The river running past the Chernobyl nuclear reactor is being dredged to create an inland shipping route, potentially resurfacing radioactive sludge from the 1986 disaster that could contaminate drinking water for 8 million people in Ukraine, scientists and conservationists have warned.
The dredging of the Pripyat began in July and is part of an international project to create the 2,000km (1,240-mile) long E40 waterway linking the Baltic and Black seas, passing through Poland, Belarus and Ukraine. The river – which snakes within 2.5km of the reactor responsible for the world’s worst nuclear disaster – has already been dredged in at least seven different places, five of which are within 10km of the reactor, according to the Save Polesia coalition.
This goes against recommendations from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that the Chernobyl exclusion zone should remain undisturbed due to long-lived contamination from the Soviet-era explosion. The tender to dig up 100,000 cubic metres of sediment was won by Ukrainian dredging company Sobi and work started in July this year, according to a post on the company’s Facebook page. The post says the waterway is important for improving river transport and trade with neighbouring countries, namely Belarus.