UPDATE: Accident at Mayak leads to apparently contained radiation leak, and seriously injures one worker

Rashid Alimov / Bellona

Publish date: October 28, 2008

Written by: Yelena Yefremova

Translated by: Charles Digges

CHELYABINSK - Another radiation leak occurred at the Mayak Chemical Combine, Russia’s primary spent nuclear fuel storage and reprocessing facility in the Southern Urals near Chelyabinsk on October 22nd during repair work. Three people were injured.

According to Mayak spokesmen, no radiation was spread beyond the area where repairs were underway and there was no damage to the environment or atmosphere. But Mayak has yet to release any final figures on exactly how much radiation did, in fact, escape.

It took Mayak two days to report the incident to relevant law enforcement authorities, and radiation oversight officials first heard of the incident when Bellona Web called for comment Monday. News of the incident appeared only in the last few days, carried by only one small Urals-based news agency.

The Urals Interregional Territorial Administration of the Russian Service for Industrial, Technical and Nuclear Oversight (Rostekhnadzor) told Bellona Web in a telephone interview that it had no information on the incident.

The Uralinformbureau news agency, however, reported that a technical catch tank lost its hermetic sealing during welding work at the plant’s Opal apparatus. This resulted in a release of radioactive substances in the repair zone of Plant No. 20 where three repair engineers were working.

Alexander Mysin, deputy chief of the Urals Rostekhnadzor branch told Bellona Web by telephone that he knew nothing of the emergency at Mayak, but would begin an investigation.

It is Mysin’s obligation to provide oversight for nuclear, radiological and technical safety at Mayak.

According to Uralinformbureau, the brigadier of the repair crew suffered a blunt abdominal trauma as the result of a pneumatic blow, and his finger was also severed off. A large quantity of alpha radiation settled in the injured man’s wound.

Officials have not released his name.

Investigators have confirmed that the worker was performing his tasks within the proscribed safety regimen, and was wearing an air mask respirator that was not compromised by the accident.

He was hospitalized in the professional pathology centre of the Central Medical Unit of Russia’s Federal Medical and Biological Agency.

A consortium of doctors summoned from Central Medical Sanitary Unit 71 decided to amputate the rest of the injured worker’s finger to prevent further spread of alpha radiation contamination throughout his body.

The other two workers from the repair unit went through decontamination procedures of their skin and clothing and it was established that they were not contaminated above control measures.

“Active emissions beyond the boundaries of the repair zone and into the environment did not occur – there was not threat to workers or to the community,“  said Mayak officials.

They added that the incident was an “out-of-the-ordinary situation,” and that a special commission had been convened to investigate. Their results are expected within two to four weeks, Mayak officials said.

An additional investigation is being carried out by the prosecutor’s office of Ozersk, the closed nuclear city where Mayak is located. The prosecutor’s office, according to spokespeople there, said that they were informed of the Mayak incident a full two days after it occurred – on October 24th.

In connection with this investigation, it will be decided whether to summon Mayak management for administrative charges for delinquency in reporting the incident, which endangered public health and could have been lethal in nature.

“From our side, all information to the corresponding agencies was sent on time. Why they received it late is now being investigated,” Mayak representatives said.

Information about several other leaks occurring in June and October of 2007, and in March 2008, have become the subject of discussion as they were reported several weeks to months late.

Bellona Web will continue to monitor developments at Mayak.

Yelena Yefimova reported and wrote from Chelyabisnk, and Charles Digges edited and translated from Oslo.

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