A huge radioactive cloud is moving over Eastern Europe and no one is 100% what caused it. A new report from the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (ISRN) has shed some light on the incident.
Fortunately, we know that the cloud didn’t come from a reactor incident. Ruthenium-106, one of the cloud’s main components is a radioactive material that not only isn’t naturally occurring but is typically linked to nuclear treatment or the radiology department of a major hospital or research center.
The radiation levels of the cloud are more than 50,000 times less than Chernobyl — around 150 teraBequerels. The cloud has been suspended over Europe for weeks, which is a major concern that’s bothering scientists.
“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 report said.
Based on the fact that it’s a radioactive cloud, some countries have rules and regulations mandating evacuations for certain affected areas or shelter those near the initial radiation release.
There’s some speculation claiming that the cloud did not emanate from a reactor, mostly because if it was, there’d some other nastiness mixed in with the Ruthenium. That leaves a reprocessing plant, which can release certain radioactive materials. Cancer treatment centers also use Ruthenium, which is stable for a few months.
Scientists have been tracking the cloud, stating that it likely originated near southwestern Russia and Kazakhstan. Russia has denied claims that an incident took place on their territory.
It remains a major concern since the site near its release would likely need some restrictions placed on exports from the area.
“The possibility of exceeding maximum permitted levels near the accident site led IRSN to study the scenario of importing foodstuffs from this area,” the report read.
Further studies showed that such measures probably wouldn’t be needed. “On the one hand, that the probability of a scenario that would see the importation into France of foodstuffs (especially mushrooms) contaminated by Ruthenium-106 near the source of the release is extremely low and, on the other hand, the potential health risk associated with this scenario is also very low.”
Nevertheless, there’s concern building that this is similar, at least to Chernobyl in one terrible instance — despite the probable location of the incident, there’s no official acknowledgment at all of the leak.
“We have come up with a plausible zone of where it could have come from; we can’t do any more,” health director at the ISRN Jean-Christophe Gariel told The Guardian. “Russia is a vast country and we’re not aware of all the installations on its territory. The ball is now in the other camp.”
Kazahk authorities have also been silent.
“The matter is closed as far as France is concerned. It’s not a problem for France, what is not satisfactory is that ruthenium-106 has been detected across Europe and that poses a question,” Gariel told The Guardian.