The Ural Ecological Union
Krasnoufimsk is located in Sverdlovsk Oblast (Yekaterinburg) in the Central Urals. About 82,000 tons of radioactive monazite concentrate have been stored there since the 1960s. The monazite was originally collected because it contains thorium which can be used in some types of nuclear weapons but interest declined when other materials were developed. The monazite has been blamed for high incidence of certain cancers in the area. The storage facilities have been upgraded and options for reprocessing the monazite have been discussed but a national expert, backed by Blacksmith, has been working with the local government to move forward with removal to a secure nuclear waste site.
Exposure to monazite is linked to increased risk of cancer and is most dangerous when inhaled. There is a very high incidence of cancer in the Krasnoufimsk district. As of late 2004 there were 990 cases of cancer among district residents (more than double that of other districts). More than half the children suffer from developmental problems. Illnesses of the musculoskeletal system, thyroid gland, and reproductive systems are also common. The main goal of the project was to raise awareness about the problem and lobby the government for a safe removal of the monazites pollution in the Krasnoufimsk District.
Blacksmith funded the local partner NGO raise awareness about the problem and lobby the government for its safe removal.
The monazite was initially obtained because it contains thorium, which can be used to make nuclear weapons. Interest in monazite raw material declined once the uranium-plutonium nuclear fuel cycle began to be adopted.
The monazite is packed in three-layered paper bags of 50 kg, which are stored in wooden boxes. Those are stocked in 23 warehouses (19 made of wooden and 4 made of metal), which were built in the early forties by the Central Administrative Board of Material Reserves (GUMR) of the USSR and initially used for the storage of strategic food stocks. The storage site’s total area is approximately 20 hectares.
Content of thorium in monazite is approx. 5% and content of uranium approx. 0.2%. Thus approximately 4000t tons of thorium (thorium-232) and 160t of uranium (uranium-238) are stored at the area, which represent total radioactive activity of 2.886 ·1014 Bq (7800 Ci).
There is a very high incidence of cancer in the Krasnoufimsk district. As of late 2004 there were 990 cases of cancer among district residents (more than double that of other districts). More than half the children suffer from developmental problems, and illnesses of the musculoskeletal system, thyroid gland, and reproductive systems are also common.
The purpose of the project was to create and promote a plan to eliminate monazite pollution in the Krasnoufimsk district. To achieve this goal, the project incorporates the following elements: a compilation of expert reports, educational seminars, progress reports, and lobbying at the regional and federal levels.
The specialists of the Ural Ecological Union established the Expert Council to deal with the monazite pollution. They concluded that the warehousing the concentrated monazite did not meet radiation safety requirements. Additionally, they found that medical statistics showed a noticeably elevated rate of cancer when compared to other regional towns.
The Expert Council produced a report entitled, “The Problem and Possible Solution of Monazite Concentration in the Krasnoufimsk District.” It recommended, first, that security surrounding the facility be dramatically enhanced. Second, it suggested that the regulations controlling storage of moderately radioactive substances be strictly adhered to. Third, it recommended that extensive research be conducted regarding the health of the local population. Finally, the report recommended that all conclusions drawn about the suitability of the storage facility to house such materials be published.
In March 2004, the Sverdlovsk Oblast government approved a measure that provided 63 million rubles for remediation work over the years 2004-2007. In 2005, construction of closed metal hangars on the two most critical warehouses was conducted, followed by constructions on four others in 2006. The hangars will protect the shabby old wooden warehouse from natural hazards and other potential threats. The wooden fence that surrounded the area was replaced by a new one constructed of ferroconcrete panels. As of 2005, 1 out of 2.4 kilometers of fence has been replaced.
A new target program for the years 2007- 2009, containing some 280 million rubles, has been providing further support to construct metal hangars at the remaining 13 warehouses (2009: 4; 2008: 4; 2009: 5) and this work has been completed.
The radiation’s effects on the water, soil, and people will continue to be monitored.
It will not be possible to process the monazite safely in the next ten years, so the best subsequent action is to guarantee safe, intermediate-term storage of the monazite. But the long-term solution should be repackaging the monazite in special containers and transporting it to specialized storage maintained by the Ministry for Nuclear Energy.