Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A real nuclear threat

Nearly 20 years after the initial disaster, officials in Chernobyl are just now finding out where nuclear fuel (which had previously been presumed stolen) was stashed:
Security officers discovered a plastic bag with 14 pieces of nuclear fuel during a routine search of the damaged reactor's perimeter last week, said plant spokesman Stanislav Shektela. The pieces included part of a fuel rod and small pipes.

He said the radioactive material "was probably missing since 1995," when several people were arrested and convicted of stealing nuclear fuel from the destroyed reactor's central hall...

The Chernobyl power plant was finally shut down in 2000, but Ukrainian authorities are still struggling to collect and dispose of all the damaged nuclear fuel rods scattered inside the reactor hall.

The article notes that the current barrier set up around the Chernobyl plant is in desperate need of repairs. And it seems fairly obvious that there's a need for more thorough investigation of any unaccounted-for fuel if it's possible to find new supplies of it based on a "routine search" ten years after the last documented theft.

One would think that the Chernobyl experience would cause countries both to be wary about using nuclear power at all, and to be exceedingly careful that any international nuclear activity happens under close cooperation and supervision. Unfortunately, Ontario seems to be failing on the former count, and the IAEA on the latter. Meanwhile, the site of the world's greatest nuclear accident isn't getting its due attention domestically or internationally. We can only hope that the lack of attention won't have even more grave consequences than have already been experienced in Chernobyl.

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