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Russia denies it had a nuclear accident after radioactive pollution reported to be 986 times higher

A station close to the Mayak nuclear facility in the Chelyabinsk region detected “extremely high pollution”.

Image: Shutterstock/Vladimir Mulder

RUSSIA HAS DENIED there had been an incident at any of its nuclear facilities after the country’s weather service reported radioactive pollution that exceeded background levels by 986 times.

A station close to the Mayak nuclear facility in the Chelyabinsk region detected “extremely high pollution” of the radioactive isotope Ru-106, Russian meteorologists said yesterday.

But a representative of Rosatom nuclear corporation told AFP “there have been no incidents at nuclear infrastructure facilities in Russia,” adding that the concentration detected posed little threat.

The Mayak facility in the southern Urals, which is under Rosatom’s umbrella, also said the contamination “has nothing to do with Mayak’s activities”.

The facility, which reprocesses nuclear fuel, said it has not produced Ru-106 for many years.

And it said the level detected “poses no danger to human health and lives” as it is 20,000 times smaller than the “allowed annual dose.”

Mayak was the site of one of the worst nuclear disasters in history in 1957.

In what is known as the Kyshtym disaster, an explosion at Mayak broke a container holding radioactive waste, prompting the evacuation of nearly 13,000 people from the area.

Consumer watchdog unconcerned

shutterstock_448414786 Source: Shutterstock/chubis

Russia’s consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor also said the levels registered by the weather service were safe, giving a different figure of “200 times below” a level that would be considered unacceptable.

The highest concentration registered by the weather service was near the town of Argayash located about 20 kilometres from Mayak, and Greenpeace pointed to the facility as the likely culprit.

“An emergency discharge of ruthenium could be connected with the process of nuclear waste vitrification,” the Russian arm of the NGO said.

“Another possibility is that materials containing ruthenium-106 were placed in a metal remelting furnace. Both these activities take place in the Rosatom complex at Mayak.”

The isotope was also found in rain in the Volga region of Bashkiriya in late September, regional environment official Rustem Munirov told Interfax, assuring that it was “not dangerous.”

Ruthenium-106, which is produced by splitting atoms in a reactor, is used in certain medical treatments. It does not occur naturally.

‘Very high’ exposure

National weather service chief Rosgidromet Maksim Yakovenko also said the concentration detected “poses no danger to population’s health”, adding that it was not the organisation’s job to detect the source.

On 9 November, France’s Institute for Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) issued a report saying ruthenium-106 had been detected in France between 27 September and 13 October.

It said that the source of the pollution was probably an accident somewhere between the Volga River and the Ural Mountains, adding that the concentrations measured in Europe were not a danger to public health.

 © – AFP, 2017

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