Fears grow of 'nuclear accident' in Russia
Russia's meteorological service has reported "extremely high pollution" of a radioactive isotope in the Urals near a facility that previously suffered the third-worst nuclear catastrophe in history.
The news bolsters international reports that a ruthenium-106 leak originating in the Urals sent a radioactive cloud over Europe. Greenpeace Russia has said it will ask the prosecutor general to investigate the possible cover-up of a nuclear accident.
Rosatom, Russia's state nuclear company, has denied the leak. Its Mayak facility, where an explosion in 1957 contaminated a swath of central Russia, told state news agency RIA Novosti it had not processed nuclear fuel with ruthenium-106 this year.
The isotope, which doesn't occur naturally, was detected in Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland in late September. France's nuclear safety institute said the "major" radiation leak likely occurred between the Urals and the Volga river.
Rosatom said in October the "account of a supposed Russian origin of the pollution is baseless". But a report by the Rosgidromet service on Monday revealed that the concentration of ruthenium-106 in Argayash, a village near Mayak, exceeded natural background pollution by 986 times at the end of September. The head of the service said excessive ruthenium-106 levels had been documented in Poland, Bulgaria and Ukraine.
Responding to accusations local authorities had covered up the leak, Yevgeny Savchenko, the Chelyabinsk region public safety minister, said "fluctuations in background radiation" had not reached dangerous levels and thus "there was no basis for protective measures".
He also claimed it was suspicious the leak was reported in France, "where there is a nuclear waste processing facility that competes with our Mayak".
The independent news outlet Znak quoted a source at Mayak as saying the ruthenium-106 could have come from nuclear waste brought there for reprocessing.