- RICHLAND, Wash. -- Though the Cold War has ended, its legacy lives on
in Russia's West Siberian Basin as radioactive waste from nuclear weapons
material production travels in the groundwater and may be threatening the
health of humans and the ecosystem there.
- Fifty years ago, Russian scientists began
discharging this liquid radioactive waste into nearby rivers and open reservoirs.
About a decade later, they also began injecting radioactive waste into
what they believed were very slow moving fields of groundwater in the West
Siberian Basin, located in central Russia.
- The practice of discharging into open
reservoirs continued until the early 1990s. Over time, Russian scientists
discovered waste had migrated in the aquifer underlying one reprocessing
site to a nearby stream and could threaten the drinking water of residents.
- In 1990, Russia's Ministry of Atomic
Energy, MINATOM, signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with the U.S. Department
of Energy in the areas of environmental restoration and waste management
and agreed to jointly study how radioactive waste travels in groundwater.
Scientists from DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory were chosen
to lead the U.S. portion of the contaminant transport modeling project
as part of the agreement.
- Pacific Northwest scientists are investigating
the West Siberian Basin's hydrogeology - how water moves under the ground's
surface - to better track and predict the future path of radioactive waste.
Research is focused on waste storage and disposal at three former plutonium
production sites in the basin - Mayak, Tomsk and Krasnoyarsk. The laboratory's
scientists are using the same computer model they apply at DOE's Hanford
site in Washington state to simulate flow of radionuclides in groundwater.
- "This research is the best chance
to learn how large concentrations of man-made radionuclides travel in a
natural setting, over long distances and over a long period of time,"
said Mike Foley, principal investigator for Pacific Northwest. "To
date, existing groundwater models have been based on small-scale lab tests
and observations of low-concentration, naturally occurring radionuclides."
- After the models are developed, Pacific
Northwest scientists will estimate how the contaminants have moved over
time and estimate their future path. The models will help improve understanding
of how radioactive wastes react with the rocks as they are transported
- The findings are expected to influence
remediation strategies at the three Russian sites.
- Since 1992, Pacific Northwest scientists
have modeled the hydrogeology of the West Siberian Basin and of Mayak using
data from groundwater studies provided by Russia. West Siberia is the largest
basin and region of low relief on earth. Next, it is proposed that the
scientists will model the Tomsk site and, possibly, Krasnoyarsk.
- "We need to know the chemistry of
how radioactive plumes move below the surface," Foley said. "That
knowledge could be applied to landfills, tank spills and future waste storage
issues in the United States. We have to be able to predict the risk of
contaminant migration in order to properly clean it up."
- Pacific Northwest and Russian scientists
have worked together closely. They bring complementary site characterization,
contaminant sampling and modeling expertise to bear on the common problem
of better understanding the migration of radioactive wastes in groundwater
- "We're both trying to take advantage
of each other's knowledge and resources," said Charlie Cole, Pacific
- DOE's Office of Environmental Management
has funded this project at Pacific Northwest with about $3.3 million since
- Pacific Northwest is one of DOE's nine
multiprogram national laboratories and conducts research in areas of environment,
energy, health sciences and national security. Battelle, based in Columbus,
Ohio, has operated Pacific Northwest since 1965.