Clouds of nuclear radiation that rolled over Europe last week have been declared safe - at least for those not living close to the site of origin. The Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) has completed its report on the incident and declared: “The concentration levels of Ruthenium-106 in the air that have been recorded in Europe and especially in France are of no consequence for human health and for the environment.” The French-based institute used weather patterns to pinpoint the nuclear material origin to south of the Ural mountains between the Urals and the Volga river. So the material is likely to have come from either Russia or Kazakhstan.
Levels of radiation very low
The exact reasons for the clouds' escape are still unknown. The institute has stated it was unlikely to be caused by an accident at a nuclear reactor more likely to be an accidental release of material from a nuclear fuel treatment site or a center for radioactive medicine.
The clouds were made up of radioactive material Ruthenium-106. Ruthenium-106 is created when atoms are split in a nuclear reactor and does not occur naturally. The time of the accidental release was around the last week of September. The IRSN was one of several nuclear watchdog groups that tracked the clouds and constantly monitored the nuclear levels. The clouds passed over many European countries with the amount of nuclear material present ranging from 100 and 300 teraBecquerels. A becquerel is the activity of a quantity of radioactive material in which one nucleus decays per second. To put that into comparison levels during the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster peaked at 5.2 million teraBecquerels. The 2011 Fukushima disaster created an atmosphere with an estimated 900,000 teraBecquerels. The IRSN has now declared the levels to be undetectable.
Russia denies clouds originated there
Although the levels were low, the report did indicate that if the accidental release had occurred in France the authorities would have acted to evacuate people for several kilometers from around the point of origin. "Russian authorities have said they are not aware of an accident on their territory," Jean-Marc Peres, Director at the IRSN, told media, adding the institute hadn’t been able to make contact with Kazakh officials. Jean-Christophe Gariel, another senior official at IRSN said he had spoken directly to Russia who had denied the claims they may be the source of the pollution. He said: “We showed them a document detailing our scientific approach. They told us that our results were coherent and correct, but that they were not aware of any event that could have caused that.”
Europe prepared for Nuclear spill
Following the Fukushima disaster in 2011, Europe has stepped up its preparedness for a possible nuclear spill from any of its many nuclear power plants. The Joint Research Centre now has a dedicated group of scientist, engineers and researchers called Nuclear Reactor Accident Analysis and Modelling (NURAM) team to update and maintain European preparedness documents and processes.