Japan radiation fears spark panic in Russia's Far East

16th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Residents of Russia's Far East on Wednesday stocked up on iodine and nervously checked radiation levels despite official reassurances there was no danger from Japan's quake-damaged nuclear plant just 1,000 kilometres to the east.

Russia's emergencies ministry said that radiation levels remained normal and stressed that there was no risk for human health and that no danger from radiation was expected but many were not convinced.

In the regional capital Vladivostok, which is no more than 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) west of the Fukushima nuclear plant, pharmacies were sold-out of iodine, dosimeters -- instruments that measure the amount of radiation -- flew off the shelves and people bought tickets to Moscow.

"All the medicine was sold out yesterday and it is unclear when the new supplies will arrive," said a salesclerk at a local pharmacy, referring to iodine, a standard anti-radiation treatment.

Pensioner Tatyana Zaitseva said she looked for iodine at several pharmacies in the city but could not find it anywhere.

"I believe that our authorities are telling the truth about what has happened in Japan," she said. "But you never know what may happen: today the situation is this but tomorrow the wind will change and we will get all the radiation."

Another city resident said he could not buy medicine a doctor prescribed to his wife. "Those who really need this have been left without it because of a handful of alarmists," said Mikhail Obukhov, a 20-year old student.

The local authorities were at pains to tell residents there was no need to panic after experts insisted that the prevailing winds at this time of year would blow any radiation away from the Russian Far East.

"There is no risk of radiation in the Far East. For that reason, residents should not fall for the general rush to buy and take iodine products," the RIA Novosti news agency quoted a spokesman for the Far East region emergency ministry as saying.

But Roman Vilfand, head of Russia's Gidromettsentr state weather service, said the situation could change depending on air circulation.

"If the wind suddenly changes, then Primorye, Kamchatka, Sakhalin Island and the Kuril Islands would end up being the most vulnerable in our country," he said in comments published in the pro-government Izvestia daily.

As of 1000 GMT, radiation levels in Primorye averaged at 13 microroentgen per hour compared with a maximum accepted norm of 30 per hour, the emergencies ministry said.

Radiation levels on Sakhalin, a large Pacific island close to Japan, averaged at 11 microroentgen per hour, the ministry said.

"An unhealthy atmosphere has grown up among residents of the region," the head of the Sakahalin regional emergency ministry, Taimuraz Kasayev, told journalists on Wednesday, RIA Novosti reported.

"These rumours are trivial and ridiculous," Kasayev said, adding that even if the weather conditions were the worst possible, the emissions of radioactive particles would not create a "serious risk" for residents.

"I can say with full confidence that we will not need to evacuate residents," Kasayev was quoted as saying.

Coastguards at sea were taking part in monitoring radiation, with the ministry receiving updated readings every two hours, it said. It warned residents not to use information on radiation levels "from untested sources."

The Far Eastern military district has also 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.

© 2011 AFP

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