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Is the Siberian Oilfield to be Developed by China and Russia Radioactive?

There is a chance that the deal between Rosneft and CNPC to jointly develop a giant oilfield in Siberia may be tainted. I’m not talking about the corruption or illegal activities of one party, but rather the potential that the hydrocarbons in the field may be contaminated.

During the 1970s and 1980s several underground nuclear blasts were carried out at the Srednebotuobinskoye oilfield in an attempt to increase flow rates from the rock, and even create a storage reservoir.

An official report published by the environment ministry of the Republic of Sakha, in Eastern Siberia, described the blasts, and claimed that the oilfield is safe from nuclear contamination; but environmentalists are doubtful.

Related article: China’s Insatiable Hunger for Energy Resources

Recently, as part of President Vladimir Putin’s strategy to move Russia’s energy export market away from dependence on the stagnating European market, and towards the growing demand developing in Asia, Rosneft signed a memorandum to create a joint venture with CNPC, to develop the one billion barrel oil field in Siberia.

It is unknown if Rosneft was itself aware of the potential contamination of the oil, or if they were, whether they informed CNPC.

Nikolai Gudkov, a spokesman for the Ministry of Natural Resources in Moscow, told Reuters that “we analyse all the risks, including radioactive ones. If a field has been allocated for development, that means we consider there to be no risks.”

However Vladimir Chuprov, a nuclear expert at Greenpeace Russia, explained that “any nuclear explosion resembles what happens in a reactor - and the blasts at Chernobyl and Fukushima. The results are the same: the emission of radionuclides, including strontium-90 and caesium. There is a risk that the oil will be contaminated.”

Operation Plowshare

During the Soviet era, and the beginning of the nuclear age, using nuclear bombs for industrial purposes was not uncommon, even in the US where Operation Plowshare attempted to unlock natural gas deposits using nuclear blasts. The practice was only ended after some incidents in which the radioactive nuclides escaped.

Victor Repin, from the St. Petersburg Institute of Radioactive Hygiene, stated “humankind has little experience with deposits where nuclear explosions were carried out.” Eight explosions were set off in the region of the oilfield, of which two went awry. “In one explosion, radioactive materials leaked out,” and the area had to be buried in earth in order to make it safe.

By. Joao Peixe of Oilprice.com


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