Ecology, Energy, Estonia

International Internet Magazine. Baltic States news & analytics Saturday, 13.07.2024, 04:43

Estonia cleaned up Soviet era radioactive waste dump at Sillamae

Juhan Tere, BC, Tallinn, 21.10.2008.Print version
Estonia has completed the decade-long clean-up of one of Europe's most hazardous radioactive waste dumps on the Baltic coast, an official in charge of the operation said Monday.


"EU experts considered the radioactive waste storage at Sillamae one of the four most dangerous sites of its kind in Europe," Tonis Kaasik, director of the OkoSil firm responsible for the clean-up of the Soviet-era dump told AFP.


"It is completely safe now," he said AFP, informs LETA. "This is important not only to Estonia but is great relief to all countries around the Baltic Sea."


The project cost 21.4 million euros (28.5 million dollars) and was funded by Estonia, Nordic countries and the EU.


Perched on Estonia's northeast Baltic coast close to the Russian border, the town of Sillamae was used by the Soviet Union for uranium mining and as a closed industrial site for production of nuclear materials.


Now sealed, Sillamae's radioactive waste lay just 30 metres (100 feet) from the Baltic Sea coast.


The toxic pond covered nearly 50 hectares (125 acres) and contained around 12 million tonnes of waste from uranium production and oil shale ash stored since the Soviet uranium plant began secretly operating in 1948. The town was closed to the public for decades.


Estonians first learned of the site in 1989 through media reports quoting scientist Endel Lippmaa.


The Soviets initially produced uranium using local Dictyonema shale deposits, but later shipped in uranium ore from Eastern Europe, mainly Czechoslovakia and Hungary.


"Processing uranium ore – both from Dictyonema shale and the ore later imported from Eastern-bloc countries which was 100 times richer – produced hazardous and highly toxic waste: a grey-brown sludge, containing uranium, heavy metals, acids and other chemicals," Kaasik said.


"Twelve million tonnes of this material formed Sillamae's uranium pond," he noted. But residents who spoke to AFP appeared unfazed.


"We just don't worry that a nuclear waste storage has been next door," 30-year-old Marina who works at local post office and has lived in Sillamae since childhood told AFP. She declined to provide her family name.


"There are no statistics to show whether the radioactive pond has caused problems to the health of local people," Valeri Abramovitsh, chief physician at Sillamae Hospital and a 20-year resident of the town said, informs LETA.


Some 16,000 people live in Sillamae, the vast majority of whom are ethnic Russian.


Preparations for the clean-up began after Estonia regained its independence in 1991, but the operation started in 1998.


The Estonian government and the Silmet Grupp firm that took over the Soviet military factory worked together to establish a separate company: AS OkoSil, specialising in environmental technology and waste management, reports agency LETA.


An international conference scheduled for October 28-9 in the nearby town of Johvi will officially mark the end of the clean-up.

Search site