A radioactive cloud of pollution sounds like a plot point out of a B movie – but that’s what multiple European monitoring stations recently detected. Official monitors in Germany and France detected ruthenium 106, a nuclide, in late September, and some people suggested it originated in Kazakhstan or southern Russia.
Multiple European monitoring stations confirmed the presence of ruthenium 106, according to France’s Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety, in the atmosphere of the majority of countries in Europe. The cause for alarm appears to have drifted away for now: the institute said since October 13, they have not detected ruthenium 106 in France. They said in a recent statement, “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.”
But there is some question over how much ruthenium 106 leaked in the first place. The institute said the amounts at the source would have been significant. If such an accident had occurred in France, authorities would have had to implement measures to protect populations for a few kilometers around the point of release.
Where did the ruthenium 106 come from? Germany’s Federal Office for Radiation Protection said on October 11, “Recent analyses as to the source of the radioactive substance suggest a high probability of a radioactive release in the Southern Ural, although other areas in the South of Russia still cannot be ruled out.” Just a few days earlier, on October 8, they’d said in a statement “Russia must be assumed to be the region of origin” and called on Russian authorities to provide information.
The German and French agencies did not think the ruthenium 106 came from a nuclear reactor accident, as other nuclides probably would have been detected in such an event. France’s institute said the source could have been “nuclear fuel-cycle facilities or radioactive source production.”
French agency senior official Jean-Christophe Gariel said he talked to counterparts in Russia last week, and “they told us that our results were coherent and correct, but that they were not aware of any event that could have caused that.”
Via The New York Times, the Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety, and the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (1,2)