Scientific experts defend findings of high levels of radioactivity near Megalopolis power plant

A preliminary report released recently by the National Technical University of Athens on air radiation levels in the village of Valtetsi, in the central Peloponnesian prefecture of Arcadia, which are over four times higher than they should be, has raised concerns regarding other areas surrounding Megalopolis, the site of one of Greece’s biggest power plants. However, the communities in question have turned a blind eye to the problem, as they receive financial compensation from the State for living in a polluted environment. The survey of the extent of the pollution from the Megalopolis lignite-processing plants was carried out by a group headed by Associate Professor Ioanna Anastassopoulou for the municipality of Valtetsi. Not only was air radiation found to be excessively higher than the highest levels of natural radiation, at some points, the amount of radioisotopes was so high as to put the counters out of order, according to the report. Near the village of Palaiohouni, air radiation was measured at 180 Becquerels per 10 seconds, compared to the natural radiation level of 40Bec/10sec. «Measurements in the soil and plants show that radioactive isotopes have been entering the human-animal-plant-atmosphere-soil chain and can cause serious problems for farming and livestock,» said the report. The researchers recommended that the survey be extended and that it include the placement of filters at certain points, so that more accurate and complete conclusions could be drawn about annual levels. Anastassopoulou rejected the claims by the Greek Atomic Energy Committee that air radiation levels in the area were «completely normal» and that the methods the group used were scientifically unsound. «The methods used by the research team are widely in practice. No one denies that the measurements are preliminary and were made over only three months, while they should have been carried out over a period of a year,» she explained. Anastassopoulou believes that the Public Power Corporation (PPC) should seriously consider the team’s findings and carry out further research to determine the veracity of their data. «We should not rest easy,» Anastassopoulou told Kathimerini. Giorgos Dimopoulos, the mayor of Valtetsi, which lies about 15 kilometers (9 miles) from Megalopolis, agreed. «We assigned the survey to scientists because people here have been protesting about the smog being blown in from Megalopolis. Democritos (the Atomic Energy Center) simply gave us reassurances without going into any detail,» said Dimopoulos. «We believe that more systematic surveys should be carried out, particularly for our area,» he said. The State has, in fact, as good as recognized the environmental deterioration of the areas around PPC’s lignite-processing plants. (There are two others in northern Greece – one in Kozani and one in Florina.) A ministerial decree of 1997 rules that municipalities in the three prefectures concerned should receive a «industrial development benefit.» This translates into several hundred million drachmas every year for each municipality in the form of projects to contribute, among other things, to «improving and restoring the environment.» For example, the municipality of Gortynos received 200-250 million drachmas (587,000-737,000 euros) last year for public works. The continual and often irreversible damage to the environment in Arcadia is no secret. The environmental organization Greenpeace has mentioned that levels of sulphur dioxide, responsible for acid rain, have been found to be 100 times over the highest permissible limit. Unprocessed liquid waste from the power plant flows into the abandoned lignite mine of Thoknia, with obvious repercussions on the region’s water table. Authorities in Arcadia point out that none of the residents have complained, clearly because the power plant provides so many jobs.