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

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

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.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Climate
The Vanderford glacier in East Antarctica is one of four that is beginning to melt, according to NASA. Angela Wylie / Fairfax Media / Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Melting Discovered in East Antarctic Region Holding Ice 'Equivalent to Four Greenlands'

Ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica have been melting at alarming rates in recent years, but at least the glaciers of East Antarctica were believed to be relatively stable. Until now. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) scientists have discovered that glaciers covering one-eighth of Antarctica's eastern coast have lost ice in the past 10 years. If the region keeps melting, it has enough ice in its drainage basins to add 28 meters (approximately 92 feet) to global sea level rise, BBC News reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
In 2018, the Arctic region had the second-lowest overall sea-ice coverage on record. NOAAPMEL / YouTube

The Past 5 Years Were the Arctic's Warmest on Record

The Arctic is still warming at twice the rate of anywhere else on Earth, and the region's air temperatures in the past five years between 2014-2018 have exceeded all previous records since 1900, according to a peer-reviewed report released by the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Tuesday.

The agency's 13th annual Arctic Report Card also concluded that 2018 was second only to 2016 in terms of the region's overall warmth.

Keep reading... Show less
Science
Partial solar eclipse. ndersbknudsen, CC BY 2.0

3 Key Dangers of Solar Geoengineering and Why Some Critics Urge a Global Ban

By Justin Mikulka

A Harvard research team recently announced plans to perform early tests to shoot sunlight-reflecting particles into the high atmosphere to slow or reverse global warming.

These research efforts, which could take shape as soon as the first half of 2019, fall under the banner of a geoengineering technology known as solar radiation management, which is sometimes called "sun dimming."

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Even an increase of 2°C would cause significant sea level rise. pxhere

Report: Current Climate Policies Will Warm the World by 3.3˚C

This past October, a widely disseminated United Nations report warned that far-reaching and significant climate impacts will already occur at 1.5˚C of warming by 2100.

But in a study released Tuesday, researchers determined that the current climate polices of governments around the world will push Earth towards 3.3˚C of warming. That's more than two times the aspirational 1.5˚C target adopted by nearly 200 nations under the 2015 Paris agreement.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Food
garett_mosher / iStock / Getty Images

McDonald's to Reduce Antibiotics Use in Beef

In a significant win in the fight to save antibiotics, McDonald's—the largest and most iconic burger chain on the planet—announced Tuesday that it will address the use of antibiotics in its international supply chain for beef by 2021.

Keep reading... Show less
Insights/Opinion
Protesters clash with riot police on Foch avenue next to the Place de l'Etoile, setting cars ablaze during a Yellow Vest protest on Dec. 1 in Paris. Etienne De Malglaive / Getty Images

The Lesson From a Burning Paris: We Can’t Tax Our Way Out of the Climate Crisis

By Wenonah Hauter

The images from the streets of Paris over the past weeks are stark and poignant: thousands of angry protesters, largely representing the struggling French working class, resorting to mass civil unrest to express fear and frustration over a proposed new gas tax. For the moment, the protests have been successful. French President Emmanuel Macron backed off the new tax proposal, at least for six months. The popular uprising won, seemingly at the expense of the global fight against climate change and the future wellbeing of our planet.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Rainbow Mountains in Vinicuna, Perú. Megan Lough / UI International Programs / CC BY-ND 2.0

7 Reasons Why #Mountains Matter

December 11 is International Mountain Day, an annual occasion designated by the United Nations to celebrate Earth's precious mountains.

Mountains aren't just a sight to behold—they cover 22 percent of the planet's land surface and provide habitat for plants, animals and about 1 billion human beings. The vital landforms also supply critical resources such as fresh water, food and even renewable energy.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Tetra Images / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Don’t Stress About What Kind of Christmas Tree to Buy, but Reuse Artificial Trees and Compost Natural Ones

By Bert Cregg

Environmentally conscious consumers often ask me whether a real Christmas tree or an artificial one is the more sustainable choice. As a horticulture and forestry researcher, I know this question is also a concern for the Christmas tree industry, which is wary of losing market share to artificial trees.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!