Alissa Marotta

Exploration- Magazine Article

Radioactive Wrecks by Mark Alpert

Scientific American, November 2000

Just this past August, the Russian submarine, Kursk, sank into the Barents Sea. Because of this, many environmental groups, including Greenpeace International, have voiced their concern. Greenpeace Internationalís fear is that the water will become polluted by the radioactivity that leaked from two nuclear reactors located on the submarine. Because the water in which the submarine is lying in is very shallow, Greenpeace representatives are pleading with world leaders to raise the submarine before the current brings the radioactive material to nearby fishing grounds.

Though nuclear engineers are equally concerned, they believe the probability of contamination any time soon is unlikely. They claim that an extra layer capable of surviving seawater corrosion for several hundred years covers the reactors. After that, the most hazardous isotopes will have decayed away. A student at the University of California at Berkeley believes the most dangerous element would be neptunium 237 because its half-life is 2.1 million years. If neptunium gets into the body, it can be very damaging.

Other submarines lie on the ocean floor besides the Kursk. Research has found little radioactivity as of yet. While some claims all of the isotopes will settle into the sea bottom and cause no harm, many others maintain we are looking for trouble if those radioactive materials are not removed.

An environmental group known as the Natural Resources Defense Council, though worried about the materials in the Kursk, is more concerned with the nuclear fuel left behind in the Russian submarines. The Russian government alleges that they cannot afford to remove the fuel properly, but the Natural Resources Defense Council insists that the fuel lying in just a few feet of water must be taken away.

In conclusion, though many suggest the isotopes located in the Barents Sea are not hazardous, I, for one, am not very secure with the fact that radioactive materials such as neptunium are lying in shallow water near fishing grounds where many people can be harmed by the substances. Governments claim that the job will cost large amounts of water, but isnít the possibility of losing valuable people and land more important?

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