MadSci Network: Environment

Re: How dangerous is dumping nuclear waste in the sea?

Date: Mon Aug 21 14:07:30 2000
Posted By: Tony Gaglierd, Faculty, Natural Science and Engineering Technology, Point Park College
Area of science: Environment
ID: 966581867.En


Your question “how dangerous is dumping nuclear waste in the sea” and your 
comments about the Russian Sub’s raise many issues. 

Let me answer your questions and then give you some background on this 

The first part of your question “has this or will this lead to major 
health problems.” To my knowledge there have been no documented health 
problems from the disposal of radioactive materials into the ocean. There 
have been significant and well-documented cases of chemical poisioning 
from contaminated seafood. The classic is the Mini Mata bay incident where 
many people were poisoned by mercury dumped into the bay, taken up by 
fish, and the fish eaten by people. Based on this and other scenarios, I 
believe that radionuclides could cause similar problems. 

Lobsters in the Irish Sea near the Sellafield Nuclear Reprocessing Plant, 
England, have been found to be contaminated with radiation. Ross Jeffrey 
of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization studying 
zooplankton near coral reefs, found that they accumulated naturally 
occurring radioisotopes from sea water. He feels his results will apply to 
fallout from nuclear tests and nuclear waste dumping.

Cleaning up the nuclear as well as other wastes that were dumped into the 
deep ocean presents several challenges: First, is to locate them; second, 
recovering them from great depths; third, the costs involved and fourth 
what to do with the waste. An additional problem is that disturbing the
containers may cause them to release their contents.

The French state-controlled Plutonium Company (COGEMA) had contaminated 
the sea floor off Cap de la Hague  last year when they attempted to clean a
discharge pipe. In response to the accident, the French are planning to 
dredge the sea floor. Since this was close to shore, the clean up is 
feasible and practical.

You mentioned the Russian sub that recently sank and the concerns that the 
radioactive material from it’s reactor will escape. This is just one of 
many possible sources of radioactive waste in the ocean.

From the 1940's to 1972, when the London convention prohibited dumping of 
high level radioactive waste into the sea and on the sea bed . Radioactive 
wastes have been dumped into the deep ocean.

Nuclear Power plants and fuel processing plants located along the coast 
discharge their radioactive effluents into the sea, such as Sellafield 
Nuclear Reprocessing Plant, England, and the Cap de la Hague in France.

The arctic seascape near Murmanske, Russia, has become a graveyard for the 
soviet nuclear submarine fleet. Highly radioactive spent fuel from 
submarine reactors has been piling up in shipyards and military bases. In 
some cases, storage facilities have leaked. 

Pakistan has been clandestinely dumping nuclear waste in the coastal 
waters of Balochistan.

I hope I have answered your questions and given you some food for thought 
on how we have polluted and continue to pollute our home.

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