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16
Selected Remediation Issues at the Russian Research Center—Kurchatov Institute

Roy E. Gephart, Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory


The Russian Research Center—Kurchatov Institute (RRC—KI) is the leading institute in the former Soviet Union devoted to military and civilian nuclear programs. Founded in 1943 in the outskirts of Moscow, this 100-ha site of nearly undeveloped, prime real estate is now surrounded by densely populated urban and business districts. Some public housing adjoins the site’s outer perimeter. Today there are growing concerns over the public safety and environmental security of the site resulting from increasingly obsolete nuclear facilities and a legacy of inadequate waste management practices that resulted in contaminant releases and challenging remediation problems. In addition, there is growing worry over the presence of nuclear facilities within urban areas creating potential targets for terrorist attacks.

During our visit to RRC—KI, officials shared that the useful lifetime for all onsite reactors is nearly complete, and the institute is working toward decommissioning those reactors and removing all spent fuel by 2015. These efforts will be coordinated with work to complete another facility and carry out environmental remediation activities. Cleanup schedules are dependent on funding.

Based on meetings with RRC—KI staff and reading information about the history and remediation of contamination at the site, the following comments are offered.

Site Inventory of Nuclear Material and Waste. The master plan for re-



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16 Selected Remediation Issues at the Russian Research Center—Kurchatov Institute Roy E. Gephart, Enironmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory The Russian Research Center—Kurchatov Institute (RRC—KI) is the lead- ing institute in the former Soviet Union devoted to military and civilian nuclear programs. Founded in 1943 in the outskirts of Moscow, this 100-ha site of nearly undeveloped, prime real estate is now surrounded by densely populated urban and business districts. Some public housing adjoins the site’s outer perimeter. Today there are growing concerns over the public safety and environmental security of the site resulting from increasingly obsolete nuclear facilities and a legacy of inadequate waste management practices that resulted in contaminant releases and challenging remediation problems. In addition, there is growing worry over the presence of nuclear facilities within urban areas creating potential targets for terrorist attacks. During our visit to RRC—KI, officials shared that the useful lifetime for all onsite reactors is nearly complete, and the institute is working toward decommis- sioning those reactors and removing all spent fuel by 2015. These efforts will be coordinated with work to complete another facility and carry out environmental remediation activities. Cleanup schedules are dependent on funding. Based on meetings with RRC—KI staff and reading information about the history and remediation of contamination at the site, the following comments are offered. Site Inventory of Nuclear Material and Waste. The master plan for re- 110

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111 SELECTED REMEDIATION ISSUES mediation of RRC—KI should contain an inventory of the nuclear material and waste remaining onsite. This permits decision makers to understand potential radiological and chemical risks as well as changes in risk profiles and dose rates resulting from remediation work. Written records, interviews with former work- ers, extrapolations, and new targeted site investigations form the basis for these inventories. Constructing such an inventory is challenging because of incomplete and sometimes conflicting data. The U.S. Department of Energy has faced similar challenges at its nuclear material production, weapons manufacturing, and test- ing sites. This inventory could include, for example, information quantifying dam- aged vs. undamaged experimental spent fuel elements, buried waste, soil and groundwater contamination, surface facility hazards, and orphaned radioactive sources or scattered contaminated spots. Such knowledge assists decision makers in building factual cases for funding site remediation programs. According to the Government of Moscow’s Resolution No. 641-PP, On Accelerated Decommis- sioning of Radiation Hazard Facilities at RRC—KI, the goal of rehabilitation activities is to “eliminate all potentially hazardous sources of radiation that may produce adverse environmental effects, and to transform RRC—KI into a secure and safe nuclear research center within the Moscow city limits” (Volkov et al., 2003). Maintaining an up-to-date material and waste inventory is essential for achieving this resolution. Underground Water Pipes and Drainage Systems. Rastorguev et al. (2005) spoke of a groundwater level rise averaging 3 m plus changes in groundwater flow directions and peak strontium-90 activities in the shallow aquifer beneath RRC—KI taking place between the late 1980s and the early 1990s. The report continued by stating that these changes were likely attributed to “leakage from the city sewer that crosses the radwaste disposal site,” resulting in the partial submergence of some buried waste sites and flushing out of contamination. Volkov et al. (2003) wrote that the institute’s sewerage system has “undergone no repairs” since construction, surveys have uncovered ruptured pipelines, and the city’s sewerage system, apparently crossing the site, is a potential “source of adverse environmental impacts” that could cause heavy flooding of the site. These are serious concerns in efforts to minimizing subsurface contaminant migration off the RRC—KI site. Consideration should be given to testing the structural integrity of key water and waste pipelines, abandoning and grouting those of questionable integrity or those of “defunct branches” (Volkov et al., 2003), and installing new lines as necessary. Attention should also be given to RRC—KI installing its own water drainage system to intercept, control, and treat (if necessary) water runoff, espe- cially during torrential downpours when the potential for resuspension of surface contamination is greatest. This would address one of the major uncertainties in the modeling of onsite hydrologic conditions and estimating offsite radiation doses through lessening a major source of contaminant spread as well as potential

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112 CLEANING UP SITES CONTAMINATED WITH RADIOACTIVE MATERIALS changes to groundwater flow patterns and rates. These recommendations require the application of standard engineering practices common to municipalities and industries. Contaminant Barriers. Volkov et al. (2009) reported that the use of zeolites and apatites in permeable subsurface barriers to absorb strontium-90 or a mix- ture of sulphuric and phosphoric acids to leach cesium-137 from underground sediments was too expensive and experimental for application at RRC—KI’s underground waste repositories. Nonetheless, continued examination of such in- novative technologies or the use of surface-engineered barriers to control water infiltration (and thus radionuclide migration) is encouraged. Consideration should be given to examining the feasibility of site-tailored surface-engineered barriers such as those installed at the Hanford site in the U.S. state of Washington. Built in 1994, the Hanford barrier covers 2 ha and is constructed from multiple layers of natural sediments and man-made materi- als to control moisture, plant, and animal entry while minimizing erosion and moisture infiltration even under extreme storm events. Such barriers are nearly maintenance free for hundreds of years and would also control the suspension of contaminated dust. In addition, a 90-m-long permeable subsurface reactive test barrier us- ing apatite sequestration to inhibit the migration of strontium-90–contaminated groundwater flow into the nearby Columbia River is also being installed at the Hanford site. Such technology might be applicable to controlling the spread of the strontium-90 plume beneath RRC—KI. Excavation of Waste Repositories. Between 2003 and 2006, 3,400 m3 of solid radwaste was excavated from 10 old subsurface concrete waste repositories at RRC—KI. Conventional and modified construction equipment was used to access, remove, and repackage waste for onsite disposal or offsite shipment to the Joint Environmental-Technological Scientific Research Center for Radioac- tive Waste Decontamination and Environmental Protection (MosNPO Radon). Radiation-shielded areas were built for robotic waste retrieval when intermediate to highly radioactive materials were uncovered. Studies reported in Volkov et al. (2009) suggested that rapid removal of these repositories would be more cost effective than constructing engineered barriers and would accelerate the removal of subsurface contamination sources. The recommended remediation approach appeared reasonable, although concerns are raised over some observations of worker safety. For comparison, I will use a somewhat analogous though nonurbanized ex- ample to the RRC—KI radwaste repository removal—the Accelerated Retrieval Project in Pit 4 at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) in the state of Idaho. Pit 4 cleanup involved construction of a tent-like enclosure covering the entire low-level and transuranic waste burial site. This fully enclosed all excavation equipment and workers. Water spray was sometimes used to suppress dust during the warmer months at the RRC—KI site. Otherwise,

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11 SELECTED REMEDIATION ISSUES most remediation was conducted in the open air. All workers inside the Pit 4 en- closure wore fully protective, tape-sealed clothing plus full-face filtered masks. Pictures of the RRC—KI waste removal frequently showed workers without hardhats or particle masks and wearing loose-fitting street-type clothing. While visiting RRC—KI on June 8, 2007, and observing solid low-level waste removal using heavy equipment, onsite workers were lifting pipes and other heavy ob- jects overhead and stirring dust. However, basic safety equipment appeared missing—no hardhats, no particle masks, and minimal dust suppression using periodic water spray. Nearby residences (perhaps 100 m away) went unprotected and perhaps uninformed of cleanup activities. Volkov et al. (2009) wrote that detection of high-level waste fragments in the solid waste was accomplished using gamma counter-equipped cameras with a signal display on an operator’s monitor. Questions arise about the potential for acute worker exposure between the time of fragment detection and use of protective roof shielding and robotics for further material handling. Based upon available information, concerns also exist about the effectiveness of air sampling for alpha- and beta-bearing aerosols suspended around remediation sites when sampling filters are taken to a laboratory for spectrometric and radiochemical analyses before potential worker exposures are recognized, as well as the poten- tial need for increased dust abatement to be implemented. The collection and treatment of wastewater created when washing trucks removing solid waste and debris from surface excavations before traveling on public roads is applauded. Groundwater Modeling and Environmental Monitoring. Existing hy- drologic models are not based on “very rigorous site-specific features” and are, therefore, thought useful for a “first approximation” and inference of flow and transport estimates (Novikov et al., 2005; Novikov, 2007). Missing information was obtained using computational-analytical methods. There is a need for more site-specific information on such parameters as sediment hydraulic conductivity, water runoff, hydraulic heads, soil moisture, water infiltration, and the physico- chemical characteristics of buried waste and subsurface contaminants to vali- date computational models, reduce modeling uncertainty, and more reliably use modeling results to predict present and future flow system behavior. Knowing the hydraulic properties and distributions of highly reworked, nonuniform shal- low soil and rubbish mixtures (e.g., from past building demolitions, sediment excavations, ravine filling) discarded over the years is critical because they could dominate water infiltration within contaminated areas. Novikov (2007) notes the permeability of these deposits “was not studied.” Based upon available data, have alternative, though equally valid, flow and transport models been developed? Consideration should be given to the installation of soil lysimeters for quanti- fying water infiltration and low-volume (to minimize water extraction) hydraulic tests conducted for measuring sediment permeability. Hydraulic head distribu- tion maps would also be useful to model lateral and vertical flow potentials.

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11 CLEANING UP SITES CONTAMINATED WITH RADIOACTIVE MATERIALS Rastorguev et al. (2005) stated that water level observations in boreholes have been discontinued except inside wells drilled since 2002-2003. Based upon infor- mation reported in Novikov (2007), Rastorguev et al. (2005), and Volkov et al. (2003), there appear to be 17 to 30 boreholes used for water sampling. The actual number was unclear. Are water samples drawn from different subsurface horizons to identify the lateral and vertical extent of groundwater contamination and off- site migration? A sustained commitment to long-term environmental monitoring at select sites to establish radiation exposure baselines is necessary to quantify environmental risks and to gain benefits from site remediation efforts. This writer assumes that periodic groundwater and environmental moni- toring reports are published. These would include, for example, contaminant distributions, points of dosimetric monitoring and environmental sampling, plus average and maximum worker and public health effective dose equivalents from exposure to RRC—KI contaminants. It would be useful to report the distribution of environmental risks the public receives from the various pathways—water, air, and food. Such information enables decision makers to focus cleanup efforts where the greatest risk reduction benefits would take place. Public Involvement. Novikov (2007) addresses the issue of reducing “public anxiety” about radioactive releases from RRC—KI. This concern was also noted in the presentation given by Volkov on June 5, 2007, as well as in other talks discussing remediation progress at contamination sites across Russia. However, few specifics describing stakeholder engagement were provided. Nearly 30 years of experience in the United States implementing federal waste management and cleanup regulations under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act has demonstrated a strong correlation between public acceptance of waste cleanup actions and a lowering of public concerns with their degree of involvement in the decision-input process. Examples of successful actions for RRC—KI officials to explore include (a) open roundtable discussions with stakeholders where infor- mation is provided and public concerns are taken seriously; (b) publication of easily understood brochures and Web-based information sources that summarize site history, monitoring results, and cleanup actions; (c) independent public or environmental group monitoring of the environment (e.g., water, air, radiation levels) outside RRC—KI boundaries; (d) site tours for the public and news media; and (e) formation of an advisory committee representing public, business, city government, and other interests. Managing Institutional Memory. Institutional memory about site history, waste inventories, and remediation efforts is easily lost as contaminated sites are remediated and workers retire or attain other jobs. This could be particularly true as pressure mounts to use the institute’s land for urban development purposes. It is recommended that RRC—KI create a permanent, comprehensive, and archival data management and record-keeping system in an accessible form and format to ensure that future site operators or owners understand, for example, which

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11 SELECTED REMEDIATION ISSUES cleanup actions were carried out, why those actions were selected, monitoring results, health and safety records, and which contaminants remain onsite. Oth- erwise, future generations will struggle to reconstruct today’s cleanup decisions and to understand the potential environmental risks left behind. The loss of institutional memory can be rapid. For example, in the United States, within 2 years after the chemical waste site of Love Canal in New York State was sold, houses and a school were built atop the site, although the transfer deed specifically identified potential health hazards. Years later, a public emer- gency was declared because of illnesses, odors, and contamination seeping from the ground. REFERENCES Novikov, V., ed. 2007. The Nuclear Legacy in Urbanized Areas: Generic Problems and the Moscow Case Study (RR-07-001). Laxenburg, Austria: International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. Novikov, V. M., V. V. Lagutov, T. G. Sazykina, Yu. E. Gorlinskii, O. A. Nikolsky, and V. I. Pav- lenko. 2005. Assessment of the effect of temporary storage sites for radioactive wastes on the territory of the Russian Science Center Kurchatov Institute on the population and the environ- ment. Atomic Energy 99(2):588-595. Rastorguev, A., K. Buharin, V. Volkov, D. Tsurikov, Yu. Zverkov, I. Rastorguev, and E. Volkova. 2005. Prognosis of radionuclide contamination spreading on the site of temporary waste stor- age of RRC Kurchatov Institute. In Proceedings of the International Congress ECORAD’2004: The Scientific Basis for Environment Protection Against Radioactivity, September 8-10, 2004, France, Vol. 40, Supplement 1, pp. 367-370. Volkov V. G., N. N. Ponomarev-Stepnoi, E. S. Melkov, E. P. Ryazantsev, V. S. Dikarev, G. G. Gorodetsky, Yu. A. Zverkov, V. V. Kuznetsov, and T. I. Kuznetsova. 2003. Status of activities on rehabilitation of radioactively contaminated facilities and the site of Russian Research Cen- ter Kurchatov Institute. In Proceedings of the Waste Management 2003 Symposium, Tucson, Arizona, February 23-27, 2003. Tucson: WM Symposia, Inc. Volkov, V. G., Yu. A. Zverkov, S. G. Semenov, A. V. Chesnokov, and A. D. Shisha. 2009. Remedia- tion of Contaminated Facilities at the Kurchatov Institute. Pp. 99-109 in Cleaning Up Sites Contaminated with Radioactive Materials: International Workshop Proceedings. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.