Ocean disposal of radioactive waste
From 1946 through 1993, thirteen countries (fourteen, if the USSR and Russia are considered separately) used ocean disposal or ocean dumping as a method to dispose of nuclear/radioactive waste. The waste materials included both liquids and solids housed in various containers, as well as reactor vessels, with and without spent or damaged nuclear fuel. Since 1993, ocean disposal has been banned by international treaties. (London Convention (1972), Basel Convention, MARPOL 73/78)
However, according to the United Nations, some companies have been dumping radioactive waste and other hazardous materials into the coastal waters of Somalia, taking advantage of the fact that the country had no functioning government from the early 1990s onwards. According to one official at the United Nations, this caused health problems for locals in the coastal region and posed a significant danger to Somalia's fishing industry and local marine life.
"Ocean floor disposal" (or sub-seabed disposal)—a more deliberate method of delivering radioactive waste to the ocean floor and depositing it into the seabed—was studied by the UK and Sweden, but never implemented.
Data are from IAEA-TECDOC-1105. page 3-4
- 1946 First dumping operation at Northeast Pacific Ocean (about 80 km off the coast of California)
- 1957 First IAEA Advisory Group Meeting on Radioactive Waste Disposal into the Sea
- 1958 First United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS I)
- 1972 Adoption of the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (London Convention 1972)
- 1975 The London Convention 1972 entered into force (Prohibition of dumping of high level radioactive waste.)
- 1983 Moratorium on low-level waste dumping
- 1988 Assessing the Impact of Deep Sea Disposal of Low-level Radioactive Waste on Living Marine Resources. IAEA Technical Reports Series No. 288
- 1990 Estimation of Radiation Risks at Low Dose. IAEA-TECDOC-557
- 1993 Russia reported the dumping of high level nuclear waste including spent fuel by former USSR.
- 1994 Feb-20 Total prohibition of disposal at sea came into force
Data are from IAEA-TECDOC-1105. Summary of pages 27–120:
Disposal projects attempted to locate ideal dumping sites based on depth, stability and currents, and to treat, solidify and contain the waste. However, some dumping only involved diluting the waste with surface water, or used containers that imploded at depth. Even containers that survived the pressure could physically decay over time.
The countries involved — listed in order of total contributions measured in TBq (TBq=1012 Becquerel) — were the USSR, the UK, Switzerland, the US, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Japan, Sweden, Russia, New Zealand, Germany, Italy and South Korea. Together, they dumped a total of 85,100 TBq (85.1x1015 Bq) of radioactive waste at over 100 ocean sites, as measured in initial radioactivity at the time of dump.
- Global fallout of nuclear weapon tests — 2,566,087x1015 Bq.
- 1986 Chernobyl disaster total release — 12,060x1015 Bq.
- 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, estimated total 340x1015 to 780x1015 Bq, with 80% falling into the Pacific Ocean.
- Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant cooling water dumped (leaked) to the sea — TEPCO estimate 4.7x1015 Bq, Japanese Nuclear Safety Commission estimate 15x1015 Bq, French Nuclear Safety Committee estimate 27x1015 Bq.
- Naturally occurring Potassium 40 in all oceans — 14,000,000x1015 Bq.
- One container (net 400 kg) of vitrified high-level radioactive waste has an average radioactivity of 4x1015 Bq (Max 45x1015 Bq).
|Country||dumped (unit TBq=1012 Bq）||period||num of sites, volume, etc.*|
|Soviet Union||38,369||0||874||39,243||1959–92||Arctic ; 20 sites, 222,000 m3 and reactor w or w/o spent fuel, |
Pacific Ocean (mainly sea of Japan); 12 sites, 145,000 m3
|UK||0||35,088||0||35,088||1948–82||NE Atlantic 15 sites, ?? containers, 74,052 tons |
and 18 sites off coast of British isles more than 9.4 TBq
|Switzerland||0||4,419||0||4,419||1969–82||NE Atlantic, 3 sites, 7,420 containers, 5,321 tons|
|USA||0||2,942||554||3,496||1946–70||Mid/NW of Atlantic (9), Gulf of Mexico (2) total 11 sites, 34,282 containers, ? tones, |
Mid/NE of Pacific Ocean, total of 18 sites, 56,261 containers, ? tones
|Belgium||0||2,120||0||2,120||1960–82||NE Atlantic 6 sites, 55,324 containers, 23,100 tons|
|France||0||354||0||354||1967–69||NE Atlantic 2 sites, 46,396 containers, 14,300 tons|
|Netherlands||0||336||0||336||1967–82||NE Atlantic 4 sites, 28,428 containers, 19,200 tons|
|Japan||0||0||15.08||15.08||1955–69||South of main island, 6 sites 15 times, 3,031 containers, 606,000 m3|
|Sweden||0||3.2||0||3.2||1959,61,69||Baltic sea 1 site, 230 containers, 64 tons, NE Atlantic 1 site, 289.5 containers, 1,080 tons,|
|Russia||0.7||0||2.1||2.8||1992–93||Arctic ; 3,066 m3,|
Pacific Ocean 6,327 m3
|New Zealand||0||0||1.04||1.04||1954–76||East coast of New Zealand, 4 sites, 9 containers, 0.62 m3|
|Germany||0||0.2||0||0.2||1967||NE Atlantic 1 site once, 480 containers, 185 tons|
|Italy||0||0.2||0||0.2||1969||NE Atlantic 1 site, 100 containers, 45 tons|
|South Korea||0||0||no data||1968–72||East Sea, 1 site 5 times?, 115 container, 45 tons|
|Total||38,369||45,262||1,446||85,077||Subtotal of all volume reported is 982,394 m3.|
|*Some countries report the mass and volume of disposed waste and some just tonnage. The US did not report tonnage or volume of 90,543 containers.|
Types of waste and packagingEdit
Data are from IAEA-TECDOC-1105.:6–7, 14
- unpackaged and diluted in surface waters
- contained in package but not solidified
- low level waste like resins, filters, material used for decontamination processes, etc., solidified with cement or bitumen and packaged in metal containers
- unpackaged solid waste, mainly large parts of nuclear installations (steam generators, pumps, lids of reactor pressure vessels, etc.)
- without nuclear fuel
- containing damaged spent nuclear fuel solidified with polymer agent
- special container with damaged spent nuclear fuel (icebreaker Lenin by the former Soviet Union)
|Waste type||Atlantic||Pacific Ocean||Arctic||total||note|
|Reactors with spent fuel||Nil||Nil||36,876||36,876|
|Reactors w/o fuel||1,221||166||143||1,530|
|Low Level solid||44,043||821||585||45,449|
|Low level liquid||<0.001||459||765||1,223|
Data are from IAEA-TECDOC-1105.:27–120
Mainly at the east coast of Novaya Zemlya at Kara Sea and relatively small proportion at Barents Sea by USSR. Dumped at 20 sites from 1959–92, total of 222,000 m3 including reactors and spent fuel.
Dumping occurred from 1948 to 1982. Seventy-eight percent of dumping in the Atlantic was done by UK (35,088 TBq), followed by Switzerland (4,419 TBq), USA (2,924 TBq) and Belgium (2,120 TBq). Sunken USSR nuclear submarines are not included. see List of sunken nuclear submarines
There were 137,000 tonnes dumped by eight European countries. USA reported neither tonnage nor volume for 34,282 containers.
USSR 874 TBq, USA 554 TBq, Japan 15.1 TBq, New Zealand 1+ TBq and unknown amount by South Korea. 751,000 m3 were dumped by Japan and USSR. USA reported neither tonnage nor volume of 56,261 containers.
Dumping of contaminated water at 2011 Fukushima Nuclear accident (estimate 4,700–27,000 TBq) is not included.
Sea of JapanEdit
USSR dumped 749 TBq. Japan dumped 15.1 TBq south of main island. South Korea dumped 45 tonnes (unknown radioactivity value).
Data are from IAEA-TECDOC-1105.:7
Joint Russian-Norwegian expeditions (1992–94) collected samples from four dump sites. At immediate vicinity of waste containers, elevated levels of radionuclide were found, but had not contaminated the surrounding area.
North-East Atlantic OceanEdit
Dumping was undertaken by UK, Switzerland, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and Italy. IAEA had been studying since 1977. The report of 1996, by CRESP suggests measurable leakages of radioactive material, and, concluded that environmental impact is negligible.
North-East Pacific Ocean, North-West Atlantic Ocean dump sites of USAEdit
These sites are monitored by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. So far, no excess level of radionuclides was found in samples (sea water, sediments) collected in the area, except the sample taken at a location close to disposed packages that contained elevated levels of isotopes of caesium and plutonium.
North-West Pacific Ocean dump sites of USSR, Japan, Russia and KoreaEdit
The joint Japanese-Korean-Russian expedition (1994–95) concluded that contamination resulted mainly from global fallout.
- IAEA TECDOC-1105 “Inventory of radioactive waste disposals at sea” August 1999 retrieved 2011-12-4
- "BBC NEWS – Africa – Waves 'brought waste to Somalia'". bbc.co.uk.
- World Nuclear Association “Storage and Disposal Options” retrieved 2011-11-14
- UNSCEAR "Exposures of the public and workers from various sources of radiation"
- UNSCEAR "Health effects due to radiation from the Chernobyl accident"
- Steinhauser, Georg; Brandl, Alexander; Johnson, Thomas E. (2014). "Comparison of the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear accidents: A review of the environmental impacts". Science of the Total Environment. 470-471: 800–817. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2013.10.029. PMID 24189103.
- Japan Atomic Industrial Forum Inc(JAIF) “Earthquake-report 250 (30 October 2011)” Archived 20 December 2011 at WebCite retrieved 2011-11-12
- Mainichi Shimbun "Cesium-137 flow into sea 30 times greater than stated by TEPCO report (29 October 2011)" Archived 31 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine retrieved 2011-11-12
- Idaho State University "Radiation Information Network's Radioactivity in Nature"
- Although USSR dissolved on E/1991, IAEA reported dumping of USSR in 1992.