Mysterious introduction of radioactive material throughout Europe in 2017 & probably from Russian nuclear reprocessing plant & # 39;
- A cloud of the radioactive Ruthenium-106 isotope appeared in September 2017
- Experts studied 1,300 measurements from 176 stations in 29 different countries
- The nature and spread of the leak makes the Mayak nuclear facility the likely source
- Despite its unusual nature, the cloud has never threatened human health in Europe
A Russian nuclear reprocessing plant is the likely source of the mysterious cloud of radioactive ruthenium-106 that spread across Europe in 2017, experts said.
At its most intense, the radiation levels of the cloud reached 176 millibecquerels per cubic meter of air – 100 times higher than noted in Europe after the Fukushima melt.
The exact source of the cloud was uncertain – although the highest radiation levels were detected in Russia, the Federation declined responsibility for the leak.
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A Russian nuclear reprocessing plant is the likely source of the mysterious cloud of radioactive ruthenium-106 that spread across Europe in 2017, experts said
Ruthenium is part of the platinum group of metals.
It is a hard, silver-white metal with a glossy surface.
The melting point is approximately 2,300 to 2,450 ° C (4,200 to 4,400 ° F)
Its discovery is attributed to the Polish chemist Jedrzej Sniadecki, who announced the announced discovery of the element in 1808.
Chemists could not confirm Sniadecki's work and as a result the element was rediscovered twice more in later years.
The primary uses of ruthenium are alloys and as catalysts for industrial processes.
Ruthenium-106 is an isotope, or variant with a different number of neutrons in its core, used for radiotherapy to treat eye tumors.
It is sometimes used as an energy source, also known as radioisotope thermoelectric generators, which are used to feed satellites.
The radioactive isotope has a half-life of 374 days.
To determine the origin of the incident, radiation expert Georg Steinhauser from the University of Hanover, Germany and colleagues analyzed more than 1,300 measurements of the cloud from all over Europe and beyond.
These recordings were made over 176 monitoring stations in 29 different countries, due to the enormous geographical spread of the cloud, which not only covered large parts of Europe but also extended to the Arabian Peninsula, Asia and the Caribbean.
& # 39; We have measured radioactive ruthenium-106 & # 39 ;, said Professor Steinhauser.
& # 39; The measurements indicate the largest single release of radioactivity from a civilian reprocessing plant. & # 39;
The team came to this conclusion based on the fact that – unusually – the only radioactive substance measured at release was ruthenium.
& # 39; We were able to demonstrate that the accident occurred in the reprocessing of spent fuel elements, at a very advanced stage, shortly before the end of the process chain, & # 39; said Professor Steinhauser.
& # 39; Although there is currently no official statement, we have a very good idea of what could have happened. & # 39;
By combining the distribution pattern of the radioactive material with atmospheric modeling, the team concluded that the cloud was released from the Southern Urals – where the Russian Mayak nuclear processing facility is located.
To date, no country has claimed responsibility for releasing radioactive material – with Russia repeatedly denying that it had had any involvement in the emissions.
The Mayak facility is no stranger to nuclear emissions after having emitted one of the largest historical radiation leaks earlier in September 1957 – greater than the release of the Fukushima meltdown and the second only for the Chernobyl disaster.
By combining the distribution pattern of the radioactive material with atmospheric modeling, the team has concluded that the cloud has been released from the Southern Urals – where the Russian Mayak nuclear processing facility, pictured, is located
The exploit of the 1957 incident was the exploitsion of a tank full of liquid waste produced as a by-product of plutonium proproduction.
At that time, a liquid waste tank from the production of plutonium had exploded, causing massive pollution of the area.
The researchers dated the time of the 2017 release between 6:00 pm on September 25th and 12:00 on September 26th – almost 60 years exactly after the 1957 accident.
According to Professor Steinhauser, the incident was & # 39; a pulsed release that was over very quickly & # 39 ;.
The leaks from Chernobyl and Fukushima, on the other hand, continued for days.
Although the release was unusual, the radioactive material reached a high enough concentration throughout Europe to be harmful to human health.
The full findings of the study were published in the journal PNAS.
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