Several European countries have detected a very high level of radioactive product ruthenium-106 in the atmosphere. While it seems that the contamination came from the Rusian nuclear facility of Maïak, Moscow is denying any wrongdoing.
In late September, many European radioactivity surveillance networks noticed a high concentration of a very rare radioactive particle – ruthenium-106. In Western Europe, those levels were barely registered and posed no health hazards for the local population (staying under the acceptable level of 100 becquerels per cubic metre). However, ruthenium-106 is not often present in the air, which raised suspicions of foul play.
“Ruthenium-106 does not occur naturally, so it had to be produced by some human activity and spewed out into the air”, says Jean-Marc Peres, deputy head of heath and environment et the French Institut de radioprotection et de sûreté nucléaire (IRSN) (“Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety Institute”). While investigating the source of the emissions, the European radioactivity surveillance agencies (IRSN in France and Bfs in Germany) found that it came from a province is southern Russia. However, the country immediately denied any responsibility.
Monday, however, the Russian meteorology agency Rosguidromet stated that its observation stations in Argayash and Novogorny had recorded “extremely high” levels of the chemical element late September in several regions of the country. The highest levels were found in a small village in the South of the Ural mountains, located only 30 km away from the Mayak nuclear facility (986 times the levels recorded the previous month). Following a 1957 nuclear accident, which still ranks among the worst in history, the Mayak plant was turned into a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant.
Reacting to the news, Russia’s state owned nuclear conglomerate Rosatom, released a statement on Tuesday, stating that “no failure or accident” occurred in its facilities. However, according to Yves Marignac, head of Wise-Paris – a French energy information service – this whole story is “staggering”. He stated that the facts point to “a major nuclear accident that was dissimulated. (…) In France, there is no doubt it would have ranked a number 5 priority on a seven-level scale.”