08:51 GMT +3 hours23 November 2014
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IN RUSSIAN NORTH, SPACE LAUNCH SCRAPS OFFER WINDFALL CASH AND THREATEN LIVES

Society
(updated 18:22 28.10.2014)
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Moscow, May 14 (RIA Novosti) - In the forty years that the Plesetsk Space Center has been operational in northern Russia, tons of cosmic garbage - mostly first stages jettisoned from carrier rockets - have fell to the earth, generating a windfall of cash as well as lethal danger for local residents, Trud reported.

Some local villages currently survive on not much more than cosmic garbage because many people have no other means to make ends meet. Via local administrations, the neighboring space center outlines the regions that have the highest risk of being exposed to space garbage several days prior to every launch. All hunters, mushroom pickers, fishermen and reindeer breeders are strongly advised to leave the dangerous area.

They do leave, but afterwards scores of local residents, sometimes armed with tractors, get into the area for spoils that might amount to little-damaged Soyuz first stages. Souyz carrier rockets are propelled by kerosene and oxygen, and their parts have a reputation for safety. Older Tsiklon and Rokot carriers propelled by poisonous heptyl leave scraps that people avoid for the time being. "Self-cleaning," as locals put it, is just a matter of years for them, after which the metals are considered safe to extract.

Some spoils go to scrap metal collectors who would not comment on how much they collect in a year. Fragmented data for 2003 alone indicated that about 20 tons of "space metals" were collected.

Lesser-damaged parts are used in households: electric batteries are connected to lamps, metal sheets made of stainless alloys are used to build basements, garages, fences, water tracks and long, slim boats, much like canoes.

The Northern Medical University, having studied the effect of liquid propellant components on human health where heptyl was in operation as rocket fuel, warns that the death rate in affected areas has risen by 30%, mostly due to liver, blood and genetic diseases. However, it has so far failed to draw a direct link from the launches to the deaths. Experts say additional studies are necessary to come to any definite conclusions.