The Ezeiza Atomic Centre, located in a suburb of Buenos Aires, Argentina, is a nuclear research facility which specialises in radioisotope and nuclear fuel production and nuclear radioactive waste storage. It is operated by the National Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA) .
Because of the location of the storage facility which is located in the most densely populated area of Argentina, there are concerns over the suitability of storing nuclear waste . There have been issues with the storage of this waste, as they are stored in partially covered trenches which have resulted in leaks , causing radioactive contamination of groundwater which serves water to much of the population in the surrounding areas [1,5].
Conflicts surrounding the Ezeiza Atomic Centre go as far back as 1958, when local residents opposed the burying of radioactive waste in the centre, for fears that the waste would contaminate their source of drinking water, the Puelches aquifer . It wasn't until 2000 that any action would be taken as a result of the mobilisation of citizens, where a federal prosecutor noticed a complaint letter in a local newspaper, in which he proceeded to file a suit in the federal court. The letter was written by the president of the Association Against Environmental Pollution, which is based in the district of Estaban Echeverria in Buenos Aires. In the letter, the president highlighted the dangers of radioactive contamination from the Puelches aquifer [3,9].
Furthermore, in 2000, cancer cases were recorded near the Ezeiza Atomic Centre, which prompted an investigation. The results showed that there were elevated uranium levels in groundwater samples taken for investigation .
An investigation was carried out between the years 2000 and 2005 by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, the University of Buenos Aires and Greenpeace, which spanned over areas including Esteban Echeverria, La Matanza and districts of Ezeiza. These areas cover a total area of 6,000 acres and is home to more than 1.6 million people .
The results showed that out of all of the drinking wells that were tested, 74% of wells were contaminated with uranium, meaning they were unfit for human consumption according to WHO (World Health Organisation) guidelines for acceptable uranium levels .
In 2005, a court ordered all of the radioactive waste to be properly removed from the uncovered trench systems, following an investigation which was carried out due to legal proceedings . The CNEA's defence claimed that the trench systems (built in 1960s) were built at a time when weather conditions were different, and argued that the uranium limit set in Argentina, which is fixed at 100 mg/l, was still within the limit found in the groundwater tested. What they failed to mention was that the CNEA is responsible for determining this guideline, or that it exceeded the WHO's recommended guideline for uranium levels .
Although we could consider this case somewhat successful, there are still many risks undocumented or lack of independent epidemiological studies carried out in the surrounding areas to the atomic centre. The CNEA are notorious for hiding information, deeming them as classified and confidential .
Despite mobilisation in the communities through large-scale demonstrations, the government has failed to take action and failed to provide epidemiological studies of the affected areas .
Although there had been significant uncertainty from the population surrounding contamination concerns from Ezeiza, with polls in 2005 and 2006 stating that two-thirds of Argentinians have criticised nuclear energy, it wasn't until 2011 that the topic of nuclear energy and its effects came up in the wider community and made its way into mainstream media [2,4].
These debates prompted a community in Atucha to hold a public meeting to debate safety issues and emergency plans for the area . Mobilisations like these arising in the surrounding communities are important to keep the issues associated with nuclear energy afloat, and with increased awareness it is hoped that safer measures are put in place in future and more epidemiological studies are carried out within the communities [6,9].
There has not been a formal investigation of radiation-associated diseases in the affected area, despite numerous reports about increased numbers of cancer cases .