Russian meteorologists say they have measured highly elevated levels of a radioactive isotope in the southern Ural Mountains. The concentration of ruthenium 106 at one station was about 1,000 times above normal, the meteorological authority recently announced. According to the report, the data were collected in late September and early October. The values apparently confirm a report by the French nuclear safety authority IRSN. According to their findings, the substance leaked from a Russian or Kazakh facility in late September. Experts believe there may have been an incident at a nuclear factory or reprocessing plant, for example. For a major nuclear accident to have occurred, other radioisotopes would have to have been released, said Professor Paddy Regan of the University of Surrey in England.
Western experts believe that even the elevated concentration measured does not pose a health risk. Russian cancer expert Andrei Vashin was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that people have nothing to fear. Those who were concerned should rather "watch soccer and drink beer". It is still unclear exactly what happened. The independent French nuclear laboratory Criirad called for an investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.
About 30 kilometers from one of the affected monitoring stations is the Mayak nuclear plant, where radioactive material for industry and research is produced. The plant's administration said Mayak was not the source of the radiation levels. Rosatom, the state-owned operator, also said that there had been no accidents at any of its facilities. In neighboring Kazakhstan, the Institute of Nuclear Physics said there had been no incidents at its own research reactor.
Weather service chief Maxim Yakovenko said, according to AFP, that the detected concentration poses "no danger to the population". Moreover, it is not the task of his authority to find the source of the contamination.
According to Rosgidromet, the highest concentration was registered at the Argayash measuring station. The village is located in the Chelyabinsk region in the southern Urals on the border with Kazakhstan. There, during the week of 25. September to 1. The organization said that the concentration of ruthenium-106 measured on October 1 was 986 times the level measured the month before.
Argayash is located 30 kilometers from the Mayak nuclear facility, where one of the worst nuclear accidents took place in 1957. Today, the plant is used to reprocess spent nuclear fuel.
The nuclear facility said in a statement that the radioactive contamination with ruthenium-106 detected by the meteorological authority was not related to its activities. Mayak has not produced ruthenium-106 for several years.
The Russian branch of the environmental organization Greenpeace had called on the nuclear corporation Rosatom to conduct a thorough investigation and publish the results about the incidents in Mayak. Greenpeace will demand that the prosecutor's office "launch an investigation into the possible cover-up of a nuclear accident," the organization said.
In mid-October, Rosatom had ared that no traces of ruthenium-10 were found in Russia in the week of 25. September to 1. October, no traces of ruthenium-106 had been detected in Russia – with the exception of St. Petersburg, but there in low concentration. The organization was reacting to reports from European institutes that slightly elevated levels of ruthenium-106 had been recorded in several European countries.
The German Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) had already stated at the beginning of October that the elevated readings were "very probably" due to a point of origin in the southern Urals. However, an accident in a nuclear power plant can be ruled out as the cause. The French Institute for Nuclear Safety (IRSN) also came to similar conclusions. It said in early November that a reprocessing or radioactive materials production plant might be the source of the contamination.
Already at the beginning of the year there had been a contamination with the radioactive iodine 131 in parts of Europe.