Russian prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation into a nuclear recycling facility accused of carelessly dumping radioactive waste, officials said Tuesday.
MOSCOW Russian prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation into a nuclear recycling facility accused of carelessly dumping radioactive waste, officials said Tuesday.
Deputy Prosecutor General Yuri Zolotov said that his office was investigating the damage inflicted to the environment by the Mayak facility near the Ural Mountains city of Chelyabinsk, about 1,500 kilometers (950 miles) east of Moscow.
"Measurements have shown that the radiation levels in the Techa river exceeded the normal level by many times," Zolotov, the top prosecutor in the region, said in remarks broadcast on NTV television.
Mayak, which produced nuclear weapons during the Soviet times, is now Russia's main nuclear waste processing plant. It has been the site of several accidents, including a 1957 waste facility explosion that contaminated 23,000 square kilometers (9,200 square miles), and some environmentalists say the area around it is among the most contaminated on the planet.
"Mayak is the world's worst nuclear polluter," Olga Podosenova, the head of the Urals Environmental Union, told NTV.
Environmentalists and local officials long have warned that artificial lakes containing liquid radioactive waste from Mayak are filled to capacity and could burst into the region's rivers and flow all the way to the Arctic Ocean.
Vladimir Slivyak, head of environmental group Ecodefense, hailed the criminal investigation as a sign that the authorities have finally started paying attention to the problem.
"The most important thing now is whether the case will be brought to conclusion with culprits punished and the plant's license revoked," Slivyak said in a statement.
Ecodefense warned that the spring thaw threatens to fill artificial lakes to the point at which their contents could spill out and flow into the region's rivers.
In addition to nuclear weapons programs, Mayak is also expected to house and process nuclear waste imported from abroad under a recently passed law. Environmental groups have campaigned fervently against waste imports and pushed for Mayak's closure.
Source: Associated Press