Romanian trip chronicle – by Valeria Fieramonte

In the Bucaresti ballroom of the Rin Grand Hotel in Bucharest, the 2nd European Conference on Nuclear Physics ENPC (European Nuclear Physics Conference) recently took place. The delegation of EUSJA journalists, with colleagues from Spain, Italy, CzechRepublic, the Netherlands, Germany,Finland, Romania and Russia, could only have a slight idea of it, since they were busy with a large number of meetings organized by Alexandru Mironov, our Romanian colleague who looked after us. Alexandru is also the senior editor of the monthly journal ‘Stiinta  & Tehnica’, the equivalent of the European and American ‘Science’, one of the most prestigious journals of scientific dissemination in the world.

‘Stiinta & Tehnica’ is also among the oldest scientific journals in the world; founded in 1884, its publication was interrupted only during the Second World War.

To go back to the conference on physics, I felt that the attention given to this event by the local press was not very deep. The coverage of this news by “Adevarul”  – one of the most widely read newspapers inBucharest, whose name means “truth” – was minimal.

We European journalists took advantage of the study trip to deepen our reciprocal acquaintance and friendship and to exchange of information and opinions. It allowed us to enlarge our vision of Europe. In fact, only a few Europeans know about the delta of the most important river in West Europe, the Danube, since they usually think it is a Romanian affair. Maybe they don’t even know that the Danube ends in the Black Sea, since they are busy going on vacation in far and exotic locations, if they can afford it, and do not give any attention to the map of their own home.

During the two first days of the trip we visited the University Politehnica Bucaresti, very well organized and more than 190 years old, which now hosts more than 15 different faculties of engineering, from Aerospace to Chemistry. Nowadays the University has economic difficulties, as in fact do all the European faculties, since “the government pays half than before”, as says the young and efficient Dean Mihnea Costoia.

We went also to visit the Horia Hulubei nuclear plant and institute (HH-IFIN) 50 kilometres from Bucharest, inside young forests planted about fifty years ago. There is also a department of radiological surveillance of the environment, a radiocarbon centre and so on, and a laboratory for the detection of irradiated foods with advanced methods for detecting food containing fat (chicken, pork, beef, Camembert cheese, salmon, meat), and foodstuff containing cellulose (eg. pistachio shells, paprika, strawberry seeds), crystalline sugar (raisins, dried figs, dried mango and papaya), or bones (validated for beef, chicken and trout).

After the last Fukushimadisaster the lab detected an increase of radioactivity in meat and vegetables. On the other hand, the EU permits the treatment of foods with ionizing radiation for the markets (the list now includes herbs, spices and vegetable ingredients, but obviously not fresh meat, poultry, and fresh fruit and vegetables). Since 1974 the Magurele campus has a nuclear waste processing centre as well.

We also visited the GeoEcoMar Institute, where students learn the history, formation and life of the Danube delta.

There are three websites with interesting information: www.isgb.eu, www.ddbra.ro and www.danubeparks.org. In a beautiful paper edited by Nicolae Panin and Silviu Radan ‘Field trip guidebook The Danube delta: geology, sedimentology and geoecology’, containing detailed maps and information on history and science (I suggest the readers to refer directly to it, since it is almost impossible to summarize the content in a few lines), we can read that the delta as a whole, in the Dobrogea region, has about 350,000 inhabitants, that its most important town is Tulcea, where Alarico, famous kings of the Goti population, was born, and that to travel from Tulcea to the Black Sea will require about eight hours of navigation in the St. George canal, which has a depth of about 30 metres.

Photo Courtesy of Pertti Ranta

Now the level of the Danube is the lowest ever due to the dry climate, and navigation is possible only in the largest delta branches. The temperature during the summer reached 42°C in Bucharest, and rain has been quite rare, so that a large part of the crops was damaged.

While embarked on the motor boat Selena we could observe, in the following days, a nature still quite well preserved, not with standing the eutrophication of water due to the use of agricultural fertilizer – and the quite dramatic decrease of the number of fishes, as for instance of the prized sturgeon, which is at risk of extinction.

As a consequence, the government prohibited fishing for 10 years and turned fishing settlements into tourist villages. The decrease in fish stocks is due to many reasons: the dams and other constructions restricting migration, the destruction of their breeding habitats by embankments, excessive deforestation, overfishing and poaching to supply the caviar black market (one kilogramme of Beluga caviar, for example, is sold on markets with prices ranging from 7000 to 9000 US dollars). Only the less fancy fish are left, in a much lower number, but it was agreeable to see them at sunset jumping happily around the Selena boat.

A huge shell fish called Rapana that arrived here, probably from Koreaposes a further problem. Rapana has been present in the Black Sea for about 15 years and has slaughtered local mussels and shellfish. Nowadays the remaining fishermen sell the Rapana pulp to Korean people, who like it.

It could be of interest to observe the behaviour of pelicans, and many stories could be told by people with thirty years of experience in Danube navigation, such as Radan and Panin: for instance about the voracity of pelicans, who eat a large amount of fish, and when their gullet is too full can no longer fly and therefore have to spit out some of the fish in order to be able to fly again, so demonstrating that greed does not belong to our species only.

As is known, theBlack Sea has a very slow water exchange. It is over two thousand metres deep, and the exchange with the Sea of Marmara and Mediterranean occurs through the Bosporus strait, measuring only 65 metresdeep. Below 200 metres the Black Sea is anoxic and without life, full only of bacteria, which produce hydrogen sulphide. Pollution of this sea can be especially dangerous because of the frailty of the ecosystem.

For this reason the European community started to have an interest in it, since from 1856 Europeans were present in Sulina, the old Salinas of the Eastern Roman Empire. In the small town there were more than 30 consulate representatives, theatres, a printing house where journals were printed in many languages, hotels, a post office, a telephone exchange, shipping companies and two hospitals.

All that came to an end in 1939, at the beginning of the Second World War. After being bombed it was never rebuilt. Nowadays the EU has taken an interest in the delta again, but its offices moved toBucharestfor practical reasons. On the delta there is also an ancient citadel called Histria: Istròs was in fact the old Greek name of the Danube, of which the Greeks were the first colonisers.

In the Ukraine branch of the delta, close to Vilkovo on the Romanian side, is Periprava. This was a location where from 1948 to 1964 political prisoners, many of them land owners, were kept. It was impossible to escape since in the region there were only marshes and the Ukrainian border, at the time very well guarded.

About valeria fieramonte

I am a free-lance journalist since the 1978. I worked for newspapers ( Corriere della Sera), monthly reviews, ( Le scienze), radios, weekly female reviews , now I am 'retired' and collaborate with a web site of women, www.universitadelledonne.it. I wrote a book, with my friend Giovanna Gabetta, about women and science in the 1998. Now I'm preparing a new book about Laura Conti , a very important woman in the Italy of the '900, that was a comunist, a partisan, was captured and took in concentration camp, she returned, becamed a political woman, wrote almost 15 books very interesting, and she was also a scientist and a founder of environmentalism in Italy.