Battle joined to clean radioactive Estonian lake

Scandinavian countries mobilise funds to deal with key ex-Soviet pollution hotspot

A financing package is being finalised to clean up one of the worst pollution hotspots in the former Soviet Union, Scandinavian environment officials have confirmed to ENDS Daily. The heavily polluted lake in Estonia is thought to contain 1,200 tonnes of radioactive uranium and 600 tonnes of thorium. There are fears that a fragile dam containing it could collapse, threatening massive pollution of the Baltic Sea.

The lake is sited at a factory in the northern Estonian town of Narva that was "closely linked to the Soviet military," officials told ENDS Daily. An estimated 30 tonnes a day of water is seeping through a dam and across a narrow strip of land into the Finnish Bite, according to Denmark's environment protection agency.

Concerns in neighbouring countries have been fanned by a graphic eyewitness account of the problem in the latest issue of Danish weekly magazine, The Engineer. A reporter describes the stiffened grey plastic-like appearance of the waters in a lake "the size of 55 football pitches," and fears that the fragile dam could give way.

Officials are confident, however, that a planned euros 20m clean-up operation will avert this. Coordinated by the Helsinki-based Nordic Environment Finance Corporation, which invests in environmental companies in eastern Europe, work will involve reinforcing the landstrip with concrete and isolating the lake from groundwater in advance of a total clean-up in 2006 or 2007. Most of the money will come from Scandinavian donors and investors, with about euros 5m slated to come from the EU.

Follow Up:
Nordic Environment Finance Corporation, tel: +358 9 1800; Danish EPA, tel: +45 33 26 01 00; The Engineer, tel: +45 33 26 53 00 and article.

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