research will assure a high level of experimental work performance.

The role of foreign collaborators is to ensure reliability and accuracy of information obtained under the Project as well as completeness and impartiality of results to be published. They will participate in a technical inspection of the Project activities, carried out by ISTC representatives, and take part in interpretation of experimental data during joint discussion of results. The foreign collaborator of the present Project is the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) that has the many-year experience in modeling radionuclide transport with ground water at the Nevada Test Site and tests sites on Mururoa and Fangataufa Atolls and in French Polynesia. Thus, the foreign collaborator will significantly contribute to development of the mathematical model of radionuclide transport with ground water at the former STS territory. The model will be used to forecast the ecological situation development that ultimately will be taken into account during elaboration of the long-term groundwater monitoring strategy at the former STS


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