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Tracking A Legacy Of Waste In The West Siberian Basin

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 Fol
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Contact: Staci West
staci.west@pnl.gov
509-372-6313
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
4-Dec-1998


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