‘Harm­less’ ra­dioac­tive cloud sent over Europe

The Guardian Weekly - - International news - Ian Sam­ple and Kim Will­sher

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.

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