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Russian environment is under missile assault

Russian environment is under missile assault

28.02.2011 — Analysis

In a few years wreckage of the rockets launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome will start falling down within the border between the Sverdlovsk and Chelyabinsk Regions. Due to the new trajectory, military satellites will be "hanged up" in the required orbit - approximately halfway between the Sun and the Earth. However, local population has little interest in space projects of the military community. People are afraid that after rocket stages drop, bodies of water and soil will be contaminated with rocket propellant hazardous to people's health - heptyl. The experts interviewed by "RusBusinessNews" see the hazard as very realistic. In their opinion, the military do not disclose all the truth about heptyl. 

Rocket "assault"

Moving of satellite vehicles to the new orbit is scheduled for the next few years. Every year one or two RS-18 intercontinental ballistic missiles will be launched. The first stage is to land in the borderline area between the Sverdlovsk and Chelyabinsk Regions. The Nizhniye Sergi area will come under "fire" - accommodating the largest part of the range territory. The neighboring Nyazepetrovsk District will receive the rest of the wrecks. The second stage will "dive" into the Pacific Ocean at the south coast of Mexico. 

In 2009, municipal governments held public hearings. Top brasses tried to persuade population that launching of two-stage liquid-propellant missiles is not dangerous for people. According to them, the first stage will fall down to an uninhabited area, dozens of kilometers away from settlements. The maximum damage - a few fallen trees. On the following day, the dummy will be taken away and disposed. 

However, the people were concerned about the left propellant. RS-18 missiles use heptyl as propellant. It is six times as toxic as hydrocyanic acid and is classified as chemical weapon similar to GB, phosgene and other toxic agents. Heptyl can accumulate in soil, vegetation, living organisms and any items.

The military argue that not a single drop of propellant will get on to the soil after the first stage falls down. Igor Lyakhovenko, a specialist of the Research Institute of the RF Ministry of Defense, told "RusBusinessNews" that heptyl will be discharged at the 100 kilometer height where it will burn in the atmosphere. "The tests with separation of first stages in northeasters areas of Kazakhstan proved that propellant does not get into environment. Discharge can take place only during filling of the booster rocket with fuel and during its launching", - he explained.

The arguments of the military community were not convincing to Ural residents. According to the Nyazepetrovsk deputy Vladimir Zotov, heptyl remnants will "settle down" in the Urals. The hazard area is the Nyazya River that provides Nyazepetrovsk with drinking water. The rivers, which flow into the Nyazepetrovsk water storage - one of the main drinking water reservoirs of Ekaterinburg - can also be contaminated. "We asked the representative of the Ministry of Defense: if you lived in the Urals, would you agree to launch of heptyl missiles? He answered: I live in the Moscow Region", - Zotov said. 

The public hearings had no influence on the decision made by the military and Roscosmos. As far as Vladimir Zotov knows, the preparation of new space plans is in full swing. Roscosmos submitted the relevant agreement to the Ministry of Radiation and Ecological Safety of the Chelyabinsk Region, but it has not been signed yet.

Officials of the Middle Urals turned out to be more agreeable than their colleagues in the South Urals. "We do not see any sense in protesting. Launch of space vehicles is a national task. All the required precautions will be taken. Our people are always difficult to persuade", - officials of the Nizhniye Sergi Administration think. 

By the way, about five years ago, the government of the Sverdlovsk Region, despite the residents' disapproval, okayed the launch of the Soyuz-2 booster along the trajectory over the surrounding area of Karpinsk and Severouralsk. There were also space debris falling from the sky, but, unlike RS-18, Soyuz-2 was filled with oxygen and kerosene.

Igor Lyakhovenko is sure that signing of the new agreement with the Middle Urals is the issue that can be solved. He said that the project went successfully through the state environmental expert evaluation. Ural environmental experts also gave positive opinion. In the meantime, in his interview to "RusBusinessNews" one of the environmentalists stated that no examination has been performed and the flight trajectory for RS-18 has not been approved so far. 

Dangerous truth 

Lev Fedorov, a well-known chemist, head of the Association for Chemical Safety, states that environmental implications of landing of fragments of heptyl missiles are not assessed at all. The military is fooling people. "When Vladimir Putin came to office, ecology in Russia was overturned. Generals either try to lead astray, or do not have reliable information. No one controls them. Paths for missiles are approved by governors. There is not strict prohibition against landing of dangerous stages near water reservoirs and settlements. The army is wrapped up in secrecy explaining it y defense security of the country", - L. Fedorov says.

He explained that tumbled remnants of heptyl missiles have tons of propellant rather than just a few kilograms as it is told by the military. "Otherwise the missile can never reach the target - so the pre-design excess of toxic propellant cannot be avoided", - the expert points out. 

Besides, any launch of a booster is associated with risk of an emergency situation. Therefore, there is difference between the faulty component landing in the taiga or deserted steppe and its landing within 20-30 kilometers of a regional center.

Alexander Vinidiktov, the former commander of the 27th missile division, the first chief officer of Svobodny Cosmodrome, described possible consequences of heptyl emergency in the Amur Region. "In the northern area of the region there are many rivers. If the heptyl-filled missile falls into water, the river will stay poisoned for many years. Heptyl is well soluble in water and is stable to decay. Almost all of the northern rivers flow into the Zeya - poisonous water can get into drinking water reservoirs of large towns and cities within a few days. It flows from the Zeya to Amur - the center of cognation will extend all over the Fear East", - A. Vinidiktov warns. 

Life examples are not far to seek. In January 1983, the booster rocket launched from Plesetsk Cosmodrome crashed onto ice of the Northern Dvina in the vicinity of Brin-Navolok settlement (the Arkhangelsk Region). The explosion caused an ice-hole, 100 meters in diameter, and the rocket sank. Huge areas were contaminated with heptyl, including the area of the settlement. The cities and towns downstream were left without water for a long time.

Igor Lyakhovenko, assuring that RS-18 fragments are harmless for the Urals, does not exclude the similar scenario. "There is always probability of environmental contamination, including water reservoirs. Nevertheless, no one speaks about the impact that the Nizhniye Sergi metallurgical factory has on the health of the people", - he says.

It is very difficult to prove that the toxic propellant caused disease incidence rather than other environmental factors. There is no health check-up for the population. On the other hand, it is known that in Altai the number of newly-born yellow-skin children increased after the landing of spent rocket stages. Based on the data of the Northern State Medical University, 50-90% of Russian people living in the vicinity of missile ranges and launch pads of Plesetsk Cosmodrome have pathological changes in the liver. In many "space" areas of the country, the number of oncologic patients exceeds the national average number.  

Instead of heptyl... 

Heptyl propellant is used all over the world. The American space-launcher complex is located on Cape Canaveral. Missile paths extend over the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, Grand Terre, Antigua, and Ascension Islands. The French space-launch complex is on Kourou Island. Dangerous missiles fly towards the Azores and Bermudas. Poisonous propellant gets into the World Ocean, rather than in the populated areas. It may be bad for global environment; however, at least, Americans and Europeans do not intentionally poison the population.  

The experts think that Russia should speed the process of replacement of heptyl as the main component of missile propellant with kerosene or some other hydrocarbon fuel. According to Igor Lyakhovenko, the existing oxygen-based vehicles cannot carry heavy satellites. Besides, there are other limitations.  

One of the most promising developments is the Angara missile that will use oxygen and kerosene.  The representatives of the Khrunichev State Space Research and Production Center informed "RusBusinessNews" that its launch is scheduled for 2013 from Plesetsk Cosmodrome. Unlike Soyuz-2, Angara can place 25-ton satellites into orbit.

The experts are sure that economic interests will not allow Russia to give up dangerous RS-18. Under the START-1 Treaty, these intercontinental missiles must be withdrawn from operational use and eliminated. However, it is not profitable to scrap them; therefore, the government will use them for peaceful purposes. By the way, not long ago, NPO Mashinostroeniya, Military and Industrial Corporation, offered to extend the service life of heptyl missiles up to 35 years. When space ambitions and economic interests of the government are at stake, environmental sentiments and health of Russian people are of little concern. 

Marina Sirina, Vladimir Terletsky

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