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Greek anti-nuclear activists want the closure of Kozloduy NPP and the ‘freezing’ of Belene

18 March 2011 / 22:03:05  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

The discussion about the future of nuclear energy worldwide is expected to burst soon after the realization of the more optimistic or pessimistic scenario for the nuclear power reactors in Fukushima NPP in Japan.

The world anti-nuclear movement is gaining strength and it believes that the time has come for humanity to realize that nuclear energy is not so safe and to focus on alternative energy sources. Since its establishment in 1980, the association International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War has the sole purpose of "creating a more peaceful and safer world, free from the threat of nuclear destruction." The federation, which has affiliates in 63 countries, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. The Greek Medical Association for the Protection of the Environment and Against Nuclear and Biochemical Threat is the Greek branch of the world federation. GRReporter interviewed its President Dr. Maria Arvaniti - Sotiropoulou.

Ms. Sotiropoulou, what are the consequences of radiation on the human body?

Effects of exposure to radiation depend on the amount of the radioactivity absorbed and the radiological elements that affect the human body. Let me first describe the sharp exposure to radioactivity the victims of which were the fire fighters who approached the reactor in Chernobyl. After their exposure to this type of radiation people first suffer from dizziness, vomiting, diarrhoea, hair loss, haemorrhage (bleeding), other infections caused by the sharp weakening of the immune system, up to coma and death. In this case, their condition can not be improved, especially if the amount of ingested radioactivity was significant. This could happen to someone unaware that he is carrying a radiological material in his pocket, as has happened with some intelligence agents. Fortunately, this affects only a small number of people, i.e., those directly involved in the process that follows the accident at the plant.

As for the environment, things depend on the distance from the point of radiation and on the elements which are different in each reactor. In addition, each reactor has its own, let's say, "dumpster", and all waste products leak from it. In the case of the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, and according to the information we have, there are four elements there. This is the radioactive iodine, which we know from the Chernobyl disaster, when it caused cancer of the thyroid gland, particularly in young children. So, iodine pills have already been given to the residents of the area in Japan. But they should not be taken by all people because there is danger of poisoning in case of overdose.

Strontium and caesium follow. These radioactive isotopes have the same behaviour as calcium and phosphorus, which exist in the human body. So, strontium is concentrated in the bones and caesium in the blood, thus infecting organs such as the liver and the pancreas. As these isotopes are excreted with the urine, they can relatively easily cause cancer of the urinary tract. Strontium is associated with the occurrence of leukemia.

The most dangerous element, however, is plutonium, which has a very long half-decay period. Areas where there is a leak of plutonium get infected for millions of years. Moreover, plutonium is very toxic and causes lung cancer in case of inhalation.

We should note that the radiation affects all rapidly regenerating cells. Therefore, a specific amount of radiation affects a child and an adult in various degrees. It is more dangerous for children and for the first three months of pregnancy, because this is the period of the creation of the organs and teratogenesis is induced in the case of defeat in the DNA structure, i.e., children are born with various deformities.

We see that they measure the level of radiation in humans in Japan. However, the one that we take inside the body is much higher and it can not be separated so easily. It continues to radiate inside the human body and the total amount, which the person absorbs, is much larger and more damaging. The other way of infection is through the food chain. It is important that products be washed very well, although the animals, the meat of which we consume, can also be infected from contaminated grass. This quantity deposits in the human body, which is infected with radiation due to atmospheric pollution. Therefore, we say that things are serious and we are worried.

How could we protect ourselves?

If someone is in the area where there is a leak of radiation, there is no way of protection. The only way is to leave the region which is in danger. The problem is that this particular area is not known. The talks about a radius of 30 kilometers in Japan are very theoretical. We can never know which way the wind blows. For example, after the Chernobyl disaster the quantity of radiation that reached Greece was higher than that in countries like Austria, which is closer. Everything depends on the climatic conditions, where the radiation cloud will be brought and the presence of rain, because harmful elements are carried directly into the soil in this way.

How long does it take for the harmful effects of radiation to disappear entirely?

As for soil, many years have to pass. Anyway, at least 60-100 years are needed for a nuclear power plant which remains to make sure that the area around it is clean. But each element has a different term of half-decay. It is relatively small for radiation iodine - we can be sure it will not be in our bodies after 60 years. For plutonium, however, it takes hundreds of years, i.e., the person will have died anyway. In the case of depleted uranium, we are talking about a period of half-decay lasting millions of years.

What is the Association’s opinion concerning the Kozloduy NPP and Belene in Bulgaria?

We started to deal with Kozloduy NPP early in the 1980 when everyone in Greece believed that there was no danger. An International Congress was held in Drama in 1994, which was attended by scientists from Bulgaria, who presented to us the actual extent of the danger of the operation of the plant. Later, the European Union also realized this danger and several repairs have been made. But they were made using an East German technology, so the Kozloduy NPP is a technologically outdated nuclear power plant.

In theory, the life cycle of every plant is 30 years. We say this because the electricity produced is smaller in amount compared to the total energy produced. This remaining energy automatically converts certain elements in high-level radioactive waste. They are usually buried in the area around the nuclear plant. Thus the ground is polluted with radiation from its waste products and becomes very dangerous. So, Japan's fears were related mostly to the containers in which waste products are stored. They would cause much greater toxicity in the environment than the reactor itself.  

Therefore, we believe that Kozloduy NPP should be closed and Bulgaria should seek other ways to ensure its energy independence. The country could develop other energy sources.

Representatives from various environmental organizations from all Balkan countries and Germany visited Belene two years ago. The construction of this plant had started during the communist rule in Bulgaria with Soviet specifications. For this reason, many environmental organizations have put pressure on the German bank that would fund the construction not to do it, arguing that it was not right for Germany to fund the construction of a new plant like the one in Chernobyl in Europe. At the same time, the value of the project jumped tenfold after the political changes, so it was "frozen".

We heard some time ago that the construction will eventually be restarted, but I hope that this will not happen after what occurred in Japan.

You said in an interview that you doubt the veracity of the International Atomic Energy Agency reports. Would you tell us more about that?

I am glad that you offer me the chance to clarify what I meant. This is not about some "mysterious conspiracy" but for written documents. The International Atomic Energy Agency was established in 1959, shortly after the advent of atomic bombs. People then accepted to ​​use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes as a very good idea and no one could blame them for this. Many years have passed since then, however, and it has been proven already that this argument is wrong. Nuclear power is neither clean, nor cheap, nor green.  

In the same year of its establishment, the IAEA signed a contract with the International Health Organization of the United Nations aimed at protecting human life throughout the planet. The text of the contract mentioned that it was "urgent to introduce some restrictions in publishing secret information which is exchanged between the two organizations." So, although the relevant UN Secretaries General made speeches of the consequences of the outbreak of the reactor on each anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, on the 20th anniversary the World Health Organization issued a report which presented data from only 350 western sources, although there are over 30,000 publications and over 170 000 reports worldwide.

Therefore, our federation, after 20 years of waiting, issued a report in 2009 containing the results of 5000 scientific works. The collection of data, which were summarized by two scientists from Russia and Belarus, was translated into English and published under the responsibility of the Academy of Sciences in New York. We were able to learn in this way about the real dimensions of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl.

25 years have passed since the events then and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War organized on that occasion a congress in Berlin, which will present more recent data. Unfortunately, the consequences have not disappeared, because as I mentioned, the elements remain in the body and cause different health problems. We will monitor this process for many years, because problems are transmitted to succeeding generations when the radiation affects the chromosomes. So, our view is that we should not compare the vast number of people who lost their lives in the earthquake and tsunami with the effects of radiation on the people of Japan. They will continue for many years and will cause continuous damage to the health and lives of the people affected by radiation. A comparison with Chernobyl is not just because there was one reactor there and we are talking about six here. And in response to the argument that there are survivors of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I would like to say that a reactor contains a thousand times more radiation than in a nuclear bomb as those that have been dropped on Japan during the World War II.

In your opinion, have the events in Japan prompted a reorganization of the international anti-nuclear movement?

Yes, they have. Now we see a new revival. The nuclear lobby, after being silent for about 15 - 20 years, once again has begun to provoke discussions in favour of nuclear energy, arguing that "oil prices are rising", "this is the only solution to the economic crisis", and that "lignite is also dangerous for human health". These people managed to impose the perception in the European Union that this energy is "green", which is a big lie. I'll explain why. Although the nuclear power plant does not contribute to increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere during its operation, very large amounts of carbon dioxide are produced during the stages of its construction, the extraction of the nuclear fuel and the destruction of the nuclear reactor. So, it is wrong to say that this is "green" energy.

The most negative is that all these nuclear power plants are associated with nuclear and radioactive weapons. Governments of countries that need nuclear weapons always strive to have nuclear power plants. This connection makes the companies and people who build them even more powerful. Of course, since people were afraid in recent years and governments have required very high security specifications, the construction cost of a nuclear power plant, which is half the value of its destruction cost, has become very high. For this reason, renewable energy sources began to compete with nuclear technology on price basis and they should be preferred.

For example, the French company Areva had to deliver a finished nuclear power plant in Finland in 1999. The company built the whole casing, but it turned out that it is not safe because the concrete did not have the required density. Areva argued then that there was an error in the translation from the Finnish language so they destroyed what was constructed and had to start again. So, they had a delay of ten years. If the government of Finland had begun to create ecological parks and other similar plants within this period, it would produce some of the energy of the country ecologically and would not have to wait ten years for the construction of the nuclear power plant.

As I said, I was concerned about the ongoing discussion in Greece on the good side of nuclear energy. Even a political leader argued some time ago: "when our neighbours build nuclear power plants, why don’t we?". This is crazy. We think that we should exert pressure and we should do it again just like we stopped the construction of the Akuyu nuclear power plant in Turkey the first time, and just as we could "freeze" the construction of Belene NPP we should not allow it to start again. We do not want the countries to lose their energy independence, but to provide the funds they spend now for making safer nuclear power plants for alternative energy development.

Tags: SocietyAnti-nuclear movementKozloduy NPPBeleneRenewable energy sources
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