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Radioactive Contamination of the Yenisei River


Assessment and Prediction of Consequences of Radioactive Discharges to the Yenisei and Underground Disposal of Liquid Radioactive Waste by the Mining and Chemical Industrial Complex (Zheleznogorsk) for the Environment and Population

Tech Area / Field

  • ENV-WPC/Water Pollution and Control/Environment
  • ENV-MRA/Modelling and Risk Assessment/Environment
  • ENV-RWT/Radioactive Waste Treatment/Environment

3 Approved without Funding

Registration date

Leading Institute
Scientific & Production Association “Typhoon”, Russia, Kaluga reg., Obninsk

Supporting institutes

  • Mining and Chemical Complex, Russia, Krasnoyarsk reg., Zheleznogorsk


  • Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority / Statens Stralevern, Norway, Osteras\nLaurentian University, Canada, ON, Sudbury\nGalson Sciences Ltd., UK, Oakham\nFachhochschule Ravensburg-Weingarten / University of Applied Sciences, Germany, Weingarten\nUniversity of Georgia / Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, USA, SC, Aiken\nCentre for Ecology & Hydrology, UK, Cumbria\nBritish Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL), UK, Chesire, Risley Warrington\nTulane University / National Institute for Global Environmental Change / SouthCentral Regional Center, USA, LA, New Orleans\nJAERI / Department of Environmental Sciences, Japan, Tokyo\nCEA / Institut de Radioprotection et de Surete Nucleaire, France, Saint-Paul-lez-Durance\nForschungszentrum für Umwelt und Gesundheit GmbH (GSF) / Institut für Strahlenschutz, Germany, Neuherberg\nLawrence Berkeley National Laboratory / Earth Sciences Division, USA, CA, Berkeley

Project summary

The objective of the project is assessment of the present-day and prediction of potential radioecological consequences of radioactive discharges to the Yenisei river and underground disposal of liquid radioactive waste of the Mining and Chemical Industrial Complex (MCIC) including deriving and refining experimental data on the content of radionuclides in the components of the river ecosystem of the near zone of the MCIC, modeling and prediction of radionuclides transport in the ecosystem of the Yenisei, assessment of exposure risk for the population and biota.

For production of weapon-grade plutonium at the MCIC industrial reactors with the system of direct flow cooling of the core were used, which has led to occurrence of a wide range of radionuclides in the river ecosystem. The external radiation monitoring service of the MCIC, SPA «Typhoon» and other Roshydromet affiliations, as well as organizations belonging to other Ministries and agencies have been conducting monitoring of radioactive contamination of the Yenisei over the whole length of the river downstream the MCIC. The latest of relevant studies was the ISTC project № 1404/99 ending in 2003: “Estimation and prediction of the consequences for the environment and population of radioactive contamination of the river Yenisei by discharges of the Krasnoyarsk Mining and Chemical Industrial Complex”.

Yet, considering extreme complexity of the study object, extended time of radioactive discharges and a wide range of discharged radionuclides differing significantly in physico-chemical and radioecological characteristics, many important issues of the impact of the MCIC activities on the environment and population still remain poorly understood. In particular, more precise assessments are required for distribution of radionuclides in the so-called near zone of the MCIC, for parameters of hydrological and biogenic transport of radionuclides in the river system and for population doses with allowance for multiple exposure pathways.

There is another important aspect of the environmental impact of radwaste disposal from facilities like the MCIC, specifically the current and potential consequences of underground burial of liquid radwaste. This issue requires detailed study in terms of monitoring of groundwater radioactivity using up-to-date high-sensitivity instruments and prediction of radioecological state of the environment in future, since millions of Curie of liquid radwaste have been discharged into deep collecting strata.

The MCIC has the site Severny on the right bank of the Yenisei at which radwaste is disposed underground. There is no doubt that underground disposal of radwaste at this site made possible to isolate significant amounts of the MCIC radwaste from the environment, and yet special radioecological studies are needed for assessment of the current and potential consequences of underground disposal of radwaste.

In spite of remoteness of the facilities from the Yenisei estuary, as with direct discharges of radioactive waste to the river, possible transport of mobile radionuclides (for example, tritium) pumped into underground horizons and their further movement with sea currents need to be quantified. A possibility of such transboundary transport is a concern for the arctic states and, first of all, the neighboring Norway, which is actively engaged in commercial fishing in the arctic waters.

Thus, the set of the area of underground disposal, the area of hydraulic discharge (the valleys of the rivers Kan and Tel) and the adjacent part of the Yenisei represents a unique testing site which provides an opportunity to study migration of radionuclides from underground collecting strata to hydraulic discharge areas and their removal from water flow, allows physical and mathematical models of radionuclides migration and models assessing radioecological consequences of radioactive contamination to be verified and makes possible trying out facilities and methods for monitoring of radioactive contamination of groundwater.

SPA “Typhoon” is the leading organization responsible for scientific and methodological guidance of the operations of the radiometric network of Roshydromet stations in the territory of Russia. It has ample experience in long-term field studies of radioactive contamination of the environment due to global and various local sources, one of them being the contamination of the Siberian rivers as a result of discharges of the nuclear faculties. There are specialists in the SPA having experience in geophysical and ecological modeling of radionuclides migration in the environment. Many workers in SPA «Typhoon» were engaged in development of the radiation monitoring system used for obtaining information about radioactive contamination following nuclear weapons tests. The co-executing organization under this project is the MCIC whose workers were previously involved in producing materials for nuclear weapons. Radiometric and radiochemical laboratories of SPA “Typhoon” and the Radioecological center of the MCIC have up-to-date equipment to conduct monitoring of radioactive contamination of the environment. However, because of the lack of financing of conversion programs from the state budget employment for specialists of SPA “Typhoon” and MCIC in peaceful sectors becomes problematic. Involvement in the proposed project would provide work for these specialists during three years.

Implementation of the project will give assessment of the present-day consequences of the MCIC discharges and underground disposal of LRW for the Yenisei ecosystem and people living on the river banks over the whole period of the enterprise operations. It will also provide forecast of possible radioecological consequences by modeling LRW outflow to the open hydrographic network using the highest probability scenarios. Also, assessment will be made of possible outflow of radionuclides from the MCIC discharges and LRW discharged to underground horizons to the Kara sea. It is envisaged that project results will be used for justification of the necessity to rehabilitate the contaminated parts of the flood plain and the Yenisei islands in the near zone of the MCIC, while the physico-mathematical and radioecological models to be developed will be possible to use for preparing study programs for other rivers flowing through the territory of Russia and other states which make discharges of radioactively contaminated waters.

There are three goals to be addressed under the project, which determine the volume of work to be performed:

1. Obtaining representative data on the content of radionuclides in the river ecosystem and groundwater of the near zone of the MCIC including data on tritium as a possible tracer of movement of LRW disposed into the underground horizons.

2. Development of a physico-mathematical model and radioecological model of radionuclides transport in the components of the river ecosystem in the near zone of the MCIC and validation of the models by experimental data.

3. Prediction of possible radioactive contamination of the Yenisei ecosystem, radiation doses for people and biota, transport of radionuclides to the Yenisei bay associated with radioactivity discharges to the Yenisei and potential inflow of radionuclides to underground collecting strata on the basis of selected scenarios.

The general approach and methodology of the project involves addressing a set of interrelated experimental and theoretical goals.

It is envisaged that in the course of the project regular contacts and communication will be maintained with foreign collaborators. The collaborators, in turn, are expected to provide their comments on annual and final reports. Some equipment, test materials and samples will be used jointly with the collaborators. In particular, it is anticipated that support will be provided to the project participants in attending international scientific conferences and conducting joint workshops.


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