‘Harmless’ radioactive cloud sent over Europe
A cloud of radioactive pollution over Europe in recent weeks indicates that an accident happened in a nuclear facility in Russia or Kazakhstan in the last week of September, the French nuclear safety institute IRSN has said.
The IRSN last Thursday ruled out an accident in a nuclear reactor, saying it was likely to be in a nuclear fuel treatment site or centre for radioactive medicine. There has been no impact on human health, it said.
IRSN, the technical arm of French nuclear regulator ASN, said in a statement it could not pinpoint the location of the release of radioactive material but that based on weather patterns, the most plausible zone lay south of the Ural mountains, between the Urals and the Volga river.
This could indicate Russia or possibly Kazakhstan, an IRSN official said.
“Russian authorities have said they are not aware of an accident on their territory,” IRSN director Jean-Marc Peres told Reuters. He added that the institute had not yet been in contact with Kazakh authorities.
A spokeswoman for the Russian emergencies ministry said she could not yet comment. It was not possible to reach authorities in Kazakhstan or the Kazakh embassy in Moscow.
Peres said in recent weeks the IRSN and several other nuclear safety institutes in Europe had measured high levels of ruthenium-106, a radioactive nuclide that is the product of splitting atoms in a reactor. The IRSN estimates a significant quantity of ruthenium-106 was released and that if an accident of this magnitude had happened in France it would have required the evacuation or sheltering of people in a radius of several kilometres around the site.
Jean-Christophe Gariel, director for health at the IRSN, said the responsibility for identifying the source of the nuclear cloud was now with the Russians or Kazakhs. If they failed to identify where the contamination had come from, the matter could be referred to the UN, he said.