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18
Comments on Presentation on Industrial Nuclear Explosion Sites in the Russian Federation: Recovery and Institutional Monitoring Problems

Don J. Bradley, Coastal Security Institute, Marine Research Operations, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory


The paper that was presented lays out the issues of the Russian “peaceful nuclear explosions” (PNEs) with respect to radioactive contamination at PNE sites. It is a valuable contribution to the recent literature where it highlights several PNEs and remediation actions being taken or planned. According to Russian documents, there were 124 peaceful nuclear explosions, all underground, with 117 of them being conducted outside the nuclear test site boundaries (Semipalatinsk and Novaya Zemlya). This can be broken down by country as 80 in Russia, 39 in Kazakhstan, 2 each in Ukraine and Uzbekistan, and 1 in Turkmenistan, covering a time span of 23 years (Minatom and MOD, 1996).

The Russian program was quite extensive compared to the U.S. effort in this area, commonly referred to as the Plowshare Program, where 27 nuclear explosion tests were conducted over a period of 11 years. Although the program started with great expectations, many test ideas did not go beyond the planning phase. The potential intended uses included the following:

  • Widening the Panama Canal

  • Cutting paths through mountainous areas for highways

  • Connecting inland water systems

  • Creating underground caverns for water, gas, and petroleum

  • Generating steam for electricity



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18 Comments on Presentation on Industrial Nuclear Explosion Sites in the Russian Federation: Recovery and Institutional Monitoring Problems Don J. Bradley, Coastal Security Institute, Marine Research Operations, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory The paper that was presented lays out the issues of the Russian “peaceful nuclear explosions” (PNEs) with respect to radioactive contamination at PNE sites. It is a valuable contribution to the recent literature where it highlights sev- eral PNEs and remediation actions being taken or planned. According to Russian documents, there were 124 peaceful nuclear explosions, all underground, with 117 of them being conducted outside the nuclear test site boundaries (Semipala- tinsk and Novaya Zemlya). This can be broken down by country as 80 in Russia, 39 in Kazakhstan, 2 each in Ukraine and Uzbekistan, and 1 in Turkmenistan, covering a time span of 23 years (Minatom and MOD, 1996). The Russian program was quite extensive compared to the U.S. effort in this area, commonly referred to as the Plowshare Program, where 27 nuclear explo- sion tests were conducted over a period of 11 years. Although the program started with great expectations, many test ideas did not go beyond the planning phase. The potential intended uses included the following: • Widening the Panama Canal • Cutting paths through mountainous areas for highways • Connecting inland water systems • Creating underground caverns for water, gas, and petroleum • Generating steam for electricity 121

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122 CLEANING UP SITES CONTAMINATED WITH RADIOACTIVE MATERIALS • Production of useful isotopes and their recovery • Connecting underground aquifers • Stimulating flow of natural gas in “tight” underground formations In the end, the most promising use proved to be stimulation of natural gas production, which was also an active part of the Russian PNE program. Public opposition to the tests, concerns about contamination, the potential for radioactive gas flaring operations and other environmental hazards, tritium-contaminated gas, and poor economics related to gas production conspired to bring an end to the U.S. PNE program in 1975 (DOE/NV–209-REV 15). The former Soviet Union’s PNE testing program had stronger support, and paralleled the themes of intended uses as seen in the United States, specifically, • Experiments to develop craters and move earth (such as the Pechora- Kama rivers canal and the village of Udachny in Yakutia-Sakha, and the Chagan River valley in Semipalatinsk Oblast) • Creation of cavities in salt mines for petroleum and possibly liquid ra- dioactive waste storage • Enhancement of gas release and control of crude oil flow (such as Ust- Balyk in Tyumen Oblast, Grachevsky deposit in Bashkortostan) • Underground blasts for seismic probing of the earth’s crust and mantle • Restoration after accidents and fires in gushing oil wells A map of the locations of the former Soviet Union’s PNE program is shown in Figure 18-1. As a brief summary, the products of a nuclear explosion are distributed in the following places, constituting the initial source term for potential migration of contaminants (National Research Council, 2000): • The solidified puddle of melted rock in the bottom of the cavity • On surfaces within the cavity and, in some cases, the borehole • On surfaces in natural and explosion-induced fractures • In the atmosphere While the emphasis seems to be placed on radionuclides, it should be noted that the presence of a chemical source term (such as lead or arsenic) derived from the weapons package, rigging, cables, and instrumentation needs to be addressed as well. The leaching of radionuclides from the rubble left from the nuclear explosion is an important pathway for tests that were conducted under the water table or in or under perched aquifers. With time, groundwater gradually flows back into the cavity and chimney and comes into direct contact with the radionuclides.

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a b c d g e f h i k l r j s m o n Underground Nuclear Blasts Individual nuclear explosions q Series of explosions p Key to Cities a Murmansk h o Chelyabinsk Semipalatinsk b i p Khabarovsk Riga Tashkent c j q Novosibirsk St. Petersburg Almaty d k Tomsk Minsk r Chita Krasnoyarsk e l Kiev s Irkutsk f m Vladivostok Moscow g n Baku Yakutsk FIGURE 18-1 Map of peaceful nuclear explosions in the former Soviet Union (FSU). Figure 18-1.eps 12 SOURCE: Bulatov, 1993. Broadside

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12 CLEANING UP SITES CONTAMINATED WITH RADIOACTIVE MATERIALS Once dissolved, the radionuclides are available for migration through ground- water flow. Mathematical models exist that could be used for the prediction of transport of radionuclides in groundwater. One-dimensional models are probably sufficient, as many values for needed parameters are either lacking altogether or are known imperfectly (National Research Council, 2000). The approach to site remediation should first start with a definition of what is meant by site cleanup. For underground nuclear test areas, other important steps are as follows (National Research Council, 2000): • A regional groundwater flow model should be developed, which will provide the initial basis for determining the magnitude of health risks. • Boundaries will be defined to establish areas of contaminated groundwater. • Contaminant migration will be estimated and contaminant boundaries will be defined. • Subsurface contaminants in and around the cavities created by under- ground nuclear tests will be closed in place, since cost-effective groundwater technologies have not yet demonstrated an ability to effectively remove or stabi- lize radioactive contaminants. • Data will be declassified, which will allow a broader range of stakehold- ers to view the relevant information and increase the likelihood that consensus can be reached on remedial strategies and objectives. As noted by Kasatkin et al. (2008), the primary issues related to the use of PNEs in Russia fall into the category of surface and near-surface contamination that can spread to surface waters and potentially groundwater systems. Although the level of information presented is very general in nature, it appears that actions have been taken to • identify selected sites of concern; • determine the contamination profile for some of the sites; • initiate and/or complete remediation actions on a few of the sites; and • where funding was not available or complete, determine the actions that are needed. It appears that thought has been devoted to the implementation of monitor- ing systems for PNE sites in Russia. However, it is also noted that there is no officially established system of radiation monitoring—some sites are monitored periodically and others on a case-by-case basis. Certainly this effort needs to be more fully developed. Illustration of remediation actions are given in the paper by the authors, but only for a few selected sites:

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12 COMMENTS • The Globus-3 and Globus-2 sites, where contamination was covered with clean soil • The Kama-1, Kama-2, and Grifon sites, where contaminated spoil was removed and placed in trenches or subsurface burial areas, followed by covering with clean soil • The Kristall site, mostly covered by heavy layers of rocks • The Globus-1 site, which may be of most concern, as it is located on a river, yet remediation has not been implemented because of lack of funding • The Kraton-3 site, where remediation appears to have stopped because of technical and financial issues • The Taiga site, where, other than warning signs, no further remediation is planned Suggested areas for further elaboration or additions to the report are as follows: 1. It is clear that a complete listing of the sites with associated contamina- tion is needed! 2. Some of the geologic and hydrologic concepts have been translated, but additional clarification would help further understanding by non-Russian audi- ences. Some examples are • “discharge-oriented” explosions, • “bucklings” (see Kristall site), • “radioactive bulk,” and • “emergency eruption of radionuclides” (Kraton-3 and Globus-1 sites). 3. Although contamination data were shown on selected PNEs in the pre- sentation slides, they were in terms of dose rate. Adding data on isotopic quanti- ties in terms of curies would provide a needed perspective as well as a pathway for risk analysis. 4. While it appears that the authors have looked at remediation options, the issues of surface contamination at PNE sites closely parallels remediation work done both in the United States and in Russia on uranium mill tailings sites. It is suggested that the authors look at the results from these programs and incorporate them as appropriate. Finally, there appear to be two major concerns related to the completion of remediation work at PNE sites. First, the authors note the lack of funding, which has caused remediation at several sites to either stop or not begin. Second, due to many organizational and management changes in the Russian Federation since the time the tests were conducted, “ownership” issues of the various PNE sites may be hindering remediation progress.

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12 CLEANING UP SITES CONTAMINATED WITH RADIOACTIVE MATERIALS REFERENCES Bulatov, V. I. 1993. USSR’s 200 Nuclear Test Sites: Geography of Radiation Catastrophes and Con- tamination. Distributed at the Fourth Ex-USSR Nuclear Society Meeting, Nizhniy Novgorod, Russia, June 28-July 2, 1993. Kasatkin, V. V., Ye. N. Kamnev, and V. A. Ilyichev. 2009. Industrial Nuclear Explosion Sites in the Russian Federation: Recovery and Institutional Monitoring Problems. Pp. 116-120 in Clean- ing Up Sites Contaminated with Radioactive Materials: International Workshop Proceedings. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press. Minatom and MOD (Ministry of the Russian Federation for Atomic Energy and the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation). 1996. USSR Nuclear Weapons Tests and Peaceful Nuclear Explosions: 1949 through 1990. Minneapolis: Eastview Publications. National Research Council, Committee on the Remediation of Buried and Tank Wastes. 2000. Long- Term Institutional Management of U.S. Department of Energy Legacy Waste Sites. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. Plowshare Program Web site: www.osti.go/opennet/reports/plowshar.pdf. United States Nuclear Tests, July 1945 through September 1992 (DOE/NV—209-REV15). Available online at www.n.doe.go/library/publications/historical/DOENV_20_REV1.pdf.