Russia has confirmed “extremely high” concentrations of a radioactive chemical element in parts of the country — despite having initially denied reports about a nuclear accident.
In Argayash, a village in the Chelyabinsk region in the southern Urals, radioactivity was found to be 986 times higher than usual, the country’s meteorological service reported.
The Rosgidromet service confirmed that “probes of radioactive aerosols from monitoring stations Argayash and Novogorny were found to contain radioisotope Ru-106” between September 25 and October 1.
Greenpeace called for “an in-depth inquiry and [for Russia to] publish the results about the incidents at Mayak [a nearby nuclear facility].”
“Greenpeace will send a letter asking prosecutors to open an inquiry into potential concealment of a nuclear incident,” it said in a statement.
In October, Rosatom, Russia’s nuclear corporation, said that “in samples tested from September 25 to October 7, including in the southern Urals, no trace of ruthenium-106 was found, except in St Petersburg”.
But on November 9, France’s Institute for Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) said ruthenium-106 had been detected in France between September 27 and October 13.
The source was traced to either Russia or Kazakhstan. At the time, IRSN director Jean-Marc Peres told Reuters that “Russian authorities have said they are not aware of an accident on their territory.”
Jean-Christophe Gariel, director for health at the IRSN, said the responsibility for identifying the source of the falllout was now with the Russians or Kazakhs. He said the matter could be referred to the United Nations.
At the time it said a nuclear reactor could not have been the source of the Ru-106 since other radioactive elements would also have been detected. It said the radiation was not a threat.
Duncan Cox, leader of Public Health England’s radiation emergency response group, said: “Radiation monitors at our sites in Oxfordshire and Glasgow have been checked since September when this substance was reported by other European radiation monitoring institutes, and we have not detected any unusual sources of radiation.”
On Monday, Rosgidromet said the isotope was detected in Tatarstan and southern Russia, and had eventually reached “all European countries starting in Italy and toward the north of Europe” from 29 September.
Argayash station is about 30km (19 miles) from the Mayak nuclear facility, a reprocessing site for spent nuclear fuel.
In 1957, it was the site of the Kyshtym disaster, one of the worst nuclear accidents in history, which was kept secret by the Soviet Union for 30 years.
The disaster was the result of storage tank explosion, which released 50-100 tonnes of high-level radioactive waste.