Inspenet, December 14, 2023.
Analyzes carried out by laboratories in France and the United Kingdom have revealed the presence of radioactive contamination in fish from Lake Embalse, located in the vicinity of Argentina’s second Nuclear Power Plant . This is not the first time that worrying signs have been detected, since in February 2021, the French laboratory had already identified the presence of cobalt in the waters and sediments of the same lake.
The initiative of two Argentine ecologists, Silvana Buján and Cristian Basualdo, gained relevance when they sent fish samples from Lake Embalse to the CRIIRAD laboratory in France. The purpose of this investigation was to delve into the impact of radioactive discharges from the Embalse Nuclear Power Plant .
It is important to note that the Embalse Nuclear Power Plant regularly releases significant quantities of tritium, the radioactive isotope of hydrogen, in both its liquid and gaseous discharges. Therefore, it was crucial to determine the presence of biologically bound tritium in the fish sample.
The Argentine Ctalamochita river is the most radioactive in the world
The results obtained indicated that the activity of organically bound tritium was more than 70 times higher than the typical natural level , according to the reference of the Institut de radioprotection et de sûreté nucléaire (IRSN). Likewise, carbon-14 activity was almost 50% higher than the current natural level , according to the same IRSN reference. These findings conclusively show the significant impact of nuclear contamination on the fish of Embalse Lake.
The Embalse Nuclear Power Plant uses heavy water as a coolant and moderator in its operations. Due to inevitable losses in the plant systems, tritiated heavy water is released into the environment.
The records of Nucleoeléctrica Argentina SA , the state company that manages the Embalse Nuclear Power Plant, indicate that during the year 2022, the plant consumed 3.09 tons of heavy water “for replacement”, thus recognizing the existence of losses. The primary environmental form of tritium is generated when it replaces one of the hydrogen atoms in water (H2O), forming tritiated water (HTO), which is radioactive and shares the same properties as regular water.
Tritium can reach people through various means, such as the water supply, an example being in the town of Embalse where tritiated water comes out of the water taps.
Comparing official records with information from other countries, it is evident that the Ctalamochita River exhibits the highest concentrations of tritium worldwide. The state company recognizes that the significant incorporation of tritium into the body due to contamination is a major problem.
The research level for tritium in water for human consumption, used by Nucleoeléctrica, is considered extremely permissive. Given this situation, the Córdoba Environmental Forum has submitted a request to the National Food Commission to update the regulations on tritium in the Argentine Food Code. Federico Kopta, president of the Forum, emphasized the need for more rigorous regulations that encourage Nucleoeléctrica to be more demanding in relation to its emissions.
The Reservoir Nuclear Power Plant
The need to drastically reduce the tritium limit in water became clear at the end of 2013 during the life extension phase of the Embalse Nuclear Power Plant. At that time, Nucleoeléctrica carried out the cleaning of a tank of spent resins for reuse, and the cleaning waste was discharged into the lake, resulting in historically high levels of tritium concentration in the surrounding waters.
In this context, the Nuclear Regulatory Authority detected an exceptional value in the Carcarañá River, located approximately 314 kilometers downstream from the Embalse reactor. Although this value exceeded the permitted limits, it remained within the permissive regulations. If a more rigorous limit had been established at that time, Nucleoeléctrica would have been forced to build a new tank instead of recycling an already used one.
The state entity has announced the start of a “feasibility analysis for the construction of a tritium separation plant from heavy water.” If Nucleoelectrica decides to implement said plant at the Embalse Nuclear Power Plant, it would be clearly demonstrated that the residents of the Ctalamochita River basin were unnecessarily exposed to high levels of tritium.
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