Russia's Far East nervously eyes Japan nuclear risk

15th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russia's Far East region Tuesday nervously monitored any increase in radiation from the quake-damaged Japanese nuclear plant but experts said any threat was reduced by favourable weather.

With the main city of the Russian Far East Vladivostok no more than 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) west of the Fukushima nuclear plant, officials have been measuring the background radiation levels every hour.

The meteorological service said that radiation levels were within the normal limits throughout the region but the military emphasized it could evacuate the Pacific Kuril and Sakhalin islands at short notice should the need arise.

The emergencies ministry said that radiation in the region had over the last four days ranged between 10-17 microroentgen per hour compared with a maximum accepted norm of 30 per hour.

The spokeswoman for the local weather service, Varvara Koridze, said that air samples that were taken "contained the usual background components. Radionuclides that would have been the result of an explosion were not found."

Boris Lamash, head of the climate department at the Far Eastern Federal University, said that the prevailing winds at this time of year in the region were westerlies and north-westerlies, which should keep harmful material away.

"If air was to come from the eastern shore of Japan then this would require a full day of south-easterly winds which are not present in the Far Eastern region at this time of year."

The head of Russia's nuclear agency Rosatom, Sergei Kiriyenko, meanwhile confidently predicted that "even under a worst case scenario and the worst weather conditions there is no risk for the Russian Far East."

Nevertheless in a sign of Russia's concern, Russia's Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu was holding an unscheduled meeting with the Japanese ambassador in Moscow.

The Interfax news agency meanwhile, quoted a diplomatic source as indicating that Russia was more concerned than its public comments might give reason to believe.

"We are waiting for reliable information about the situation at the Japanese nuclear plant," said the official, who was not named. "We need to be sure 1,000 times over that everything is safe for us."

The Far Eastern military district said it was closely watching the situation and was ready to evacuate the Kuril archipelago -- the southernmost part of which is still claimed by Japan -- and Sakhalin to the north.

The southernmost island in the Kurils -- known as the Northern Territories in Japan -- is barely 700 kilometres (450 miles) north of the Fukushima plant.

"We are ready to carry out a timely evacuation of the military service people, their families and the civilian population from the Kuril islands and Sakhalin, if the need arises," a spokesman told the RIA-Novosti news agency.

The Kuril islands lie just north of Japan's northern Hokkaido island and the southernmost four islands in the chain are still claimed by Tokyo, in a dispute that has prevented the signing of the World War II peace treaty.

Sakhalin meanwhile is a much larger island with a population of half a million which lies just off Russia's Far Eastern coast and serves as a crucial hub for the oil and gas industry.

Svetlana Ivanova, a deputy for the local parliament on Sakhalin, told the Echo Moscow radio, that she needed more information from Japan and worried about the situation on the island if the radiation spread.

The local authorities "do not know how to protect the population if something happens. Hardly anyone knows where to run in such a situation," she said.

"Besides, there are no food reserves on the island and people have little in the way of personal protection," she added.

© 2011 AFP

0 Comments To This Article