Radioactive cloud over Europe from 'nuclear accident'
A cloud of radioactive pollution over Europe in recent weeks indicates that an accident has happened in a nuclear facility in Russia or Kazakhstan in the last week of September, French nuclear safety institute IRSN said.
The IRSN 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 or the environment in Europe, 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 spokesperson for the Russian Emergencies Ministry could not immediately comment.
Mr Peres said that in recent weeks IRSN and several other nuclear safety institutes in Europe had measured high levels of levels of ruthenium 106, a radioactive nuclide that is the product of splitting atoms in a nuclear reactor and which does not occur naturally.
IRSN estimates the quantity of ruthenium 106 released was major and if an accident of this magnitude had happened in France it would have required the evacuation or sheltering of people in a radius of a few kilometres around the accident site.
The ruthenium 106 was probably released in a nuclear fuel treatment site or centre for radioactive medicine, Mr Peres said.
The IRSN ruled out the crash of a ruthenium-powered satellite as an IAEA investigation has concluded no ruthenium-containing satellite has fallen back on Earth during this period.
Measurements showed high levels of ruthenium 106 in the atmosphere of the majority of European countries at the beginning of October, with a steady decrease from October 6.
The IRSN said the concentrations of ruthenium 106 in the air recorded in Europe were of no consequence for human health and the environment.
The institute also said the probability of importation into France of foodstuffs, notably mushrooms, contaminated by ruthenium 106 near the site of the accident is extremely low.