Russia radiation levels normal after Japan nuke accident

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Russian officials said radiation levels in the country's Far East remained normal after a Japanese nuclear plant was hit by an explosion Saturday but that they were monitoring levels closely.

Following a devastating earthquake in Japan compounded by fears of a nuclear meltdown, Russia reinforced radiation controls in the Far East, though officials said the country should be spared any fallout even in the worst-case scenario.

"Our background radiation levels are normal, we are constantly conducting monitoring," Sergei Viktorov, spokesman for the emergencies ministry's Far Eastern branch, told AFP.

Earlier Saturday a Japanese nuclear power plant was hit by an explosion and tens of thousands of people were urged to evacuate, a day after the massive quake damaged the facility's cooling system.

Background radiation levels were also being watched in the country's other Far Eastern regions such as Primorye, Kamchatka and Khabarovsk, Viktorov said. Of all Russia's regions, the Sakhalin region, which includes Sakhalin Island and the Kuril Island chain, is closest to Japan but it should avoid any radioactive fallout, officials said.

"Even in the worst-case scenario, in the most unfavourable situation, a radioactive cloud would not reach the Sakhalin region," chief of the emergencies ministry's Sakhalin branch, Taimuraz Kasayev, said in televised remarks.

Twenty-five years on, memories in Russia are still fresh of the 1986 explosion at a nuclear power plant at Ukraine's Chernobyl -- the worst nuclear disaster in history -- but Russian nuclear experts said it was highly unlikely the country would face a new "Chernobyl" on its eastern flank.

"A leak may happen but it would not be comparable with the consequences of the leakage after the Chernobyl accident," Vladimir Kuznetsov, head of the Institute of Terrestrial Magnetism, said on Echo of Moscow radio.

After the deadly quake struck in Japan on Friday, Russia placed the Kuril Island chain on high alert, ordering the evacuation of 11,000 people and suspending economic activity on the islands.

The tsunami alert for the island chain was cancelled earlier Saturday, officials said, adding the islands sustained no damage.

Tsunami waves had on Friday reached the archipelago's southernmost islands that are at the heart of Russia's long-running territorial dispute with Japan, with waves on Kunashir Island reaching three metres (10 feet) at one point.

Russia was quick to offer its assistance to Tokyo following the natural disaster despite a recent flare-up in bilateral tensions exacerbated by President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to Kunashir in November, a first by a Kremlin leader.

© 2011 AFP

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