Quantcast

The Mysterious Radioactive Cloud—Why the Ruthenium-106 Story Matters

Energy
Radioactive sampling from the Techa river near the Mayak complex, from July 2017. Greenpeace

By Jan Haverkamp and Andrey Allakhverdov

A week ago, the Russian meteorological service, Roshydromet, reacted to a month-long standing request for information from Greenpeace. It triggered extraordinary interest among journalists world-wide in a rather unknown bit of nuclear physics: the radioactive substance ruthenium-106.


For weeks, two Russian state-run bodies, Rosatom and Roshydromet, made statements negating or misinterpreting each other's information and the data coming from French and German sources. The International Atomic Energy Agency—the UN body in which all nuclear states are supposed to cooperate—did not give any clarity, and only a Russian energy propaganda site leaked what looks like the IAEA's measurement data. The Russian disinformation services were working overtime over social and even official media, making denial statements and sometimes pointing the finger to France and the Ukraine. In other words, there is no reliable information on where the cloud of this rare man-made radioactive substance came from.

The only thing that is clear, is that at its source there must have been a lot of it—sufficient, according to the French nuclear research institute IRSN, to activate precautionary measures for some kilometers around. The scary thing is that we still don't know what caused it. Speculation abounds: medical waste burned in an incinerator? Or an incident in the recently started new vitrification plant in the nuclear reprocessing facility, Mayak, or like in 2001 in a similar installation in France? We know it was no satellite and no nuclear power plant.

The Russian nuclear giant Rosatom has a legacy of denying accidents at nuclear facilities and radiation pollution: The explosion at Mayak (also known as the Kyshtym disaster) in 1957 and continuous contamination of the area in the South Urals; the Chernobyl catastrophe that was denied in the first days, and the effects of which last until today; the 1993 explosion at the Siberian Chemical Combine where, among other isotopes, the same ruthenium-106 was released into the atmosphere and about 2,000 people were contaminated. The emergency situation in 2007 at Mayak resulted in the radioactive contamination of water; and many other incidents. In these cases, the event was immediately denied, then later reluctantly admitted after denial had become impossible.

Earlier this year, we saw similar denial and disinformation when particulate Iodine-131 was measured all over Europe and IRSN could only conclude the source was "likely situated in Eastern Europe."

Rosatom is building, or is planning to build, nuclear power plants in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. It boasts a portfolio worth some $133 billion. We need a high level of safety culture: full transparency, immediate cooperation with regulatory authorities, the IAEA, international partners and competitors, whistleblower protection, and attention and care for the potential victims.

Rosatom has done nothing to demonstrate it is a responsible actor. No early and constructive publication of measurement data, no constructive analysis of what the source could be. Only denial, diversion of attention and shooting at the messenger. In order to get more clarity, Greenpeace saw no other possibility than to request an investigation from the public prosecutor. The fact that the source of this ruthenium-106 emission remains a mystery is a reason for concern in itself. But the fact that Rosatom, one of the largest nuclear operators in the world, reacts as it did makes it really scary.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Micromobility is the future of transportation in cities, but cities and investors need to plan ahead to avoid challenges. Jonny Kennaugh / Unsplash

By Carlo Ratti, Ida Auken

On the window of a bike shop in Copenhagen, a sign reads: Your next car is a bike.

Read More Show Less
An American flag waves in the wind at the Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco, California on May 17 where a trial against Monsanto took place. Alva and Alberta Pilliod, were awarded more than $2 billion in damages in their lawsuit against Monsanto, though the judge in the case lowered the damage award to $87 million. JOSH EDELSON / AFP / Getty Images

By Carey Gillam

For the last five years, Chris Stevick has helped his wife Elaine in her battle against a vicious type of cancer that the couple believes was caused by Elaine's repeated use of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide around a California property the couple owned. Now the roles are reversed as Elaine must help Chris face his own cancer.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Butterfly habitats have fallen 77 percent in the last 50 years. Pixabay / Pexels

The last 50 years have been brutal for wildlife. Animals have lost their habitats and seen their numbers plummet. Now a new report from a British conservation group warns that habitat destruction and increased pesticide use has on a trajectory for an "insect apocalypse," which will have dire consequences for humans and all life on Earth, as The Guardian reported.

Read More Show Less
Six of the nineteen wind turbines which were installed on Frodsham Marsh, near the coal-powered Fiddler's Ferry power station, in Helsby, England on Feb. 7, 2017.

Sales of electric cars are surging and the world is generating more and more power from renewable sources, but it is not enough to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to stop the global climate crisis, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Read More Show Less
"Globally, we're starting to see examples of retailers moving away from plastics and throwaway packaging, but not at the urgency and scale needed to address this crisis." Greenpeace

By Jake Johnson

A Greenpeace report released Tuesday uses a hypothetical "Smart Supermarket" that has done away with environmentally damaging single-use plastics to outline a possible future in which the world's oceans and communities are free of bags, bottles, packaging and other harmful plastic pollutants.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Children are forced to wear masks due to the toxic smoke from peat land fires in Indonesia. Aulia Erlangga / CIFOR

By Irene Banos Ruiz

Pediatricians in New Delhi, India, say children's lungs are no longer pink, but black.

Our warming planet is already impacting the health of the world's children and will shape the future of an entire generation if we fail to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (35.6°F), the 2019 Lancet Countdown Report on health and climate change shows.

Read More Show Less
Private homes surround a 20 inch gas liquids pipeline which is part of the Mariner East II project on Oct. 5, 2017 in Marchwood, Penn. Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images

The FBI is looking into how the state of Pennsylvania granted permits for a controversial natural gas pipeline as part of a corruption investigation, the AP reports.

Read More Show Less
Three cows who were washed off their North Carolina island by Hurricane Dorian have been found alive after swimming at least two miles. Carolina Wild Ones / Facebook

Three cows who were washed off their North Carolina island by Hurricane Dorian have been found alive after swimming at least two miles, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

Read More Show Less