Dredging of river near Chernobyl could spell disaster for 28 million in Ukraine

Pripyat river is being drained as part of the E40 inland navigation project to connect the Baltic and Black Seas

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 03 September 2020
The Pripyat river at Chernobyl. Photo: Wikimedia Commons__

The dredging of the Pripyat river that flows near the site of the infamous nuclear accident at Chernobyl, could wreak havoc on an estimated 28 million people in Ukraine, the World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature has warned.

The Pripyat river flows from northwestern Ukraine to its confluence with the Dnieper river, Ukraine’s most important river, on which its capital city of Kiev is located.

On April 26, 1986, a blast occurred at the No.4 reactor in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near Pripyat city in the then Soviet Ukraine. The Pripyat river passes through the exclusion zone established around the site. The city of Pripyat, with a population of 45,000, was completely evacuated after the Chernobyl disaster and is now a ghost town.

The dredging of the Pripyat river that began recently, is being done at eight locations, four of which lie barely a few kilometres from the remains of reactor No.4.

Some 28 million people downstream who depend on the Dnieper river for water and food, could be at increased radiation risk if dredging in the Chernobyl exclusion zone continues, a statement by the WWF said, citing an independent scientific study by the French organisation ACRO.

The Pripyat river is being dredged as part of the restoration of a bilateral waterway between Ukraine and Belarus and is being seen as the first step of the much larger E40 project.

The E40 project envisions connecting the Black and Baltic Seas for ocean-going ships to ply. It seeks to connect the ports of Gdansk in Poland on the Baltic, with that of Kherson in Ukraine on the Black Sea.

The Pripyat will become a permanent source of radioactive contaminants because annual dredging will be needed to ensure the successful operation of the E40 waterway, the WWF statement warned.

This would contaminate the water supply of eight million people, including the population of Kiev, while irrigation and the use of dredged soil for agriculture could contaminate crops that 20 million Ukrainians depend upon, it added.

Besides the threat of radioactive contamination, the E40 waterway will dry up rivers, damage landscapes, negatively impact wildlife and destroy the livelihoods of local people.

Changes to the hydrology of the region where E40 is being built — Polesia — could also dry out its peatlands, turning an important carbon sink into a serious carbon source.

The WWF statement reasoned that besides the ecological and environmental damage caused by the E40 waterway, it would also be very expensive to build at a cost of over 12 billion Euros.

Rather than such a losing proposition, the project’s stakeholders should, instead, concentrate on improving the existing rail network between the Black and the Baltic Seas, which would be a better alternative to transport freight, the statement urged.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :
Related Stories

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.