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Ezeiza Atomic Centre in Buenos Aires, Argentina


Description:

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) [1]. 

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 [2].  There have been issues with the storage of this waste, as they are stored in partially covered trenches which have resulted in leaks [8], 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 [3]. 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 [1]. 

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 [1].

 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 [1]. 

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 [1]. 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 [1]. 

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 [1]. 

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 [1]. 

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 [2]. 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 [1]. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Ezeiza Atomic Centre in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Country:Argentina
State or province:Provincia de Buenos Aires
Location of conflict:Buenos Aires
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Nuclear
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Nuclear power plants
Nuclear waste storage
Specific commodities:Industrial waste

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Ezeiza Radioactive Waste Management Area:

LLW: Low Level Waste

ILW: Intermediate Level Waste

The following is the radioactive waste inventory until December 31st, 2013.

LLW-Storage -717.8 m3

LLW-Disposal-2,397.3 m3

ILW-Storage-23 m3

ILW-Disposal-169.6 m3

Argentina’s three nuclear power plants only provide around 7 percent of the country’s national power production.

Project area:2428 hectares
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:1.6 Million
Start of the conflict:1958
Company names or state enterprises:National Atomic Energy Commission from Argentina
Relevant government actors:Nuclear Regulatory Authority (ARN)
Ministry of Health
Comisión Nacional de Energía Atómica (the National Commission on Atomic Energy)
Laboratorio Químico del Instituto de Tecnología Minera (INTEMIN)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Greenpeace Argentina
https://www.greenpeace.org/argentina/?s=azeiza&orderby=_score

Association Against Environmental Pollution
(No website found)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Local scientists/professionals
the University of Buenos Aires;
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Mine tailing spills
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Air pollution, Food insecurity (crop damage), Soil contamination, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Other Environmental impacts74% of wells contaminated with uranium; radioactive contamination of groundwater; Uranium levels were elevated up to 34.5mg/l – more than twice the permissible maximum level of 15mg/l set by the WHO.
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths, Other Health impacts
Potential: Other environmental related diseases
Other Health impactsCancer : In the year 2000, several cancer cases near the Ezeiza Atomic Center prompted investigations into possible causes.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors
Potential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (undecided)
Proposal and development of alternatives:A study was produced by a geologist from the University of Buenos Aires who was contracted by a judge after lack of funding to have water quality tested abroad. In 2004, he produced a report over 600 pages long which became anonymously public and caught the attention of locals, but also the Argentine Nuclear Regulatory Authority (ARN). The report shows significant uranium contamination of drinking water, and other radioactive agents. In response to this, the ARN stated that they carry out regular testing and results always comply with government standards [3].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The Ezeiza Atomic Centre is not disclosing most of its reports and other information regarding contamination levels, radiation levels etc, and therefore environmental justice is not currently served unless independent studies are conducted, transparency is enabled and the issues are resolved.

Moreover, residents felt angered by the lack of action once the report from University of Buenos Aires was released, as they criticised the judge who ordered the report to be conducted for not taking precautionary measures, and many say that the report was never supposed to be seen by the public [3]. The lack of concern from the ARN regarding the report findings and their arguments against the contamination levels leaves the public feeling as if no one is protecting them from the dangers.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[8] TECHNOLOGY RESISTANCE ACTIONS NUCLEAR IN ARGENTINA: MAPPING THE LAND (translated from Spanish). Agustín Piaz, 2015.
http://www.unq.edu.ar/advf/documentos/58344d8a2ff37.pdf

[11]PROTESTAS SOCIALES Y DISCUSIÓN PÚBLICA DE LA TECNOLOGÍA NUCLEAR EN LA ARGENTINA DEMOCRÁTICA: Acciones de resistencia en los casos Ezeiza y Dioxitek. Doctoral Thesis- Agustín Gabriel Piaz
https://ri.conicet.gov.ar/bitstream/handle/11336/83301/CONICET_Digital_Nro.e0052ac3-2167-42d1-8473-c91fd0b286fc_A.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y

[3]ARGENTINA: Uranium-Polluted Water Is Legally Safe to Drink. Marcela Valente. 24th March 2005
http://www.ipsnews.net/2005/03/argentina-uranium-polluted-water-is-legally-safe-to-drink/

[4] Pagina 12. Pedro Lipcovich, 19th March 2005.
https://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/sociedad/3-48664-2005-03-19.html

[7] Argentina: Threatened by uranium (translated from Spanish). Rebelion, Marcela Valente, 8th July 2006.
https://rebelion.org/argentina-amenazados-por-el-uranio/

[9] Nuclear Argentina. The radioactive footprint of a very dirty industry (translated from Spanish). El Salto, Pablo Lada, 17th June 2019.
https://www.elsaltodiario.com/desconexion-nuclear/argentina-nuclear-la-huella-radioactiva-de-una-industria-muy-sucia

[10] Greenpeace protest in front of the Chancellery (translated from Spanish) La Nacion, 28th February 2002.
https://www.lanacion.com.ar/sociedad/protesta-de-greenpeace-frente-a-la-cancilleria-nid377389/

[6] Where does Latin America produce its nuclear waste and what does it do with it? (translated from Spanish) DW, Rosa Muñoz Lima, 30th September 2020.
https://www.dw.com/es/d%C3%B3nde-produce-am%C3%A9rica-latina-su-basura-nuclear-y-qu%C3%A9-hace-con-ella/a-55084938

[5] Agustín Piaz analyzed in his doctoral thesis the social protest and public discussion around environmental movements that question the development of atomic energy in Argentina. The cases of the Ezeiza Atomic Center and Dioxitek. (translated from Spanish) TSS, Gaspar Grieco, 13th July 2017.
http://www.unsam.edu.ar/tss/controversia-nuclear/

[2] Argentina: Uncertainty about the nuclear future. Michael Álvarez Kalverkamp. 18 April 2011.
https://www.boell.de/en/navigation/climate-energy-argentina-uncertainty-nuclear-future-11771.html

[1] Ezeiza, Argentina Nuclear facility

Hibakusha Worldwide
http://www.nuclear-risks.org/fileadmin/user_upload/pdfs/HBWW_EN/Ezeiza_EN_web.pdf

Meta information

Contributor:Ciara Leonard, Autonomous University of Barcelona.
Last update24/09/2021

Images

 

Inhabitants of the suburb Esteban Echeverría demand clean drinking water, after local wells were found to be radioactively contaminated.

Photo credit: http://www.nuclear-risks.org/en/hibakusha-worldwide/ezeiza.html

“Confirmed: There is uranium in the water” a Greenpeace activist states.

Photo credit: Greenpeace