Case Study

Bacteria May Avert Radioactive Waste Problems

Source: Quadro Engineering Corp.

Saxony and Thuringia are mountainous German states featuring quaint villages, carved nutcrackers and centuries-old castles. But there is another side to this region.

Decades of uranium mining to fuel former Soviet Union nuclear weapons and European nuclear power plants have devastated the region, which spills into the Czech Republic and Poland. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, most mines have fallen into disuse, leaving an ominous legacy to threaten the long-term safety of the soil, subsoil and groundwater in nearby residential areas. Preliminary investigations in Thuringia and Saxony mining towns show elevated incidences of lung cancer in the men who worked the mines as well as in women who reside there.

These findings have raised fears about leaching and seepage of radionuclides from acid mine drainage waters and about contaminants from abandoned uranium waste rock piles dumped on valley slopes. Unfortunately, these environmental hazards are not limited to this region. Similar problems threaten the health of people in uranium mining areas in Hungary, Bulgaria, Estonia, Romania and Slovenia.

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