The Russian arm of campaigning organisation Greenpeace hired experts who detected levels of radiation up to eight times that of normal along parts of the proposed route between Moscow Polymetals Plant and the Moskvorechye commuter rail station in the south of nation’s capital. The slag heap, which measures half a kilometre in width, contains tens of thousands of tones of radioactive waste which has been left over from the extraction of thorium and uranium at the plant prior to 1996.
Specialists from the licensed TechnoTerra company and Greenpeace employees, watched by journalists, took measurements and took soil samples on a slope between the Moscow Polymetal Plant and the station.
Instruments recorded a dose rate of gamma radiation measuring more than one microsievert per hour at a depth of 0.5 metres – 5-8 times higher than the natural background, with higher levels on the surface.
A Greenpeace spokesman said: “This means that during construction work, contaminated soil can be on the surface and radioactive dust can be spread over considerable distances (the distance from the place where the samples were taken to the nearest residential buildings is only 200 metres, to the Moskvorechye platform – 50 metres).
“People who breathe it will increase the risk of cancer.
“The Greenpeace Russian branch sent the radiation measurement protocols to the Rospotrebnadzor Office for the City of Moscow and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, demanding that they immediately take measures to protect human life and health from radiation hazard.
“If the necessary measures are not taken, these radiation measurement protocols will be the basis for the Russian branch of Greenpeace and local residents to seek protection of the rights to a favourable environment through the prosecutor’s office and the court.”
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Her friend Ruslana Lugovaya added: “Why go visit Chernobyl when we have our own Chernobyl right here in Moscow?”
Acting head of Moscow’s construction department, Rafik Zagrutdinov told the RBC newspaper geological surveys had “showed no excess in background radiation”.
The Chernobyl disaster occurred on 26 April 1986 at the Number 4 nuclear reactor in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, close to the city of Pripyat in the north of the Ukraine, which at the time was a part of the USSR.
It is generally seen as the world’s worst nuclear disaster, and is one of just two rated at a maximum severity of seven on the International Nuclear Event Scale, along with the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan.
In tackling the fire, 134 firemen and station staff were hospitalised with acute radiation syndrome, with 28 dying in the months afterwards, while hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated.
A 30-kilometre exclusion zone remains in force around the site.
Both Chernobyl and the contamination from Moscow Polymetals Plant are a legacy of the Soviet era, as is pollution in the Kara Sea in the Russian Arctic Circle, sometimes dubbed Russia’s nuclear cemetery.
A report published by the Russian Federation has warned of 17,000 containers and 19 vessels with radioactive waste which lie on the seabed, 127 metres below the surface.
Given the remoteness of the location, visiting the area is problematic, as would be any operation to remove such material.
There are also 14 nuclear reactors, as well as the shell of the K-27, the first nuclear-powered submarine in its class.