Nine year old Kostya, victim of radiation contamination from Mayak Nuclear Complex

Take three countries, over three days: Russia, Sweden, and Spain. Guess what they have in common? It’s not football, nor ice hockey, but the outrageous way they handle hazardous radioactive materials.

And all three sadly ignored the fiftieth anniversary of the Mayak catastrophe and the plight of people still living there today. 50 years ago, in Mayak a large nuclear complex in Southern Urals, a tank of highly radioactive sludge lead exploded. People were evacuated from their homes in a thousand square kilometres from many towns and villages. Yet today, thousands of people still live in the highly poisoned area on the banks of Techa River.

I could hardly believe my friends from Greenpeace Russia, when they told me how 50 years later, the Russian authorities launched their relocation plan moving people in highly radioactive Muslyumovo village just two kilometres, to the other corner of the very same village, near its graveyard. Check out this 10 min documentary.

Mayak anniversary protest Maybe this is typical of the short memories of governments. But more disturbing is that the dangerous Mayak complex still operates today and there are even plans to expand it. Russia is actively negotiating with a dozen other countries to bring their unwanted spent reactor fuel to this out of sight factory. A nice option for all the governments who don’t know what do to get rid of their nuclear waste. Not such a great gift for the people of Mayak, who have surely suffered enough. This is why we decided to call for a ban on imports of deadly waste to Mayak on Saturday’s anniversary. Our activists pulled out all the stops to make a brilliant laser projection happen in the regional capital Chelyabinsk, on the memorial of Kurchatov – the father of Soviet nuclear bomb.

On the same weekend, the Swedish government started to ship five tons of spent reactor fuel to the notorious UK reprocessing complex Sellafield. A plant known for its catalogue of accidents, broad range of incompetence and for dumping its liquid waste into the Irish and North Sea. This very contamination lead Scandinavian countries to successfully push for its closure, expected now in five years time. Another case of governmental amnesia, that shows the hypocrisy of sending nuclear waste elsewhere. Reprocessing is a deadly technology wherever it takes place. Again, our activists were on the scene to block the cargo ship, Atlantic Osprey.

Then on Monday morning, in my email, was yet another example of the mismanagement of dangerous nuclear materials. In Spain, police discovered a bucket with pellets of obviously stolen nuclear reactor fuel nearby a Spanish factory. Nobody knows yet how it was possible to take them away from strictly controlled factory, or why the missing material was not detected, and most disturbingly, they have no idea how many pellets are actually missing.

How many more accidents and safety failures do we need, before we acknowledge that it is just impossible to safely run nuclear energy in our complicated world?

Jan Beránek,

Greenpeace Nuclear Campaigner