A cloud of radioactive material that had drifted over 28 countries in Europe has been detected, reports say.
The cloud was first detected over Italy, on Oct. 3. It has since dissipated, but its origins have been traced to the border between Russia and Kazakhstan.
The region is known to contain nuclear facilities, and has been the site of multiple nuclear slip-ups, including a large-scale nuclear accident in 1957 that rivals the 2011 incident at Fukushima, and the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.
A facility in the region was once also used to convert used nuclear fuel into nuclear weapons material during the Cold War. But the search for the origin of the radioactive cloud is not over.
“It’s a very low level of radioactivity and it poses no problems for health and the environment in Europe,” said Jean-Christophe Gariel, health director at the Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety Institute in France.
Gariel said that Russian safety officials do not dispute the data, but say they have heard no news of an accident at any of the plants.
The radioactivity is indicated by monitors picking up on the ruthenium-106 isotope in the air.
“It’s an unusual isotope,” says Anders Ringbom, research director of the Swedish Defence Research Agency, via NPR. “I don’t think we have seen it since the Chernobyl accident.”
According to NPR, people who were within a few kilometers of the isotope’s release would have needed to seek protection.
Gariel says that French authorities will conduct random checks on food and related products from the region.
“If it would have happened in France, we would have taken measures to protect the population in a radius of a few kilometers,” said Gariel.
Gariel thinks that the size of the release is indicative of an accident. Analysis by the Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety Institute indicate it could be chemical reprocessing of nuclear fuel for medical purposes, according to the NPR report.
“It’s not an authorized release, we are sure about that,” said Gariel.