Police: Toxic Waste Came From U.S.

A load of radioactive waste discovered in Russia recently was imported illegally from the United States, according to Russian police.


Yury Volgin, senior officer at the organized crime squad of the Interior Ministry, said in an interview that police last month found over 50 tons of radioactive sludge stocked in rusty barrels, some leaking, at a factory in Skopin, 200 kilometers southwest of Moscow. Some of the barrels carried labels of Teledyne, a U.S. defense and recycling firm, warning that the content was radioactive and could cause cancer.


Russian law bans imports of radioactive waste, although President Boris Yeltsin earlier this year decreed an exception for spent nuclear fuel. Volgin said this was the first reported case of radioactive waste reaching Russia from the West illegally.


Greenpeace and other environmentalist organizations have accused numerous Western firms of sending chemical and other industrial waste to Russia, often under the guise of recycling projects. They charge that the waste rarely gets recycled, and even then, the most harmful by-products often stay in Russia. Confirmed cases of illegal waste imports to Russia include mercury batteries, old tires and sewage sludge.


According to Volgin, the sludge measured up to 18,000 micro-roentgens per hour from thorium-230, a radioactive chemical element. Two independent Russian radiation experts said such a level of radiation is only dangerous after sustained exposure at close range. The police raid followed the death from leukemia of one worker who had processed some of the sludge.


"The worst thing is that the local population was not told anything," Volgin said, adding that some factory employees had taken empty barrels to their dachas to store vegetables. "None of the workers knew the stuff was radioactive."


A spokesman for Teledyne said his company had sent 100 tons of sludge containing metals like wolfram, molybdenum and thorium to the Metallurg plant in Skopin for reprocessing, but he added all the ingredients had been returned to the United States. Lev Schoen, president of Calport Resources, a trading firm which shipped the load for Teledyne, suggested that Metallurg may have reused the barrels.


Volgin countered that it was more likely that Calport had not received any reprocessed radioactive material but rather only wolfram oxide, a relatively valuable but non-radioactive ingredient.


Volgin said he hoped Russia's prosecutor general would soon press charges against Metallurg, Teledyne and Franz Glaser, a German businessman he suspects of organizing the delivery on behalf of Calport. Volgin accused Glaser of misusing an import license to get the radioactive imports past customs.


Glaser did not return numerous phone calls. The director of Metallurg could not be reached, but his deputy, Gennady Syomin, confirmed that radioactive waste was stored at the plant. He declined to answer more detailed questions.