Territory of Man-Made Disaster

In Soviet times, the Ukrainian soil satisfied the demand of the economy of the socialist state in not only natural gas and oil, but also in uranium, which was used for military and peaceful purposes. During the post-war period, the primary task was to renew the country’s industrial potential, but there was no environmental care culture for protection against negative impact of anthropogenic activity. After collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine got hard inheritance and had to overcome it independently.

Viktor Riazantsev,
Head of Radiation Safety Department of the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine

Hard inheritance of the Soviet Union

Since 1948, uranium ore was processed at Prydniprovsky Chemical Plant (PCP) in the city of Dniprodzerzhynsk, Dnipropetrovsk oblast. Its original name is Slag Fertilizer Plant or plant No. 906 of the 1st Main Directorate of the USSR Council of Ministers (later the Ministry of Medium Machine Building of the USSR). The enterprise produced uranium salts from slags that were obtained by remelting uranium and iron ores in blast furnace No. 6 of Dniprovsky Integrated Iron&Steel Works named after Dzerzhynsky. The products were supplied to the military-industrial complex and later also for nuclear fuel production for nuclear power plants. In addition to uranium salts, mineral fertilizers and sodium nitrate were obtained from solutions of uranium mining and processing.

Nitrate and ammonium nitrogen obtained resulting from these processes was disposed of in a specialized constructed shop No. 3-bi in AZOT State Production Enterprise (now Grodno AZOT Joint Stock Company) with production of nitrogen fertilizers. This uranium production technology functioned until 1963, and later uranium salts were extracted only from uranium ore and their concentrates mined in the USSR and Comecon countries. Remelting of uranium and iron ores in blast furnaces was terminated.

The plant was constructed and operated under highly sensitive conditions with violation of the basic environmental requirements; therefore it became possible only last years to take practical measures for environmental protection against the consequences of industrial operation of similar facilities.

Uranium production at Prydniprovsky Chemical Plant was stopped in 1991. Radioactively contaminated engineering structures and tailing pits were abandoned. This was the main cause of all further negative consequences. Subsequently, as a result of corporatization of enterprises, remediation, alienation of property, the number of enterprises on the contaminated territory increased (currently more than 50 enterprises are registered on the industrial site). Restructuring and distribution of the property ownership of enterprises, establishment of new enterprises on the territory of the Prydniprovsky Chemical Plant have been and continue to be conducted in violation of Ukrainian legislation in nuclear energy use without consideration of the sphere of activity, the nature of pollution of the buildings, structures and territory and negative impact of uranium waste accumulated on this territory on the environment and human health.

After PCP restructuring, independent enterprises of different profiles were established on its basis (Smoly, SSE Tsyrkoniy[1], Prydniprovsky Nonferrous Metal Plant, Prydniprovsky Chemical Plant, Agrofos, Ammophos, Polikhim, Barier, etc.). These enterprises are located on the contaminated territory of the Prydniprovsky Chemical Plant (approximately 70 – 80% of PCP territory was contaminated by uranium radionuclides with dose rate on the ground surface from 0.30 to 30 μSv/h.); contamination in individual buildings reaches 400 μSv/h. As a result, workers of these enterprises are subjected to uncontrolled exposure, that is, the requirements of the Law of Ukraine “On Human Protection against Ionizing Radiation” are violated.

Enterprise hazardous for people

Back in 1999, taking into account the extremely hazardous situation on PCP territory and at the facilities of the State Enterprise “Eastern Mining and Processing Combine”, the State Administration of Nuclear Regulation of Ukraine initiated a meeting of the Commission on Technology and Environmental Safety and Emergencies. The radiation situation of Western Mining and Processing Plant, Prydniprovsky Chemical Plant and in the regions of their location were considered. Measures were proposed to normalize environmental state of the uranium facilities, but the decisions of the Commission were not implemented by the responsible ministries because of the lack of funding.

The next attempt to normalize the situation was made in 2003 when the Ministry of Fuel and Coal Industry of Ukraine developed the State Program of bringing hazardous facilities of the Prydniprovsky Chemical Plant into environmentally safe state and ensuring protection of the public against hazardous radiation impact. The document should be valid in 2005 -2014.

At the same time, SE Barrier established by the Ministry of Fuel and Coal Industry of Ukraine for remediation received SNRIU license for uranium ore processing for liquidation activities at uranium facilities of the Prydniprovsky Chemical Plant.

Europe also decided to participate in solving the issue: two working meetings were arranged with experts of Wismut Gmbh dealing in Germany until 1991 with uranium ore extraction and processing and then liquidation and remediation of its uranium facilities.

It’s no wonder, because the scope of the issue was impressive: nine tailing pits on the territory of the Prydniprovsky Chemical Plant and beyond it accumulated about 36 million tons of radioactive waste generated resulting from uranium ore processing with total activity of about 75 thousand Curie! Most of these facilities are not operated; they remained not temporarily shut down and significantly harm the environment, personnel and the public. Unauthorized and still unknown waste storage facilities and radioactively contaminated areas are being revealed one-by-one on the territory of the Prydniprovsky Chemical Plant and beyond it (for example, in the village of Kamianske, Lazo Str.). According to the inspection survey, the discharges of radioactively contaminated groundwater to the river of Konoplianka and Dnipro have been revealed. The engineering structures of tailing pits are in uncontrolled, and in some cases – in emergency state, which can lead to emergency initiation.

In accordance with the requirements of valid Ukrainian legislation, all legacy uranium facilities should have been liquidated, temporarily shut down or re-profiled for the use in other sectors of national economy with drawing up of appropriate documentation. However, this problem is not solved yet.

Just few things were completed during 12 years

The financing of the State Program activities was started in August 2005. Stage 1 was started with radiation situation investigation at the facilities of the Prydniprovsky Chemical Plant (mainly tailing pits) and in the environment in the place of their location.

The investigation results for 2005 showed that the main contamination sources of the Dnipro river water system are discharges of drainage water through the channel of the river of Konoplianka from the drainage system of the facilities at the industrial site to the pollution of the Dnipro river. After reaching the Dnipro river, the concentration of harmful substances surely decreases, but gradual accumulation of uranium in bottom sediments of water reservoirs was fixed.

The measurement of air contamination demonstrated exceeding content of radioactive aerosols in the air on the territory of the Prydniprovsky Chemical Plant by 3-5 times in comparison with the territory of the city. For example, for lead-210, this indicator is up to 6-8 mBq ×m-3, while beyond the city it fluctuates at the level of 0.1-0.5 mBq ×m-3.

However, the current system of radiation monitoring and control of personnel, the public and the environment at uranium ore mining and processing plants is based on the regulations developed in the 1970s-1980s and does not meet the requirements of current legislation. Therefore, further work was carried out based on a specially developed plan of priority measures and the State Target Environmental Program for bringing uranium facilities of the Prydniprovsky Chemical Plant into a safe state.

It was planned to perform a full-scale survey of PCP radiation-hazardous facilities, develop a unified database, assess its impact on the environment and hazard level and plan correct remediation activity. In addition, it was also planned to develop an updated radiation monitoring and control system of radionuclide migration into the environment and exposure of the public, predict radioactive contamination processes and inform the state authorities and the public on radiological environmental state.

It was required to develop a system for early detection of radiation emergencies, and take remediation and liquidation measures at certain PCP facilities.

Why is the situation not improving?

The situation at PCP industrial site is closely followed at the state level: several joint meetings of the Committee of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on Environmental Policy, Nature Resources Utilization and Elimination of the Consequences of Chornobyl Catastrophe and the Board of the State Nuclear Regulatory Committee of Ukraine were held. Since there is no legislatively approved special status of the territory for the period of remediation activities, 60 enterprises were registered or are carrying out activities at PCP industrial site. With inactivity of the Ministry of Energy and Coal Industry of Ukraine, radioactively contaminated objects are illegally transferred to other enterprises, and even radioactively contaminated materials are transported beyond PCP territory…

Since there is no approved strategy at the state level for taking remediation measures on PCP territory, similar situation leads to chaotic actions during the activities at the uranium facilities of the enterprise. Moreover, with current inadequate oversight of the Ministry of Energy and Coal Industry of Ukraine of activity of the main executor of the state program, SE Barier, the number of violations of the legislation in nuclear energy use significantly increased.

We can see today that the Ministry of Energy and Coal Industry of Ukraine inefficiently uses budget funds allocated for the program implementation, and SE Barier is not able to perform its main activity effectively. This is caused by lack of both managerial and specialized qualified personnel. Based on SNRIU analysis results, the efficiency of activity implemented at PCP industrial site does not exceed 10-15%.

No time is left…

To say the least, the evidence of ineffective work of SE Barier can be the basis for initiation of several criminal cases against them related to the use of budget funds. Moreover, this information covers only five months of SE Barier headed by the last director … The management of the state enterprise still cannot restore licensing documents, the license for the right for uranium ore processing during remediation on PCP territory.

All main investigation results for the facility were obtained through the international cooperation: ENSURE I and II Project “Assessment of the Impact Risks of Tailing Pits of Uranium Ore Processing Waste on Human Health and the Environment” and “Development of Safety Assessment Methodology and Preparatory Work for Remediation at the Former Uranium Ore Processing Plant in Ukraine (Prydniprovsky Chemical Plant)” implemented in cooperation with SSM, the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority, as well as EuropeAid/13487/C/SER/UA Project “Development of the Methodologies (Strategy, Technology) for Territory Remediation of the Legacy Uranium Facility “Prydniprovsky Chemical Plant”, which was funded by the European Commission.

These documents include detailed measurement results of radioactive contamination spreading on PCP territory and in the buildings of the former main production facilities of this enterprise, as well as preconditions to start real activity related to decontamination of industrial site facilities and territory.

As Ukraine intensifies its striving to the European integration, the compliance of the practice related to elimination of consequences of the abandoned uranium facility operation and management of waste generated resulting from uranium ore mining and processing in our country with the European standards becomes particularly important. SNRIU as the state regulatory authority for nuclear and radiation safety of Ukraine is trying to make every effort to implement the requirements and provisions of the European legislation into the nuclear legislation of Ukraine.

Today, we are launching an another international project to be funded by the European Commission, “Urgent Measures to be Taken at the Prydniprovsky Chemical Plant, the Village of Kamianske (former Dneprodzerzhinsk), Ukraine”, Contract INSC/2016/379607. Its successful implementation will bring into our country the best world practice in the sphere of eliminating the consequences of uranium facility operation, significantly improve environmental situation in the village of Kamianske and enhance international image of Ukraine.

However, the ability of SE Barier, the main executor of remediation measures at PCP industrial site, to discharge its obligations causes currently considerable concern. This is caused mainly by the absence of license for the right for uranium ore processing, non-ability to ensure safety during the work, absence of qualified personnel, numerous violations in financial matters, etc. The inactivity of the Ministry of Energy and Coal Industry of Ukraine has already led to significant challenges at PCP industrial site such as failure to arrange access mode that resulted in theft of radioactively contaminated scrap metal and its uncontrolled transport from the territory; presence of significant number of different enterprises at the industrial site whose activity is not related to remediation of the territory and facilities; no control over tender procedures at Specialized Enterprise “Barier”, as a result of which the enterprise cannot properly fulfill its obligations.

There is practically no time to remove obstacles for implementation of the European Commission Project, but we still hope for active participation of the Ministry of Energy and Coal Industry of Ukraine in resolving the issues on bringing PCP facilities and the territory to an environmentally safe state.

[1] Tsyrkoniy SSE in accordance with the Comprehensive Program for Closed Nuclear Fuel Cycle Development in Ukraine is a key enterprise in the production of blanks of zirconium alloy and zirconium rolled products for manufacturing of fuel rods for nuclear power plants.

“Atomprom Ukraine”