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Laguna Verde: the reality behind the danger of a nuclear explosion in Mexico

The Nuclear Power Plant in Veracruz after the passage of Hurricane Stan in 2005. (Photo: Cuartoscuro)
The Nuclear Power Plant in Veracruz after the passage of Hurricane Stan in 2005. (Photo: Cuartoscuro)

On April 25, 1986, an accident in the Central Nuclear de Chernobyl forever changed the image of atomic energy and in many ways the physiognomy of the Earth.

34 years after the disaster that left an ecological footprint that will last centuries in Ukraine and Belarus, the question remains in the air Can another similar accident happen?

REUTERS / Gleb Garanich
REUTERS / Gleb Garanich

In Mexico, the eyes immediately point to the Nuclear Power Plant green lagoon, located in Punta Limón, municipality of Alto Lucero, Veracruz, approximately 77 km north of the Port of Veracruz and six kilometers from the town of Palma Sola.

The facility has two nuclear reactors that generate 1,604 MW to produce 3.2% of the country’s total energy. They are distributed in Laguna Verde Central 1 and Laguna Verde Central 2.

For those not seasoned in nuclear physics, it is easy to fall prey to concern about the potential danger of the Mexican nuclear power plant. Infobae Mexico consulted the Ing. Carlos Villanueva Moreno, auxiliary spokesperson for the Mexican Nuclear Society (SNM), to clarify the most recurrent questions from the public.

At Chernobyl, an accumulation of steam in the reactor caused an explosion and the collapse of 200 tons of concrete, which let radioactive materials escape for kilometers around.

Could something like this happen in Laguna Verde?

“Nuclear power in all plants is based on the scientific principle of fission of U235 and Pu239 with neutrons,” explained the scientist.

“The difference is that they use different technological systems to achieve neutron fission.”

Villanueva Moreno explained that There are no similarities between the Laguna Verde plants and the ill-fated Chernobyl.

“The plants are very different; a reactor RBMK in Chernobyl and one BWR in Laguna Verde ”. For the specialist, uAn accident like the one that took place in the city of Prípiat is impossible and it lies in that aspect.

Laguna Verde works with uranium slightly enriched in U235 as fuel, which when fissioned with neutrons produces radioisotopes such as I131, Sr90 and Cs137, Villanueva Moreno said.

In 2002 Greenpeace activists reported that the Laguna Verde authorities and the Federal Electricity Commission concealed from the deputies of the nuclear power plant's investigative commission that the reactor had suffered an emergency stoppage, on their last visit on January 31.  (PHOTO: Susana Navarrete / CUARTOSCURO)
In 2002 Greenpeace activists reported that the Laguna Verde authorities and the Federal Electricity Commission concealed from the deputies of the nuclear power plant’s investigative commission that the reactor had suffered an emergency stoppage, on their last visit on January 31. (PHOTO: Susana Navarrete / CUARTOSCURO)

Safety issues at Laguna Verde

Those in charge of Laguna Verde agree with Villanueva Moreno that contrary to popular belief, an explosion similar to that of an atomic bomb is impossible at the nuclear power plant.

“This is a belief that confuses some people who lack information about nuclear power plants and is the main cause of fear”, it reads on the site web from the central.

“It is impossible for a nuclear reactor to explode like an atomic bomb, because the different conditions that are required for the explosion to take place cannot be combined. An explosion in a bomb is the result of an uncontrolled chain reaction and occurs with highly enriched Uranium in a percentage higher than 95%, the reactor Uranium contains only 4% of said material“, Explain.

The SNM spokesperson indicated that the emergency processes are determined for the National Nuclear Safety and Safeguards Commission (CNSNS), in the Regulatory Law of Constitutional Article 27 on Nuclear Matters.

The official information also minimizes the chances of an escape of radioactive material and makes it clear that all protocols are in place to act in an emergency.

However, the World Association of Nuclear Operators granted a Failing grade for Laguna Verde.

A report from Proceso magazine that cites official data obtained by the Transparency Law, revealed that the plant has serious technical problems that have forced it to stop, there is also an inadequate handling of waste and worse still, its workers have been exposed to dangerous doses of radiation.

Ana Luisa Rodríguez Valladares, A worker with 20 years of experience, was seriously injured by an accident during the refueling of one of the reactors of the plant, on August 20, 2017.

The data of the exhibition of Rodríguez Valladares and four other workers, appears in the inspection file IIIE-01/18-LV01.

Despite being considered “occupationally exposed personnel” (POE) to dangerous, unsafe or polluting working conditions, to carry out the task they were given a plastic overall, mask and apron.

The employee informed CNSNS inspectors, who conducted an investigation into what happened last December, that she requested a change of clothing.

“In my area experience, the equipment was not adequate for the conditions of the valve”, said.

The radiation protection technician argued that the radiation levels were low to equip her with other types of clothing. The workers live with the aftermath of the exposure and are an example of the conditions in which they work in the plant.

While technically Laguna Verde and Chernobyl are diametrically opposite, in terms of security and opacity issues they share some similarities.  (PHOTO: Pedro Mera / CUARTOSCURO)
While technically Laguna Verde and Chernobyl are diametrically opposite, in terms of security and opacity issues they share some similarities. (PHOTO: Pedro Mera / CUARTOSCURO)

The importance of Laguna Verde

“Laguna Verde supports the base load of the Eastern region of the national interconnected electricity system, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If the plant were to close, there would be a serious shortage of electricity in Veracruz, Puebla, Hidalgo, the State of Mexico, Morelos and Mexico City ”, established Villanueva Moreno.

Although a nuclear accident like the one that took place in Chernobyl in 1986 is impossible in Laguna Verde, Mexico has not been exempt from accidents with radioactive materials.

In 1983, just over two years before the explosion of a reactor at the Ukrainian nuclear plant took place what is considered the largest accident involving radioactive material in Latin America.

The tragedy had its origin in the Ciudad Juárez Specialties Medical Center, in Chihuahua, when in 1977 a group of doctors from the private hospital bought a radiotherapy machine equipped with a Cobalt-60 bomb – a synthetic radioactive isotope that emits rays. gamma used to treat cancer patients. Six years later, they entrusted a hospital maintenance worker named Vicente Sotelo and one of his friends named Ricardo Hernández to take her away and sell her as old iron.

The Yonke junkyard, where the radioactive waste was deposited (Photo: Screenshot)
The Yonke junkyard, where the radioactive waste was deposited (Photo: Screenshot)

Those in charge of disposing of the equipment pierced the container until they reached the material that emitted the radiation to the surrounding areas.

The lack of training and skills in waste management led to the massive exposure of which little official data is known. Years later it was baptized as “the Mexican Chernobyl”.

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