Kazakh Scientists Sound Alarm over Radioactive Waste Dump Near Caspian
Wednesday, January 7, 2004
BBC Monitoring International Reports................................
Scientists from the Kazakh Nuclear Physics Institute have sounded the alarm over the Koshkar-Ata tailing dump, which contains over 400m t of radioactive and toxic wastes from uranium production, in Mangistau Region near the Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan Today news agency reported. At a recent regional environmental protection department hearing scientists said that the tailing dump had no special isolation system to prevent subsoil toxic water from penetrating into the sea. The following is the text of the report by Kazakhstan Today news agency web site on 6 January:
Independent investigations into the radioactive and toxic wastes of the Koshkar-Ata tailing dump in (western Kazakh) Mangistau Region have been completed. At a hearing, held by the regional department of environmental protection in Aktau, the researchers gave a briefing on the results of the monitoring, a Kazakhstan Today news agency correspondent in Aktau says.
According to the specialists, the part of the tailing dump filled with water is now 42.5 sq.km. The tailing dump also occupies 34.5 sq.km. of dry land which was formed because of the desiccation of the radioactive lake.
Large quantities of heavy metal - copper, zinc, nickel, and also rare-earth elements such as zirconium, hafnium, niobium - have been discovered in sediments on the bottom. The sediments on the bottom are the source of toxic dust. Specialists say that even a slight wind may move this dust easily. During the investigations, large quantities of rare-earth elements were also discovered. A high concentration of radionuclide, lead and radium of particular toxicity were discovered in the soil around Koshkar-Ata.
The scientists also carried out research work in settlements near the tailing dump. Analyses of air and soil samples showed that contamination caused by Koshkar-Ata is below the average world level (1.15 - 0.20 Roentgen).
Meanwhile, a real danger is being posed by the burial places of radioactive wastes at the mouth of the Koshkar-Ata. Radiation activity in these burial places reaches 5,000 microroentgen per hour. Cases of metal being stolen and stored by local people have also been discovered. Four kilometres of subsoil waters have been marked as contaminated. The lake does not have a special isolation system from the depths of earth. The scientists fear that water from the lake will penetrate into the Caspian Sea which is not far from the lake. Experts also suppose that in five or six years the lake will completely dry out, and over 31,000 kg of salt will be formed at the bottom of the lake.
The Koshkar-Ata lake is an inland depression, preserving over 400m t of toxic and radioactive wastes from uranium processing production, including about 105m t of wastes from uranium extraction.
A total of 12 specialists from the (Kazakh) Nuclear Physics Institute carried out the investigations. The regional directorate for using natural resources has earmarked about 6.5m tenge (about 46,000 dollars) for this project.