Russia's Far East nervously eyes Japan nuclear risk

15th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

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

With the region's main city 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 radiation levels were within the normal limits throughout the region, but the military emphasised 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.

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

Boris Lamash, head of the climate department at Far Eastern Federal University, said 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," Lamash said.

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, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu held an unscheduled meeting with the Japanese ambassador in Moscow.

The Interfax news agency meanwhile quoted a diplomat as indicating that Russia was more concerned than its public comments suggest.

"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."

Reports said that pharmacies in Vladivostok and its surroundings were seeing massively increased sales of iodine, a standard anti-radiation treatment.

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 Echo Moscow radio that she needed more information from Japan and was 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

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