Russian meteorological agency informs about high concentrations Ruthenium 106 in Mayak region

Greenpeace will request prosecutor’s office to investigate possible radiation accident in the Southern Urals

Press release - 21 November, 2017
Responding to an access to information request from Greenpeace, the Russian state meteorological agency Roshydromet published today data that show that it had found last September the highest concentration of ruthenium-106 in the area that also contains the Rosatom Mayak complex in the Southern Urals. This coincides with earlier findings from the French nuclear research agency IRSN and the German agency for radiation protection BfS.

Based on these data, Greenpeace Russia will send a letter to the office of the public prosecutor to request an investigation into possible concealment of a radiation accident and for the release of information on the status of the environment. It also demands a check whether the atmospheric radionuclide monitoring system is sufficiently prepared for possible accidents, and whether public health around a possible release of Ruthenium 106 was sufficiently protected.

According to previously published IAEA data, in late September – early October, Ruthenium-106 was found in the atmosphere in many European countries. The German radiation protection agency BfS came to the conclusion, that most probably the source of the emissions of the radioactive substance was situated in the Southern Urals. The French nuclear research and safety agency IRSN confirmed this conclusion.

Rosatom called this version inconsistent. It stated, that in the period of 25 September – 7 October, according to the results of aerosol sampling done by Roshydromet, Ruthenium-106 was not found anywhere except in one single area – Saint-Petersburg. However, today, the agency published a more complete set of data in response to an access to information request by Greenpeace Russia.

The agency’s report for September shows that the highest concentrations of ruthenium-106 were found in localities around the Mayak complex in the Chelyabinsk region in the Southern Urals. Mayak is a dual purpose military/civilian nuclear complex that among others reprocesses spent nuclear fuel and processes different forms of radioactive waste.

Apart from that, Roshydromet has also indicated that in that period the atmospheric conditions enhanced the transfer of big air masses with pollutants from the Southern Urals to the Mediterranean and up to Northern Europe. Previously this had officially been denied.

Due to its relatively short half-time of one year, Ruthenium-106 only exists as a human made substance that is normally not present in the atmosphere. Even small concentration therefore indicate an accidental release. Roshydromet assessed the Ruthenium-106 rate in the air and fall-out samples as “extrememly high” and “high contamination”.

The French IRSN estimated that the initial discharge could be as high as 100-300 TeraBequerels, 10,000 times the annual allowed limit of emissions of ruthenium-106 and its decay product rhodium-106 combined. IRSN indicated that such a releases should lead to protective measures for people in a radius of several kilometres.

An emergency discharge of ruthenium could be connected with the process of nuclear waste vitrification. Another possibility is that materials containing ruthenium-106 were placed in a metal remelting furnace. Both these activities take place in the Rosatom complex at Mayak.
Nuclear energy expert consultant of Greenpeace Central Eastern Europe Jan Haverkamp comments: “Mayak looks like a logical source for this release, but the data do not yet exclude also other possibilities, including in neighbouring Kazakhstan. It is important there will be clarity as soon as possible, also to see if potential exposed people need support.”