Hotspots and Incidents » Disasters, catastrophes
Author`s name Michael Simpson

Nonsense: Radiation Accident Occurred Unnoticed

The Russian Ministry for Nuclear Power is blamed for keeping back an accident in the settlement of Gremikha, the Murmansk Region
Workers from SevRAO, a division of the Ministry for Nuclear Power, exposed to extra radiation were sent for medical examination just in a month. A source of the Bellona environmental foundation in Gremikha reports that workers who had been exposed to radiation while liquidation of a non-permanent depository of solid nuclear wastes on July 11 and 14, 2003 were sent for special medical examination just in a month after the incident.

The information was confirmed by the head physician of the medical department #120 in the city of Snezhnogorsk of the Murmansk Region, Valery Lobanov who said that the patients arrived on August 26-27. After an examination, almost all patients were taken to the central hospital of Murmansk. The head physician says that majority of the workers "had rather burns caused by radiation than total radiation exposure". Bellona reports that soon after arriving in the city of Murmansk some of the workers exposed to radiation left for an independent medical examination in Moscow. On September 25, Director of the Biophysics Institute Andrey Bushmanov said that a 32-year-old patient was delivered to the clinic on suspicion of radiation sickness on August 28. The Institute determined that the patient had been exposed to radiation that was ten times higher than the admissible norm (200 milli zivert); the radiation sickness develops when people are exposed to radiation of 100 milli zivert. According to Bellona's source, this patient, welder named Yury now stays at the department of the Institute. After an examination at the 120th medical department, the patient was said to be having an increased thyroid gland and a small cyst in the left cerebral hemisphere.

The Bellona source in the settlement of Gremikha reports that on July 11 the workers were pulling down a depository of solid nuclear wastes that was left there by the Northern Fleet. Doing so, the workers cut elements of nuclear submarine reactors into three parts and put them into a container. On July 14, the contents of the container were filled up with cement. However, as soon as Bellona published first reports saying that a radiation accident occurred at the place where the work was conducted, the RF Ministry for Nuclear Power issued a press-release saying that as soon as high-level stem was discovered in the wastes the works were immediately stopped. The Bellona source in Gremikha emphasizes this is a flagrant violation that people were sent for medical examination only in a month after the incident. A delay of several days could be explained with the fact that motor ships leave the place for Murmansk just 6-8 times per month, but the one-month delay means only that SevRAO wanted to keep back the incident. All 15 workers who took part in the demolishing works, the Ministry for Nuclear Power informs, "with a view to protect their health were debarred from works connected with radioactive materials for the period of 6-24 months depending upon the degree of radiation to which the people had been exposed". Bellona reports that the number of people exposed to extra radiation made up 11 people. The highest radiation degree to which the welder (the man named Yury) was exposed is explained with the fact that the man cut the parts of nuclear submarines emitting the radioactive gas helium and thus got more radiation than others. Head of the Bellona-Murmansk organization Sergey Zhavoronkin says that the radiation incident occurred because of insufficient dosimetric control. What is more, he adds that before Bellona reported about the incident, the RF Ministry for Nuclear Power and the Biophysics Institute kept silent about it. As is known, the Northern Fleet declared it had no connection with the incident which is treated extremely irresponsible. Sergey Zhavoronkin says: "During the 1990s, the Northern Fleet has been saying that it was controlling the situation. But now when the infrastructure in the settlement of Gremikha is handed over to SevRAO, workers of the enterprise, who are mostly military men, often come across such illegal depositories of nuclear wastes. Such depositories are traces of the cold war. Where will workers discover another depository of nuclear wastes next time?"
 
The Bellona-Murmansk head emphasizes that the incident is classified as a radiation accident according to the Russian Radiation Safety Regulations (NRB – 99). The Regulations identify a radiation accident as "loss of control over an ionizing radiation source because of malfunction of equipment, wrong actions of the personnel, disasters or other reasons that entailed irradiation of people or radiation of the environment."
 
This may sound strange by the Murmansk regional administration is not informed about the incident. In August 2001, Murmansk Region Governor Yury Yevdokimov signed a decree on creation of an inter-departmental commission especially for investigation of radiation accidents. Valery Lishek, the head of the regional Emergency Situations Department was at head of the commission. But a Bellona correspondent has learnt recently, deputy chairman of the commission Vladimir Grachev says that the commission learnt about the accident from mass media, not from any other official source. Vladimir Grachev says that protection of labor is the main reason why the accident occurred, and it is SevRAO that is particularly responsible for the accident. He assured the Bellona correspondent that the commission would work on investigating the problem to further inform the governor of the situation.

The press-secretary of the Murmansk governor couldn't comment why the commission created by the governor learnt important information about the incident in a month from mass media, not official sources (SevRAO or the Ministry for Nuclear Power). When Governor Yury Yevdokimov was asked about the details of the accident, he told Bellona that "four seamen were exposed to radiation, but that was normal dose." The governor added that the State Nuclear Inspection controlled all utilization works, including those held at SevRAO. However, the governor was extremely surprised when the Bellona correspondent told him that according to a government decree of 1999, the State Nuclear Inspection was deprived of control over decomposition of nuclear submarines. The governor was absolutely sure that military authorities handed control over utilization of nuclear submarines over to the Ministry for Nuclear Power; he supposed the State Nuclear Inspection was responsible for it as well.  

In 1998, the Government issued a decree according to which the Ministry for Nuclear Power became responsible for utilization of nuclear submarines and rehabilitation of radiation dangerous infrastructure of the Navy. The ministry became thus the state customer of the works. The SevRAO enterprise was set up in 1998 for further dealing with infrastructures holding radioactive wastes of the Navy. The settlement of Gremikha is one of them. The State Nuclear Inspection has no authority to enter the objects under the jurisdiction SevRAO, head of the State Nuclear Inspection press-service Olga Zhelnova confirmed in an interview with Bellona Web. Bellona and Murmansk Governor Yury Yevdokimov this is impossible that the State Nuclear Inspection has no access to the Gremikha infrastructure for instance. The problem is that when the Ministry for Nuclear Power controls itself it may result in more radiation accidents.

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