Russia rocket accident likely had two explosions, Norway monitor says

FILE PHOTO: A view shows a board on a street of the military garrison located near the village of Nyonoksa in Arkhangelsk Region, Russia October 7, 2018. The board reads: "State Central Naval Range". Picture taken October 7, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Yakovlev

OSLO (Reuters) – An explosion that killed five Russian scientists during a rocket engine test this month was followed by a second blast two hours later, the likely source of a spike in radiation, Norway’s nuclear test-ban monitor said on Friday.

The second explosion was likely from an airborne rocket powered by radioactive fuel, the Norsar agency said – though the governor of Russia’s Arkhangelsk region, where the blast took place, dismissed reports of another blast.

“The aftermath of the incident does not carry any threat,” the governor, Igor Orlov, told the Interfax news agency. “Everything else is yet another round of disinformation.”

Russia’s Ministry of Defence did not immediately respond to a request for comment when contacted by Reuters on Friday.

There has been contradictory information about the Aug. 8 accident near the White Sea in far northern Russia and its consequences.

Russia’s Defence Ministry initially said background radiation remained normal, while the state weather agency said radiation levels had risen.

Russia’s state nuclear agency, Rosatom, said on Aug. 10 the accident involved “isotope power sources” but did not give further details.

Rosatom has acknowledged that five of its workers were killed. Two military personnel were also reported to have been killed.

Norway’s DSA nuclear safety authority said on Aug. 15 it had found tiny amounts of radioactive iodine near Norway’s Arctic border with Russia, although it could not say whether it was linked to the Russian accident.

Norsar’s detection of a second blast was first reported by Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten on Friday.

“We registered two explosions, of which the last one coincided in time with the reported increase in radiation,” Norsar Chief Executive Anne Stroemmen Lycke told Reuters. She added that this likely came from the rocket’s fuel.

The second explosion was detected only by infrasonic air pressure sensors and not by the seismic monitors that pick up movements in the ground, she added.

(Reporting by Terje Solsvik, additional reporting by Tatiana Ustinova and Maria Kiselyova in Moscow; Editing by Ros Russell and Andrew Heavens)

Global network’s nuclear sensors in Russia went offline after mystery blast

FILE PHOTO: Antennas of a testing facility for seismic and infrasound technologies of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) are shown in the garden of their headquarters in Vienna, Austria, September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

By Francois Murphy

VIENNA (Reuters) – The operator of a global network of radioactivity sensors said on Monday its two Russian sites closest to a mysterious explosion on Aug. 8 went offline two days after the blast, raising concern about possible tampering by Russia.

The Russian Defense Ministry, which operates the two stations, did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Russia’s state nuclear agency Rosatom has acknowledged that nuclear workers were killed in the explosion, which occurred during a rocket engine test near the White Sea in far northern Russia.

The explosion also caused a spike in radiation in a nearby city and prompted a local run on iodine, which is used to reduce the effects of radiation exposure.

Russian authorities have given no official explanation for why the blast triggered the rise in radiation. U.S.-based nuclear experts have said they suspect Russia was testing a nuclear-powered cruise missile vaunted by President Vladimir Putin last year.

“We’re … addressing w/ station operators technical problems experienced at two neighboring stations,” Lassina Zerbo, head of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), said on Twitter overnight.

The CTBTO’s International Monitoring System includes atmospheric sensors that pick up so-called radionuclide particles wafting through the air. Zerbo said data from stations on or near the path of a potential plume of gas from the explosion were still being analyzed.

“COMMUNICATION AND NETWORK ISSUES”

The two Russian monitoring stations nearest the explosion, Dubna and Kirov, stopped transmitting on Aug. 10, and Russian officials told the CTBTO they were having “communication and network issues”, a CTBTO spokeswoman said on Monday.

“We’re awaiting further reports on when the stations and/or the communication system will be restored to full functionality.”

While the CTBTO’s IMS network is global and its stations report data back to CTBTO headquarters in Vienna, those stations are operated by the countries in which they are located.

It is not clear what caused the outage or whether the stations might have been tampered with by Russia, analysts said.

“About 48 hours after the incident in Russia on Aug. 8 these stations stopped transmitting data. I find that to be a curious coincidence,” Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a Washington-based think tank.

He and other analysts said any Russian tampering with IMS stations would be a serious matter but it was also likely to be futile as other IMS or national stations could also pick up telltale particles.

“There is no point in what Russia seems to have tried to do. The network of international sensors is too dense for one country withholding data to hide an event,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Non-Proliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute in California.

The CTBTO’s Zerbo also posted a simulation of the explosion’s possible plume, showing it reaching Dubna and Kirov on Aug. 10 and Aug. 11, two and three days after the explosion.

Rosatom has said the accident, which killed five of its staff, involved “isotope power sources”.

The CTBTO’s IMS comprises more than 300 seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound and radionuclide stations dotted around the world that together are aimed at detecting and locating a nuclear test anywhere. Its technology can, however, be put to other uses, as in the Russian case.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Osborn in Moscow; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Soviet sub that sank off Norway in 1989 still emitting radiation

Louise Kiel Jensen (DSA) and Hans-Christian Teien (NMBU) take samples from the Soviet nuclear submarine "Komsomolets", to be analyzed for radioactive substances, southwest of Bear Island in the Norwegian Arctic, Norway in this handout image released on July 10, 2019. Stine Hommedal/Norwegian Institute of Marine Research/HI/Handout via REUTERS

By Gwladys Fouche

OSLO (Reuters) – A Soviet nuclear submarine which sank off Norway in 1989 is still emitting radiation, researchers said on Wednesday following an expedition that used a remotely controlled vehicle for the first time.

The wreck of the Komsomolets lies on the bottom of the Norwegian Sea at a depth of about 1,700 meters (5,577 feet).

Authorities have conducted yearly expeditions to monitor radiation levels since the 1990s but this year’s inspection was the first one to use a remotely operated vehicle called Aegir 6000 to film the wreckage and take samples which will be further analyzed.

The scientific mission’s samples show levels of radioactivity at the site up to 800,000 higher than normal, the Norwegian Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority said in a statement.

“This is, of course, a higher level than we would usually measure out at sea but the levels we have found now are not alarming,” said expedition leader Hilde Elise Heldal of the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research.

Radioactivity levels “thin out” quickly at these depths and there are few fish in the area, she said.

The Komsomolets sank on April 7, 1989, after a fire broke out onboard, killing 42 crew.

On July 1, 14 Russian sailors were killed aboard a nuclear submarine operating in the Arctic.

(Editing by Jason Neely)

As Fukushima residents return, some see hope in nuclear tourism

Tourists from Tokyo's universities, plant rice seedlings in a paddy field, near Tokyo Electric Power Co's (TEPCO) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, during a rice planting event in Namie town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan May 19, 2018. Picture taken May 19, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

By Tim Kelly

FUKUSHIMA, Japan (Reuters) – On a cold day in February, Takuto Okamoto guided his first tour group to a sight few outsiders had witnessed in person: the construction cranes looming over Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Seven years after a deadly tsunami ripped through the Tokyo Electric Power plant, Okamoto and other tour organizers are bringing curious sightseers to the region as residents who fled the nuclear catastrophe trickle back.

Many returnees hope tourism will help resuscitate their towns and ease radiation fears.

But some worry about drawing a line under a disaster whose impact will be felt far into the future. The cleanup, including the removal of melted uranium fuel, may take four decades and cost several billion U.S. dollars a year.

“The disaster happened and the issue now is how people rebuild their lives,” Okamoto said after his group stopped in Tomioka, 10 kilometers (6.21 miles) south of the nuclear plant. He wants to bring groups twice a week, compared with only twice a month now.

Electronic signs on the highway to Tomioka showed radiation around 100 times normal background levels, as Okamoto’s passengers peered out tour bus windows at the cranes poking above Fukushima Daiichi.

“For me, it’s more for bragging rights, to be perfectly honest,” said Louie Ching, 33, a Filipino programmer. Ching, two other Filipinos and a Japanese man who visited Chernobyl last year each paid 23,000 yen ($208.75) for a day trip from Tokyo.

NAMIE

The group had earlier wandered around Namie, a town 4 kilometers north of the plant to which residents began returning last year after authorities lifted restrictions. So far, only about 700 of 21,000 people are back – a ratio similar to that of other ghost towns near the nuclear site.

Former residents Mitsuru Watanabe, 80, and his wife Rumeko, 79, have no plans to return. They were only in town to clear out their shuttered restaurant before it is demolished, and they chatted with tourists while they worked.

“We used to pull in around 100 million yen a year,” Mitsuru said as he invited the tourists inside. A 2011 calendar hung on the wall, and unfilled orders from the evacuation day remained on a whiteboard in the kitchen.

“We want people to come. They can go home and tell other people about us,” Mitsuru said among the dusty tables.

Okamoto’s group later visited the nearby coastline, where the tsunami killed hundreds of people. Abandoned rice paddies, a few derelict houses that withstood the wave and the gutted Ukedo elementary school are all that remain.

It’s here, behind a new sea wall at the edge of the restricted radiation zone, that Fukushima Prefecture plans to build a memorial park and 5,200-square-metre (56,000-square-foot) archive center with video displays and exhibits about the quake, tsunami and nuclear calamity.

LURING TOURISTS

“It will be a starting point for visitors,” Kazuhiro Ono, the prefecture’s deputy director for tourism, said of the center. The Japan Tourism Agency will fund the project, Ono added.

Ono wants tourists to come to Fukushima, particularly foreigners, who have so far steered clear. Overseas visitors spent more than 70 million days in Japan last year, triple the number in 2011. About 94,000 of those were in Fukushima.

Tokyo Electric will provide material for the archive, although the final budget for the project has yet to be finalised, he said.

“Some people have suggested a barbecue area or a promenade,” said Hidezo Sato, a former seed merchant in Namie who leads a residents’ group. A “1” sticker on the radiation meter around his neck identified him as being the first to return to the town.

“If people come to brag about getting close to the plant, that can’t be helped, but at least they’ll come,” Sato said. The archive will help ease radiation fears, he added.

Tourists from Philippines walk past irradiated cattle skulls at the Farm of Hope, near Tokyo Electric Power Co's (TEPCO) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, in Namie town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan May 17, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Tourists from Philippines walk past irradiated cattle skulls at the Farm of Hope, near Tokyo Electric Power Co’s (TEPCO) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, in Namie town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan May 17, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

SPECTACLE

Standing outside a farmhouse as workmen refurbished it so her family could return, Mayumi Matsumoto, 54, said she was uneasy about the park and archive.

“We haven’t gotten to the bottom of what happened at the plant, and now is not the time,” she said.

Matsumoto had come back for a day to host a rice-planting event for about 40 university students. Later they toured Namie on two buses, including a stop at scaffolding near the planned memorial park site to view Fukushima Daiichi’s cranes.

Matsumoto described her feelings toward Tokyo Electric as “complicated,” because it is responsible for the disaster but also helped her family cope its aftermath. One of her sons works for the utility and has faced abuse from angry locals, she added.

“It’s good that people want to come to Namie, but not if they just want to get close to the nuclear plant. I don’t want it to become a spectacle,” Matsumoto said.

Okamoto is not the only guide offering tours in the area, although visits of any kind remain rare. He said he hoped his clients would come away with more than a few photographs.

A tourist from Tokyo's university, takes photos from a bus at an area devastated by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, near Tokyo Electric Power Co's (TEPCO) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, in Namie town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan May 19, 2018. Picture taken May 19, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

A tourist from Tokyo’s university, takes photos from a bus at an area devastated by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, near Tokyo Electric Power Co’s (TEPCO) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, in Namie town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan May 19, 2018. Picture taken May 19, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

“If people can see for themselves the damage caused by tsunami and nuclear plant, they will understand that we need to stop it from happening again,” said Okamoto, who attended university in a neighboring prefecture. “So far, we haven’t come across any opposition from the local people.”

(Reporting by Tim Kelly; additional reporting by Kwiyeon Ha and Toru Hanai; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

Japan’s Tepco gets slapped with new U.S. lawsuit over Fukushima

FILE PHOTO: Logo of the Tokyo Electric Power Co Holdings (TEPCO) is seen on helmets at TEPCO's South Yokohama Thermal Power Station in Yokohama, Japan July 18, 2017. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

TOKYO (Reuters) – Tokyo Electric Power Co Holdings said on Thursday it has been hit with another lawsuit filed in a U.S. court seeking $5 billion for compensation over the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, the second filed against the utility in a U.S. court.

The suit filed by 157 individuals is seeking that amount to set up a compensation fund for the costs of medical tests and treatment they say they need after efforts to support the recovery from the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

The utility, known as Tepco, is being sued regarding improper design, construction and maintenance, claiming compensation for physical, mental and economic damages, the company said in a statement.

A multi-plaintiff lawsuit was filed on Aug. 18, 2017, against Tokyo Electric Power Co and other parties in the Southern District Court in California, the legal information group Justia said on its website.

Tepco has been hit with more lawsuits than in any previous Japanese contamination suit over the meltdowns of three reactors at its Fukushima Daiichi plant north of Tokyo after a massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

Radiation forced 160,000 people from their homes, many never to return, and destroyed businesses, fisheries and agriculture.

In June, a federal appeals court cleared the way for a group of U.S. military personnel to file a suit against Tepco over radiation exposure that they say occurred during recovery efforts on board the USS Ronald Reagan.

Tepco did not make clear whether the two suits involved the same plaintiffs but Justia has two cases listed.

Shareholders of Tepco are suing the utility’s executives for a record 5.5 trillion yen ($67.4 billion) in compensation, in a long standing case.

The company’s former chairman and other executives of the company appeared in court in June to answer charges of professional negligence, in the first criminal case after the meltdowns at the plant. They all pleaded not guilty.

The criminal and civil legal cases do not threaten financial ruin for Tepco, which is backstopped by Japanese taxpayers. The company faces nearly $150 million of costs to decommission the Fukushima plant and clean up the surrounding area, according to the latest government estimate.

Tepco shares fell nearly 1 percent on Thursday, in line with many of Japan’s other utilities, before the company announced the lawsuit.

(Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick)

Hanford nuclear site accident puts focus on aging U.S. facilities

An aerial photo shows Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, U.S. on July 5, 2011. Courtesy National Nuclear Security Administration/Handout via REUTERS

By Tom James

SEATTLE (Reuters) – The collapse of a tunnel used to store radioactive waste at one of the most contaminated U.S. nuclear sites has raised concerns among watchdog groups and others who study the country’s nuclear facilities because many are aging and fraught with problems.

“They’re fighting a losing battle to keep these plants from falling apart,” said Robert Alvarez, a former policy adviser at the U.S. Department of Energy who was charged with making an inventory of nuclear sites under President Bill Clinton.

“The longer you wait to deal with this problem, the more dangerous it becomes,” said Alvarez, a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, where he focuses on nuclear energy and disarmament.

The Energy Department did not respond to requests for comment.

No radiation was released during Tuesday’s incident at a plutonium-handling facility in the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state, but thousands of workers were ordered to take cover and some were evacuated as a precaution.

The state of facilities in the U.S. nuclear network has been detailed by the Department of Energy, Government Accountability Office and Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. They have noted eroding walls, leaking roofs, and risks of electrical fires and groundwater contamination.

In 2016, Frank Klotz, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, an Energy Department agency overseeing maintenance of nuclear warheads, warned Congress about risks posed by aging facilities.

Decontaminating and demolishing the Energy Department’s shuttered facilities will cost $32 billion, it said in a 2016 report. It also noted a $6 billion maintenance backlog.

In the 1940s the U.S. government built Hanford and other complexes to produce plutonium and uranium for atomic bombs under the Manhattan Project.

“That was an era when the defense mission took priority over everything else,” said Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “We’re dealing with the legacy of that.”

RISKS DOCUMENTED

Many of those sites are now vacant but contaminated.

A 2009 Energy Department survey found nearly 300 shuttered, contaminated and deteriorating sites. Six years later it found that fewer than 60 had been cleaned up.

A 2015 Energy Department audit said delays in cleaning contaminated facilities “expose the Department, its employees and the public to ever-increasing levels of risk.”

Risks identified at the sites included leaking roofs carrying radioactivity into groundwater, roof collapses and electrical fires that could release radioactive particles.

A 2014 Energy Department audit noted a high risk of fire and groundwater contamination at the shuttered Heavy Element Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which is surrounded by homes and businesses near California’s Bay Area.

Problems have also been identified at active facilities including the Savannah River Site, a nuclear reservation in South Carolina. A 2015 report by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board found “severe” erosion in concrete walls of an exhaust tunnel used to prevent release of radioactive air.

A 2016 Energy Department audit of one of the United States’ main uranium handling facilities, the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, warned that “intense precipitation or snow” could collapse parts its roof, possibly causing an accident involving radioactivity.

“It sounds crazy, but it’s true,” said Don Hancock, who has studied the Tennessee facility in his work at the Southwest Information and Research Center, an Albuquerque nonprofit that monitors nuclear sites.

In Hanford’s case, risk of a tunnel collapse was known in 2015, when the Energy Department noted wooden beams in one tunnel had lost 40 percent of their strength and were being weakened by gamma radiation.

Energy Department spokesman Mark Heeter in nearby Richland said in an email that the agency saw Tuesday’s prompt discovery of the collapse as a success.

“The maintenance and improvement of aging infrastructure across the Hanford site … remains a top priority,” he said.

Nationwide, part of the risk comes from having to maintain and safeguard so many sites with different types of nuclear waste, said Frank Wolak, head of Stanford University’s Program on Energy and Sustainable Development.

“You’re asking for trouble with the fact that you’ve got it spread all over the country,” he said. “The right answer is to consolidate the stuff that is highly contaminated, and apply the best technology to it.”

(Reporting by Tom James; Editing by Ben Klayman)

Tunnel collapses at Washington nuclear waste plant; no radiation released

A 20-foot wide hole over a decommissioned plutonium-handling rail tunnel is shown at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Hanford Site, Washington, U.S., May 9, 2017. Courtesy Department of Energy/Handout via REUTERS

By Tom James and Scott DiSavino

(Reuters) – A tunnel partly collapsed on Tuesday at a plutonium-handling facility at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state, but there was no indication workers or the public were exposed to radiation, federal officials said.

Workers evacuated or took cover and turned off ventilation systems after damage was discovered in the wall of a transport tunnel about 170 miles (270 km) east of Seattle, officials with the Department of Energy’s Hanford Joint Information Center said.

The damage was more serious than initially reported, and the take-cover order was expanded to cover the entire facility after response crews found a 400-square-foot section of the decommissioned rail tunnel had collapsed, center spokesman Destry Henderson said in a video posted on Facebook.

“The roof had caved in, about a 20-foot section of that tunnel, which is about a hundred feet long,” he said.

“This is purely precautionary. No employees were hurt and there is no indication of a spread of radiological contamination,” Henderson said of the shelter order.

No spent nuclear fuel is stored in the tunnel, Energy Department officials said. Energy Department Secretary Rick Perry has been briefed on the incident.

Tom Carpenter, the executive director with watchdog organization Hanford Challenge who has spoken with workers at the site since the incident, called the tunnel collapse worrisome and said the evacuation was the correct call.

“There is a big hole there and radiation could be beaming out,” he said.

“It’s not clear to me that they know whether particulate radiation has escaped,” Carpenter added. “If there is a cloud of radioactive particulates, then that can have an impact on worker health and the community. It does not take a lot for those particulates to end up in someone’s lung.”

The site is in southeastern Washington on the Columbia River. Operated by the federal government, it was established in the 1940s and manufactured plutonium that was used in the first nuclear bomb as well as other nuclear weapons. It is now being dismantled and cleaned up by the Energy Department.

Mostly decommissioned, Hanford has been a subject of controversy and conflict between state and local authorities, including a lawsuit over worker safety and ongoing cleanup delays. Carpenter called it the most contaminated U.S. site.

Carpenter said he expects total cleanup costs could reach $300 billion to $500 billion.

(Reporting by Tom James in Seattle and Scott DiSavino in New York; Writing by Ben Klayman; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Lisa Shumaker)

Highest levels of radiation reported by TEPCO from Fukushima power plant

A worker puts up new logo of TEPCO Holdings and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) Group on the wall ahead of the transition to a holding company system through a compan

By Kami Klein

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) announced the highest documented radiation levels ever recorded in reactor 2 of the damaged Fukushima  No. 1 power plant.  Based on its analysis of measurements and pictures taken by a remote controlled sensor and camera instrument, radiation levels recorded were the highest ever documented since the triple core meltdown in March 2011. TEPCO also reported close to a 3 foot hole in the metal grating under the pressure vessel of reactor 2 of the damaged Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

According to the Japan Times the power plant has reached a maximum of 530 sieverts per hour.  At 530 sieverts, a person could die from even the briefest exposure.  This highlights the difficulties that lie ahead for TEPCO and the Japanese Government as they try to figure out a way to dismantle all three reactors that were damaged by the March, 2011 9.0 earthquake and giant tsunami that killed almost 16,000 people.

Officials had never taken into account for the “unimaginable” radiation levels that are being seen.  Experts say that 1 sievert could lead to infertility, loss of hair and cataracts.  Cancer risks increase substantially with any radiation levels above the 100 millisieverts or 1 sievert mark.

In a report by the Washington Post, TEPCO recorded radiation near the reactor core using a stick-like robot equipped with a camera and a device designed to measure radiation levels and has suggested that some melted fuel escaped.  Officials state that this was the first time this kind of device has been able to get into this part of the reactor, which explains the unprecedented amount of radiation recorded.  TEPCO said that at this level of radiation, a robot would only operate for less than two hours before it was destroyed.

If deposits that have been seen on portions of the grating are proven to be melted fuel, it would be the first time they have found even a trace of any sign of the fuel rods since the core meltdowns occurred. Levels of radiation are too high to check the actual condition of the fuel, which they believe has melted through their pressure vessels and is pooled at the bottom of their containment units.  This fuel MUST be discovered and removed before the plants can be decommissioned.

Reuters reports that TEPCO has been developing robots that can swim under water and navigate obstacles in damaged tunnels and piping to search for the melted fuel rods.  But as soon as the robots get close to the reactors, the radiation destroys their wiring and renders them useless.  TEPCO does plan to send this robot into Reactor 1 but are still unsure regarding Reactor 2 because of the very intense radiation levels.

Officials still state that these levels may not actually be rising but because they have not been tested so closely to the reactor, they are just now getting a better idea of the true levels recorded. TEPCO does report a 30% margin of error in the tests.

The effects of the radiation on the rest of the world have been in constant discussion and arguments among government officials and environmental scientists.  One year ago, PBS reported that more than 80 percent of the radioactivity from the damaged reactors ended up in the Pacific, far more than ever reached the ocean from Chernobyl or Three Mile Island.  A small fraction is currently on the seafloor, but the rest was swept up by the Kuroshio current, a western Pacific version of the Gulf Stream, and carried out to sea.  Recently, radioactive contamination has been documented near British Columbia and California.

 

Ukraine Chernobyl victims remember on 30th anniversary

A man lights a candle at a memorial, dedicated to firefighters and workers who died after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, during a night service in the city of Slavutych

By Alessandra Prentice and Natalia Zinets

KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine held memorial services on Tuesday to mark the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster which permanently poisoned swathes of eastern Europe and highlighted the shortcomings of the secretive Soviet system.

In the early hours of April 26, 1986, a botched test at the nuclear plant in then-Soviet Ukraine triggered a meltdown that spewed deadly clouds of atomic material into the atmosphere, forcing tens of thousands of people from their homes.

President Petro Poroshenko attended a ceremony at the Chernobyl plant, which sits in the middle of an uninhabitable ‘exclusion zone’ the size of Luxembourg.

“The issue of the consequences of the catastrophe is not resolved. They have been a heavy burden on the shoulders of the Ukrainian people and we are still a long way off from overcoming them,” he said.

More than half a million civilian and military personnel were drafted in from across the former Soviet Union as so-called liquidators to clean-up and contain the nuclear fallout, according to the World Health Organization.

Thirty-one plant workers and firemen died in the immediate aftermath of the accident, most from acute radiation sickness.

Over the past three decades, thousands more have succumbed to radiation-related illnesses such as cancer, although the total death toll and long-term health effects remain a subject of intense debate.

Nikolay Chernyavskiy, 65, who worked at Chernobyl and later volunteered as a liquidator, recalls climbing to the roof of his apartment block in the nearby town of Prypyat to get a look at the plant after the accident.

“My son said ‘Papa, Papa, I want to look too’. He’s got to wear glasses now and I feel like it’s my fault for letting him look,” Chernyavskiy said.

The anniversary has garnered extra attention due to the imminent completion of a giant 1.5 billion euros ($1.7 billion) steel-clad arch that will enclose the stricken reactor site and prevent further leaks for the next 100 years.

The project was funded with donations from more than 40 governments and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Even with the new structure, the surrounding zone – 2,600 square km (1,000 square miles) of forest and marshland on the border of Ukraine and Belarus – will remain uninhabitable and closed to unsanctioned visitors.

The disaster and the government’s reaction highlighted the flaws of the Soviet system with its unaccountable bureaucrats and entrenched culture of secrecy. For example, the evacuation order only came 36 hours after the accident.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has said he considers Chernobyl one of the main nails in the coffin of the Soviet Union, which eventually collapsed in 1991.

(Additional reporting by Margaryta Chornokondratenko, Sergei Karazy and Andriy Perun; Editing by Robert Birsel and Richard Balmforth)