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River dredging in Chernobyl exclusion zone raises concerns about radioactive contamination

  • River dredging in Chernobyl exclusion zone raises concerns about radioactive contamination

The Pripyat River in Eastern Europe, which passes through the exclusion zone established around the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, is being dredged to expand an inland waterway and enable shipping from the Baltic to the Black Sea. The dredging work in the river could stir up radioactive sludge accumulated after the explosion, and contaminate the water source of millions of people, informs The Guardian.

The project to build the 2,000 km E40 navigable waterway across Poland, Belarus and the Ukraine threatens a wilderness area known as Polesia, home to extraordinary biodiversity. Small vessels can navigate parts of the route but the aim is to allow 80 metre cargo vessels go through; that will require significant dredging, damming and straightening. According to the Save Polesia partnership of civil society organisations, dredging in the Pripyat has already taken place in five sites that are located less than 10 km from the reactor.

The exclusion zone was established by the Armed Forces of the former Soviet Union after the 1986 disaster as an area of a 30 km radius from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, later expanded to a larger area of Ukraine. Dredging in the Pripyat, ongoing since July, contradicts the recommendations of the International Atomic Energy, advising against disturbing the exclusion zone due to long-term contamination.

A feasibility study of the E40 waterway project was done in 2015, but a number of NGOs say it did not consider the repercussions of river dredging inside the exclusion zone, and call for an environmental impact assessment, which would be required as per Ukrainian regulations.

Research by the French NGO Association pour le Contrôle de la Radioactivité dans l’Ouest (Acro) has concluded that the E40 construction project will have a radiological impact on the construction workers and the population depending on the rivers. Dr David Boilley, chairman of Acro, told the Guardian “The exclusion zone should be an exclusion zone for centuries – this means no people living in it and no activity on the river”. 

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