[video] Record floods in Russia wash out uranium waste into Tobol River

Contaminated waters threaten ecosystems in Russia and Kazakhstan.

Severe floods that hit Russia in late 2023 – early 2024, in conjunction with the incompetence of regional authorities, have resulted in the spillage of uranium-contaminated waters into the Tobol River.

The uranium wells at the Dobrovolskoye mine, in the Kurgan Region near Kazakhstan’s border, are owned and operated by the state-run corporation Rosatom.

Residents at Trud-i-Znanie, a village near the deposits, and environment activists have shared pictures and videos of the floods on the Russian social media platform VKontakte, prompting a local news Telegram channel to investigate their complaints.

Local residents protesting against the authorities' slow reaction to the looming disaster. 

The Public Fund for Environmental Monitoring and Population Welfare, a regional environmental organization, said the floods washed the underground waste left in the Dobrovolskoye mine out to surface and further into the Tobol River. The contaminated area is thousands of square kilometers and growing.

The source of uranium contamination is just around 200 kilometers north of the Kazakh border, potentially threatening the ecosystem of the entire Kurgan Region and northern districts of the neighboring country.

The approximate location of the Dobrovolskoye mine.

At least three major Kazakh cities and three large Russian cities are connected via the Tobol River and its tributaries. The 1,591-kilometer long Tobol River has a drainage basin area of 426,000 square kilometers and is in turn a tributary of the longer and wider Irtysh River, which crosses much of central Siberia.

The Kurgan authorities deny the contamination with uranium but won’t cooperate with the environmentalists or help the residents relocate. No evacuation orders have been issued so far.

Andrey Ozharovskiy, an expert at the Radioactive Waste Safety program, told the publication Sibreal that "Uranium is an alpha-active substance, and its ingestion with drinking water leads to internal radiation, which is much more dangerous than external radiation.” 

While water greatly dilutes the nuclear material, mass consumption guarantees that many people, wild and domestic animals will be contaminated. “This is inevitable,” he stressed.

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Rosatom is known for negligent handling of uranium deposits in the past. The company said the situation at the Kurgan uranium deposits was “as usual” and “all enterprises were working in the standard regime.”

Neither side has provided measurements of radiation or contamination from Tobol water.

Following are video records taken by locals from the village Trud-i-Znanie. 

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