Have you ever heard about toxic cloud? You may have heard or seen it in fictional stories. Well recently in western area of Europe, something that is said to be more dangerous occurred.
Something strange happened in the sky of Europe in recent months. Scientists who study the cloud formation in the atmosphere found out that there is an increase in airborne ruthenium-106 in the cloud. Ruthenium-106 itself is a kind of radioactive isotope.
The isotope usually generated during the production of nuclear materials such as in medicines or radiation therapy. It means that radioactive cloud is floating above Europe. The cloud itself covered most of western Europe from Cyprus to Spain.
Ruthenium-106 is not naturally found on earth, which means that it is produced by something or someone. And because it is found in the cloud, scientists suspected that something wrong has happened somewhere.
Not The First Time
This phenomenon is not the first to happen, it has happened before. In 1986, after the Chernobyl incident, radioactive soot covered Europe and ruthenium-106 is one of the radioactive isotopes found in the soot. This isotope is also one of the earliest to be detected after the incident.
However, the phenomenon of radioactive cloud that covers Europe in recent months is rather different. If in the radioactive soot that occurred after the Chernobyl incident some other isotopes can be found, in this cloud scientists only discover ruthenium-106.
“We’ve never seen ruthenium-106 alone,” told Sven Poul Nielsen, one of the researchers from Denmark who examined this phenomenon as stated in National Public Radio. “This is the strange thing we see now.”
Nielsen predicted that the finding of ruthenium-106 alone without any other radioactive compounds is because in the production process this isotope was isolated chemically. As stated before, this isotope is usually found in medical process.
Ruthenium-106 is the byproduct of molybdenum-99 production. Molybdenum-99 itself is important in medical world as it is the ingredient in some medical scans for heart and other human internals. However, there is a global shortage in the world of this isotope.
The Suspect: Russia
Although still there is no clear evidence of who and what caused this, many researchers suspect Russia as the cause of this radioactive cloud phenomenon. This suspicion is based on the global shortage of molybdenum-99 isotope in the world as stated above.
Back in 2013, Russian atomic energy corporation ROSATOM announced that RIAR in Dimitrovgrad could produce molybdenum-99 in sufficient amount to supply hospitals all around the world. As we know, the production of molybdenum-99 byproducts ruthenium-106.
The suspicion to Russia is supported by some other facts, French scientists who tried to track down the origin of the cloud suggested that the cloud might come from Russia. They suggested that the cloud was released to air from somewhere between Volga River and Ural Mountains.
the location between Volga River and Southern Ural Mountains itself is close to Dimitrovgrad, where RIAR try to produce molybdenum-99 isotope. However, scientists is still doubting that RIAR is the cause of this radioactive cloud because if it is, most likely other kind of byproduct isotopes will also present.
Russia: Not Us!
While being suspected by many countries, Russia said that they are not responsible, or maybe not responsible alone, for the radioactive cloud. In defense, they stated that “there were no incidents at the facilities of the industry”.
That statement was announced by ROSATOM itself on November 22. The statement is following the former statement that they announced a day before that they recorded high radioactivity in the Ural region.
Evgeny Savchenko, Russian minister of public security also told the public that he hasn’t received any reports regarding the ruthenium-106 release from the area. Savchenko even shared a link that leads to an article saying “Ruthenium Over Chelyabinsk: Environmental Disaster Or Information Warfare?”
The Russian media also helps the government to defend themselves. Shortly after an acid rain occurred in Bashkiria, 500 kilometers from the suspected origin of the radioactive cloud, local media stated that the acid rain was mild and safe.
However, as we know, acid rain is not safe and only occur when something has happened such as volcanoes activity or latent production of pollutant. So, it means that something had actually happened around that area that caused the acid rain.
Russia itself tend to be secretive about incidents that happen in their regions, even to their own citizens. In 1957, when Mayak nuclear facility incident happened, they didn’t make it public. Even to the people in the region who were told to evacuate, they didn’t mention why those people should evacuate.
How Harmful Is This?
According to researchers, this cloud is not that harmful because the radioactive isotope in the cloud is not that dense. But the research was conducted in the area far from suspected source, which means that the radioactive materials have got less dense.
Whether is it true or not that Russia is the one responsible for this phenomenon like the scientists suspected, the impact of this radioactive cloud remains the biggest thing to think about. Because the word radioactive itself is frightening for most people.
Jean-Christophe Gariel, the director of health at IRSN told NPR that people living in regions near the release would likely to be evacuated if this phenomenon occurred. Gariel said that if this phenomenon of release happened in France, some procedures would have been done to protect its citizen.
“Any people within a few kilometers of the release — wherever it occurred — would have needed to seek shelter to protect themselves from possible radiation exposure,” Gariel said. It means of something really happened, there should be an evacuation procedure somewhere.
However, there is no sign of evacuation in the suspected area of the release. He also said that he hasn’t heard of any checks of agricultural products for contamination in Russia regarding the suspicion.
Ruthenium-106 is regarded as highly toxic and may cause cancer. It is strong enough to stain the skin and if ingested if may affect the health of human bones. A chemical compound known as Ruthenium oxide is highly volatile and toxic to human death, may even cause death.