Nuclear research institute is Moscow’s most dangerous environmental hotspot

The alarming quantity of nuclear waste which is inadequately stored at the Kurchatov Institute used for training military and civil nuclear engineers, makes the facility Moscow’s most dangerous environmental hotspot, it has been announced.

Talking at a news conference last week about Moscow’s most dangerous environmental hotspots, Leonid Bochin, Head of the City Hall’s Ecological Department, did not hesitate to name the institute, which was founded in 1943 and played a crucial role in the development of the first Soviet nuclear bombs, as the worst offender.

Over the decades, the institute, which still operates six of its nine nuclear reactors, has accumulated an alarming quantity of radioactive waste on its site in a residential district 15 km northwest of the Kremlin. Environmentalists claim that a leak from the waste depositories would turn the city into a lifeless desert, and institute officials admit that Stalin-era nuclear waste remains buried in an unsatisfactory way. The waste depositories at the institute contain spent unclear fuel, water used as a cooling agent, and worn reactor parts.

The institute’s head, Yevgeny Velikhov, is reported to have sent a letter to President Vladimir Putin last summer, requesting funds to help the institute remove its radioactive waste. According to the letter, there are 2,000 tonnes of solid and liquid waste with a radioactivity potential of 100,000 curies, with 900 nuclear reactor fuel assemblies carrying more than three million curies buried at the facility. It is reported that a brick wall around the facility has collapsed, and there is no evidence of police guards.

The radioactive legacy of Soviet nuclear science is a cause for concern among institute officials, according to a spokesman for the institute, although new waste is stored in specialised depositories that are safe. However, the assembly parts were simply placed in iron barrels that were then filled with concrete and buried. “In the post-war period, the main priority was to make the most rapid advances in the military programme,” said the spokesman. “Ecological issues meant much less.”

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