- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 17, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG — Molten metal splashed from a smelter at a Russian nuclear power plant, killing one worker and severely burning two others, but authorities said yesterday that no reactors were affected and no radiation escaped.

While relatively minor, the accident Thursday occurred on the same day prosecutors announced a “catastrophic radioactivity situation” involving improperly stored materials at a chemical factory in the southern Russian region of Chechnya.

The incidents were the latest to draw questions about how Russia stores, handles and disposes of nuclear materials and waste in the wake of the 1986 explosion of a reactor at Chernobyl that spewed radioactivity for days in the world’s worst civilian atomic accident.

The smelter accident happened at the Leningrad electricity generating station in the closed nuclear town of Sosnovy Bor, 50 miles west of St. Petersburg.

Russia’s nuclear agency, Rosenergoatom, initially reported an explosion. It later described the incident as a “splash.”

It said radiation levels remained normal. The Norwegian environmental group Bellona, a longtime critic of Russia’s nuclear programs, and officials in nearby Finland also said they had not detected any spread of radiation.

A 33-year-old worker died of injuries yesterday, and two others were injured, said Yuri Lameko, chief doctor of the Sosnovy Bor hospital. The Emergency Situations Ministry said two of those involved suffered burns over 90 percent of their bodies.

Rosenergoatom said the smelter — run by a scrap metal reprocessing company called Ekomet-S — is on the grounds of the plant’s second unit, where a reactor was shut down for repairs in July. The plant has four reactors in all, including one of the same type that blew up in Chernobyl during the Soviet era.

Plant spokesman Sergei Averyanov said the smelter is a half-mile from the reactor. Oleg Bodrov, a physicist who heads the Green World environmental group in Sosnovy Bor, said the facility is also about 150 feet from a covered liquid radioactive waste pond.

Meanwhile, Russian prosecutors opened a criminal investigation Thursday into the improper storage of radioactive materials by a state-owned company in the Chechen capital, Grozny.

Tests found radiation at the Grozny chemical factory, which stands not far from residential buildings and a bus station, exceeded normal levels by tens of thousands of times, prosecutors said. They called it a “catastrophic radioactivity situation.”

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