Institute of Nuclear Physics, NNC Republic of Kazakhstan, Almaty.



Sandia National Laboratories, USA, Albuquerque.



Nuclear Safety Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow.



V.I. Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow.



Scientific Center of Radiobiology and Radiation Ecology, Georgian Academy of Sciences, Tbilisi.


Yerevan State University, Ministry of Science and Education of the Republic of Armenia, Yerevan.



Geology Institute of Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences, Baku.



The scientific community of six countries (USA, Kazakhstan, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan) has developed the ecological project, "Joint International Researches and Creation of the General System of Radiation and Hydro-chemical Monitoring of Rivers of the Caspian Sea Basin." The purpose of this project is to investigate and characterize contamination by radionuclides and toxic and chemically hazardous elements and create a valid system of radiation and hydro-chemical monitoring of the main river basins of the Caspian region: the Volga, Ural, Emba and Kura. The basins of these rivers cover large parts of Europe and Asia, including parts of Russia, West Kazakhstan and the South Caucasus and including territories of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The total area of the basins of these rivers exceeds combined area of such large European states as France, Spain and Germany, and comprises 1631 sq. km. All these rivers are the main life-supporting water arteries for the regionís inhabitants, a population that comprises tens of millions of people. Also, the outlets of these rivers determine the condition of the aquatic environment of the Caspian Sea.


Beginning in the latter half of the last century, a number of human-caused events and circumstances changed the radiological and ecological situation in the basins of the above-mentioned rivers. During the period 1965 to 1988, more than 40 underground nuclear tests were performed in territories of the Volga, Ural and Emba basins [1]. Some of them (e.g., the Lira object, Kazakhstan [2, 3]) occurred in proximity to water sources. Hydrological peculiarities of a given locality were considered when choosing locations for carrying out such explosions. Even today there is no guarantee of the absence of radionuclide migration from test locations to soil water and to nearby rivers. On the border of Uralsk (Kazakhstan) and Volgograd (Russia) regions is located the former test site ěKapustin Yarî, at which were performed 10 air nuclear explosions with an aggregate energy of 1000 kilotons (kt) equivalent of TNT [3]. In 1954 there was an above ground nuclear explosion at altitude of 350 m above the ground with power of 40 kt of equivalent[4]. It is known that air explosions cause the contamination of large areas by artificial radionuclides [5]. Over time, these are deposited into rivers and lakes by natural factors (e. g., wind, precipitation).


There are four atomic power plants (APP) near the Volga River: Obninsk, Kalininsk, Dmitrovgradsk and Balakovsk. One APP is located in the basin of the Kura River ń Armenian (Metsamorsk) [6-10]. Despite all precautions, fluid disposal from APP make additional and tangible contributions to the contamination level of the rivers and the Caspian Sea by artificial radionuclides. For example, in 1999 disposals at Balakovsk APP exceeded background values by 2-5 times, and disposals at Kalininsk APP by 17 times with Cs-137[11]. Though in the immediate proximity of the Armenian APP there is a reservoir for all radioactive wastes (including high activity ones) from enterprises and institutions of the republic, radiation monitoring is inadequately carried out [12, 13].


In all Near-Caspian regions (Azerbaijan at Apsheron; Russia at the basin of the Volga River in Ulianovsk region and in Tatarstan; and Kazakhstan in the basins of Ural and Emba Rivers) there is intensive work on oil prospecting, production and refining. It is known that these processes can cause high contamination of industrial areas with both waterborne oil products and natural radionuclides (mainly radium) [14]. In Kazakhstan alone there are 179 fields for oil-associated water evaporation, where the level of contamination with natural radionuclides is 1000-3000 mR/h [15]. Some of these fields are situated near water sources.


Note that in these river basins there is intensive industrial and commercial activity that causes chemical contamination of the aquatic environments of these rivers [6-9,11,16-18]. For example, currently disposed into the waters of the Volga basin are 17.5 km3 of sewage water every year, 8.6 km3 of that with a contamination level exceeding the sanitary codes [11]. Annual disposal of sewage waters into the Ural River comprises 1.9 km3, including 0.3 km3 which is contaminated [11]. A significant influence on the condition of the aquatic environment of the basin of the Kura River is exerted by industrial outlets of a large number of ore mining and processing enterprises and chemical enterprises, and as consequences of activities related to high levels of stock breeding and agriculture (insecticides, pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers) as well [6-9,19]. More than 35 % of the inhabited localities of the South Caucasus are not supplied with sewage disposal plants, and current ones are of the simplest and most outmoded mechanical facilities. The current sewage disposal plants in the river basins of the Caspian Sea provide only 5-10 % cleaning of all contaminated waters [6-9,19].


Thus the poor ecological condition of the aquatic environment of all the rivers of the Caspian Sea is to a great extent due to contamination, the main components of which are anthropogenic radioactive elements, heavy metals and oil products. At present, information about contamination levels of these rivers is not known and is occasionally contradictory. In this connection there is an obvious need of qualified investigation of contamination levels and its character in the basins of these rivers and in creating a common monitoring system to assess the quality of the aquatic environment. The present project is devoted to this matter.


The project provides for the following main tasks:


1.     Wide-ranging investigation of the level and character of contamination by radionuclides and toxic elements of the river basins flowing into the Caspian Sea.

    Retrospective review and critical analysis of all types of activity and natural phenomena influencing the ecological and radiation situation in this region.

    Selection of control points for layout formation of radiation and hydro-chemical monitoring of the Caspian Sea basin.

    Standardized field and laboratory investigations on the basis of the general methodological approach (for all participant countries).

    Improvement and development of methods of field and laboratory investigations subject to specific peculiarities, revealed during the project fulfillment, in contamination of investigated fields and territories.


2.     General contamination characterization of the basins of the Caspian rivers and creation of the final system of radiation and hydro-chemical monitoring on its basis.

    Investigation of seasonal (spring, fall) changes in the dynamics of contamination of these river basins with radionuclides, toxic and chemical hazardous elements.

    Ranking of investigated areas by level of their contamination with radionuclides, toxic and chemical hazardous elements; revealing the most contaminated areas and objects.

    Substantiation and formation of a final system and a layout of radiation and hydro-chemical monitoring of the basins of the Caspian rivers.


3.   Creation of a database containing information on the quality and quantity of water as well as on the level and character of contamination of the most radioactive and ecologically hazardous areas and objects in the basins of the Caspian rivers.

    Creation of a program for data processing, protection system and information storage.

    Database entry with information obtained as a result of carrying out review and researches.


For carrying out the planned research on the basis of retrospective review and critical analysis of all types of activity and natural phenomena influencing the ecological and radio-ecological situation of the region, areas and objects will be selected for investigation. Sample selection of river water, bottom sediments, coastal soil and vegetation will be carried out between March and November, covering the period of high levels of water in the rivers (from snow melting) and normal levels of water due mostly to inflow of soil waters. During a sampling period, radiometric measurements and measurements determining primary water quality and quantity parameters at a location will be carried out, as well as determining point coordinates for carrying out measurements and sampling.


In addition to radionuclide analysis including a-, b-spectrometry with preliminary radiochemical extraction, and instrumental g-spectrometry, there will be applied methods of chemical, neutron-activation analysis (NAA), x-ray fluorescent analysis (XRF), atomic emission spectrometry with inductive coupled plasma (AES with ICP) and mass-spectroscopy (MS).


As a result of project investigations, we will obtain new data on the radionuclide and toxic element contamination of the basins of the Caspian rivers. We will determine and characterize the real and potential hazards of the most contaminated areas and objects. We will create a database of all our ecological and radioecological investigations of the basins. We will produce well-founded scientific recommendations. The results from the project will aid decision-making about transboundary management and water resources and improve the radioecology situation in the region of the river basins of the Caspian Sea.





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16.        Ministry of Natural resources of Russian Federation (1999) State report, part 1, section 2.

17.        Radiation situation in Russia and bordering states in 2000. (2001) Sankt-Petersburg, Gidrometeoizdat, 14-29 (in Russian).

18.        Stepanets O.V., Ligaev A.N., Solovieva G.Yu., Borisov A.P., Danilova T. V., Spitz I., Keller G. (2003) A study of suspended matter and dissolved organic substances in behavior and migration of anthropogenic radionuclides in the sea-river water system. Geokhimia, V.45, 4, p.375-380. (in Russian).

19.        Tsitskishvili M.S., et al. (1988-2003), Problem of Ecology, I, II, III, Tbilisi, Publ. House of Georgian Academy of Sciences, ISSN 1512-1976.