Water is a Source of Life – or Not?

Water is a Source of Life – or Not?

Without water, we can only live for a couple of hours. This is taught at schools. Two-thirds of our body is water. It is extremely important to keep this balance in our lives. But some people tend to forget about it and start polluting or even manipulating life underwater, which eventually leads to biological disasters. Do we want to pollute the source of life? Or, do we want clean air and water everywhere?

My country lies in a basin, at the confluence of many rivers. The two most significant ones are the Danube and the Tisza. The Danube is shorter in length in Hungary, but it discharges more water. It is the second-longest river in Europe with a total length of 2850 km. The basin flows through Hungary and Romania, the two countries that are extremely dependent on the Danube. Hungary and Romania are home to environmental hazards, affecting both the Danube and the Tisza. Let’s begin with the Danube. On its right bank, there is a nuclear power plant (I will discuss the non-necessity of nuclear power in my next article) in the city of Paks, which employs thousands of people and is responsible for generating more than 50% of the Hungarian electricity supply. However, the problem is that nuclear waste flows dangerously close to the Danube. In case of a disaster, like Chernobyl, one cannot imagine how serious an effect it can have on the Danube. Moreover, Paks is close to a tectonic fault. Even though Chernobyl is not likely to take place again (as Paks automatically shuts down in case of breakdowns), imagine the damage done to the environment? More importantly, the fault line is close, what can we do in case of an earthquake? More recently, it has been agreed this nuclear power plant will be expanded with Russia contributing. What does that signify? The Danube will be more vulnerable to nuclear hazards as a nuclear power plant needs tons of water to cool itself. Now, the plan is to build two cooling towers, so even more water will be used. Everyone knows that this water will be heated in the plant. Last but not least, heated and contaminated water will be released into the river, which is harmful to the flora and fauna. On top of that, the weather in Hungary is becoming dryer and dryer due to climate change. Because of the nuclear plant, the temperature of the Danube is always higher near Paks than near Budapest. Where does it lead to? The flora and fauna will get dangerously close to extinction, as more heated water would be released into the Danube.

Let’s focus on the other major river of Hungary, the Tisza. It originates from Romania with two rivers (Black Tisa and White Tisa), which confluence in Ukraine near the city of Rakhiv. Eventually, it flows into the Danube at Titel, Serbia. The river used to be around 1,400 kilometres long, but it has been shortened to 1,000 kilometres to keep villages safe from flooding. Still, it is the longest river in Hungary. They are the two biggest gravity dams of Hungary, at Kisköre and Tiszalök. Originally, its purpose was not to provide electricity, rather to bloat the Tisza River and to create a reservoir. Therefore, its performance was not very high. There were plans to build hydraulic power plants on the Danube as well, but these had to be suspended due to environmental concerns. This issue is still facing a lot of controversies. Turning back to the Tisza, it has already gone through a serious environmental disaster, when cyanide spilt into the river following a dam burst near a gold mine in Romania. The mine was a joint venture between an Australian company and the Romanian government. One night, the dam, holding contaminated waters burst and at least 100 tons of cyanide spilled into the Somes River, and then into the Tisza. The spill caused extreme high cyanide concentration levels (700 times higher than the permissible level). This meant drinking supplies of more than 2 million Hungarian people had to be cut off. This also meant more than 50% of the wildlife was killed by the toxicity. Five weeks later, heavy metals (zinc, lead and copper) spilled into the river, and it caused further disaster. Both the company and the government blamed the disaster on extreme snowfall and the cold weather. According to the European Union, the mine was badly designed, with a complete lack of an emergency plan. Fishing businesses suffered extreme losses and around 15,000 people lost their jobs. This means the company is at fault for the incident. The wildlife was severely damaged, how come they cannot accept responsibility? Following the disaster, the Romanian government banned drinking tap water around the Danube, as well. Later on, they tried to ban cyanide in gold and silver mines, but they have not been successful yet. This dam failure was not the first one in Romanian history. In 1971, the Tailings Dam near Certej Mine burst. Almost 90 people were killed, as the flood destroyed apartments and dormitories as well. Similar dam failure took place in Hungary, in 2010, near Ajka. Ajka used to be the capital of Hungarian aluminium mining. The red mud (a byproduct of aluminium-oxide) burst the dam and flooded the area near Devecser and Kolontár. This highly alkaline product is very harmful to the soil and the rivers as well. The mud even contaminated the Danube. The government blamed the company and later nationalized it to gain more control.

All in all, water is the source of life, so we should look after it, rather than polluting it or devastating wildlife by releasing radioactive water into the rivers. Our rivers have been widely cherished by our poets. Why should we pollute them as well? Who said it is a good idea to place environmental hazards like gold mines and nuclear power plants near our main rivers?

– Gergely Lázár

  1. Paks Nuclear Power Plant
  2. The Danube
  3. The Tisza
  4. 2000 Baia Mare Cyanide Spill
  5. Ajka Alumina Plant Accident

The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of #WAYSWF.

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