Russia claims radioactivity spike not due to nuclear plant

accreditation
A sign warns people not to enter the town of Ozersk, Chelyabinsk region, Russia, which houses the Mayak nuclear facility, responsible for at least two of the country's biggest radioactive accidents. (Katherine Jacobsen, AP File)
A sign warns people not to enter the town of Ozersk, Chelyabinsk region, Russia, which houses the Mayak nuclear facility, responsible for at least two of the country's biggest radioactive accidents. (Katherine Jacobsen, AP File)

Moscow - Russian authorities denied on Friday that a radioactivity spike in the air over Europe this fall resulted from a nuclear fuel processing plant leak in the Ural mountains, saying their probe has found no release of radioactivity there.

Vladimir Boltunov of Russia's Rosatom state nuclear corporation said an inspection of the Mayak nuclear plant has proven that it wasn't the source of Ruthenium-106, a radioactive isotope spotted in the air over Europe and Russia in late September and early October.

France's nuclear safety agency said last month that increased levels of Ruthenium-106 were recorded over most of Europe but posed no health or environmental risks.

The Russian panel that involved experts from Rosatom and other agencies failed to identify where the isotope came from, but alleged it could have come from a satellite that came down from its orbit and disintegrated in the atmosphere.

Nuclear safety expert Rafael Arutyunian said while isotopes of plutonium, caesium or strontium are normally used as power sources for satellites, it can't be excluded that Ruthenium-106 could have been used in some satellite equipment.

The assumption that the isotope came from a crashing satellite would explain its broad spread over Europe, he argued.

Arutyunian, deputy head of the Institute for Safe Nuclear Energy of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that a broader panel will continue investigating the radioactivity.

Last month, the Russian state meteorological office reported high levels of Ruthenium-106 in late September in areas close to Mayak, but Arutyunian and other experts emphasised that they were still tens of thousand times less than the level that would pose health risks.

World's worst nuclear accident

The environmental group Greenpeace alleged that Mayak could have been the source of a Ruthenium-106 leak, but the panel insisted the plant doesn't extract the isotope or conduct any other operations that may lead to its release.

The commission said a thorough inspection of the plant had found no safety breaches and checks of its personnel also hadn't detected any trace of the isotope.

Vyacheslav Usoltsev of Rosatom's safety inspectorate said a sophisticated monitoring system at the plant would have spotted any release of radiation.

The panel also noted that while increased levels of Ruthenium-106 were spotted in the Urals and over Europe, they weren't detected over a 2 000 km swath of land between the Urals and Russia's western border. It argued that if the source of the leak were on the ground, it would have spread the trace of Ruthenium-106 midway.

Mayak, in the Chelyabinsk region, saw one of the world's worst nuclear accidents on September 29, 1957, when a waste tank exploded. That contaminated 23 000 km² and prompted authorities to evacuate 10 000 residents from neighbouring regions.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
DAYS
HRS
MINS
Voting Booth
Children between 12 and 17 can now be vaccinated against Covid-19. As a parent I am:
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Relieved, it's been a long wait to this point
50% - 1751 votes
A bit hesitant, and will wait to see how it goes
22% - 768 votes
Completely against my child getting the shot
28% - 963 votes
Vote
Rand - Dollar
14.58
-1.9%
Rand - Pound
20.12
-0.0%
Rand - Euro
16.97
-0.0%
Rand - Aus dollar
10.92
-0.0%
Rand - Yen
0.13
+0.0%
Gold
1,782.58
+0.0%
Silver
24.14
-0.6%
Palladium
2,017.14
-2.6%
Platinum
1,053.00
+0.1%
Brent Crude
85.82
+0.9%
Top 40
59,535
-1.4%
All Share
66,058
-1.3%
Resource 10
61,431
-2.8%
Industrial 25
85,433
-0.1%
Financial 15
13,820
-1.4%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.

LEARN MORE