Nukewatch Quarterly Fall 2020
By Bob Mayberry
The cloud of radioactive materials that floated over Europe on the 22 and 23 of June this year seems to be part of a pattern of radioactive releases from Eastern Europe that worries European scientists.
News reports followed a familiar scenario. On June 10th, a monitoring station in northern Norway detected low levels of radioactive iodine in the air. On June 23 and 24, Sweden and Finland reported “higher than usual” levels of fission products, including cesium-134, cesium-137 and ruthenium-103.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) requested more information from its member states, but the source of the radiation plume has still not been determined. The map of the plume’s movement across northern Europe led scientists to speculate that the cloud might have originated in Russia.
The Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation, Russia’s agency responsible for overseeing the development of nuclear reactors, reported no excess radiation levels or incidents at any of its facilities.
This isn’t the first time Russia denied any connection to radiological releases occurring within its borders. In 2017, a radioactive plume was traced to a nuclear accident at Russia’s Mayak nuclear weapons complex for plutonium production and uranium fuel rod reprocessing.
Though Russia confirmed that a cloud of radiation had been detected over the Ural Mountains, they never acknowledged responsibility for the cloud or admitted a radiation accident had occurred. In 2019, an unexplained explosion took place on Russia’s northern coast at a Navy test range. Scientists speculated it was a reactor or nuclear weapons accident, but Russia neither confirmed nor denied this. The explosions and fire killed five high-level engineers. Some of the emergency responders that treated the injured workers were sent to Moscow to be treated for radiation sickness.
There’s a history of accidents at the Mayak facility, including the huge release of Sept. 29, 1957 known as the Kyshtym disaster.
Political analysts speculate that perhaps Russia has not acknowledged responsibility for this year’s radioactive plume because the source of the accident might be the weapons-grade plutonium facility at Mayak.
—Bob Mayberry is a retired English and Theatre Professor at Cal State University-Channel Islands.