İzmir factory scandal causes concern over nuclear waste
Amid growing public concern about the discovery of radioactive waste buried at an abandoned factory in İzmir, experts have pointed out to the possibility that there could be other sites with nuclear waste imported illegally into Turkey from foreign companies that operate nuclear plants.
Public concerns about radioactive and other toxic waste began after a news report appeared in the Radikal daily last week about the discovery of highly radioactive waste buried at a defunct factory on Akçay Street, the main thoroughfare running through İzmir’s Gaziemir district. The Turkish Atomic Energy Agency (TAEK), which was assigned to test the plant on Tuesday, stated that the radioactive level at the site did not constitute a dangerous situation, but they didn’t address concerns about a radioactive material that might have been brought into Turkey illegally.
The factory, situated on more than 70 acres, used old batteries and scrap lead to produce cast lead until just a few years ago.
In relation to the inspection, a former senior manager of the İzmir factory confirmed the fact that the toxic waste was buried on the site in an effort to save money by not sending the waste for proper disposal. However, he didn’t comment on the possibility of nuclear materials being brought in illegally.
Radikal reported that TAEK had examined the site of the factory in 2007. A radioactive substance called europium, an illegally imported element used in nuclear reactor control rods, found on the site is thought to be the source of the radioactivity, a report from TAEK showed.
A nuclear engineer at Okan University, Tolga Yarman said the radioactive element could have entered the country along with other nuclear waste, as it was illegal to keep this substance in Turkey. In fact, other sites where nuclear waste was buried have been discovered. A similar case was reported in 1987 by Professor Ahmet Yüksel Özemre, a former general director of TAEK and Turkey’s first nuclear engineer.
A nuclear physicist, Dr. Şükran Can, affirming the possibility that europium could be imported through illegal ways, stated that Turkey must be competent in the field of nuclear waste elimination so as not to be negatively affected by chemical substances found on waste sites. Öztürk said nuclear waste disposal centers were available and sufficient in Turkey and that an efficient checking mechanism was needed to manage the disposal process.
Can, pointing to the consequences of exposure to radioactive materials, noted that the primary concern is that people’s immune systems might be weakened, after which different cancers could grow. If a radioactive element is inhaled, it may cause lung, palatal and throat cancer.
“Children were reported to be playing in the vicinity, as the factory was located in the midst of residential areas. The locals may suffer from skin cancer as well,” highlighted Can, herself a victim of radioactivity after she was exposed to a high level of radioactivity during an accident at the Çekmece Nuclear Research Center in İstanbul.
“The ministry should have ideal staffing levels to work more closely on the detection of nuclear waste cases by complying with European Union standards, and a control mechanism should be part of this improvement,” said Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning Deputy Undersecretary Mustafa Öztürk.
Professor Öztürk warned about tons of toxic waste which is illegally buried at many other plants in different provinces around Turkey.
“Toxic waste can only be kept on site at a plant for six months provided that plant authorities take the necessary environmental precautions, and the waste should be moved to disposal centers at the end of the period stated by law. However, plants keep running while their waste is buried in the soil without taking any precautions. This is the case for many provinces, including İstanbul, Samsun, Hatay, Kayseri and Mersin,” answered Öztürk to a question about the legal regulations regarding the conservation and disposal of toxic waste.