Radioactivity levels have spiked in the atmosphere over northern Europe, and that could indicate damage at a nuclear power plant in western Russia, according to a Dutch health agency that has analyzed the data. The radioactive spike suggests damage to a nuclear fuel element, the Associated Press reported.
However, the Russian nuclear power operator Rosenergoatom has denied problems related to facilities in Kola and Leningrad, the two nuclear plants operating in the region, according to TASS, a Russian news agency, as reported by the AP.
Related: 5 weird things you didn't know about Chernobyl
22 /23 June 2020, RN #IMS station SEP63 #Sweden🇸🇪 detected 3isotopes; Cs-134, Cs-137 & Ru-103 associated w/Nuclear fission @ higher[ ] than usual levels (but not harmful for human health). The possible source region in the 72h preceding detection is shown in orange on the map. pic.twitter.com/ZeGsJa21TNJune 26, 2020
Several Scandinavian watchdog agencies detected the elevated levels of the radionuclides (or radioactive isotopes). Radionuclides are atoms whose nuclei are unstable; the excess energy inside the nucleus gets released through radioactive decay. In particular, concentrations of the radionuclides cesium-134, cesium-137 and ruthenium-103 rose in parts of Finland, southern Scandinavia and the Arctic, Lassina Zerbo, the Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, wrote on Twitter. Though these pose no harm to humans, they are byproducts of nuclear fission, Zerbo wrote.
"The radionuclides are artificial, that is to say they are man-made. The composition of the nuclides may indicate damage to a fuel element in a nuclear power plant," an official with the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands, which analyzed the isotope data, said on Friday (June 26).
Because so few measurements have been taken, monitoring agencies weren't able to identify a specific source, NIPHE officials said.
The sudden radioactivity spike echoes the events following the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown, the biggest nuclear disaster in history. Within a few days of the 1986 disaster, a Swedish nuclear power plant detected elevated radioactivity levels, according to an account from the European parliament.
In recent years, another radioactive mystery cloud wafting over Europe was tied to Russia. In 2017, a plume holding 1,000 times the normal levels of ruthenium-106 was detected over Europe, The Washington Post reported. Russia denied any involvement, though a nuclear reprocessing plant in Russia was a strong suspect, according to a 2019 study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
- 5 everyday things that are radioactive
- Images: Chernobyl, frozen in time
- Stunning images of Russia from above
Originally published on Live Science.
OFFER: Save 45% on 'How It Works' 'All About Space' and 'All About History'!
For a limited time, you can take out a digital subscription to any of our best-selling science magazines for just $2.38 per month, or 45% off the standard price for the first three months.
Live Science newsletter
Stay up to date on the latest science news by signing up for our Essentials newsletter.
Tia is the managing editor and was previously a senior writer for Live Science. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Wired.com and other outlets. She holds a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington, a graduate certificate in science writing from UC Santa Cruz and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Tia was part of a team at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that published the Empty Cradles series on preterm births, which won multiple awards, including the 2012 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.
By Robert Lea
By Sascha Pare
By Ben Turner
The rumor is that the Russians had been try to develop a nuclear powered missile or cruise missile and it blew up. I believe 4 of their scientists were killed in the explosion. The advantage of a nuclear powered cruise missile is that it effectively has unlimited loitering time so it can fly around indefinitely until it is deployed. Because it is already flying around near its target, the strike can be made very quickly; reducing defensive reaction time. I suspect the Russians are back at it.