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During the fall of 2017, a mysterious cloud lightly radioactive , which contained ruthenium-106, and toured throughout Europe. Although the activity concentrations were innocuous, reached up to 100 times the levels that had been detected on the continent in the wake of the Fukushima accident. No government took responsibility and the origin of this strange radioactivity became a mystery, even to the point that it is not ruled out that it was the result of some type of military activity.

Now, researchers from the University of Leibniz in Hanover and the University of Münster (both Germany) found that the cloud did not originate in military sources, but in civil nuclear activities . In particular, they point to the release of ruthenium from a reprocessing plant for nuclear fuels with technology created by the russians. The conclusion published in the journal “Nature Communications”.

According to the authors, it is impossible to make a clear distinction between sources, civilian and military, based solely on measurements of radioactive isotopes of ruthenium. For the first time, the researchers were able to quantify the isotopes of ruthenium stable in air filters that were released with the ruthenium radioactive.

Your metadología was not very conventional. “Usually we measure isotopes of ruthenium to study the history of the formation of the Earth”, explains Thorsten Kleine, a professor in Münster. The fact that the ruthenium in the air from nuclear activities occur in tiny amounts and is diluyera with ruthenium stable natural presented a significant challenge.

A Russian jet

through the chemical separation of the fractions of ruthenium in air filters and subsequent measurements of high accuracy using mass spectrometry, the researchers determined the proportion of ruthenium stable supply of nuclear. The isotope ratio of ruthenium found in the filter are consistent with the signature of a source for civil, in particular the signing of the spent nuclear fuel from a nuclear power plant. You can rule out a military background (such as the production of plutonium suitable for weapons).

in Addition, high-precision measurements enabled the researchers to draw more conclusions. “The signature of the isotope discovered in the air filter does not present similarities with the nuclear fuel of pressurized water reactors to western conventional. In contrast, it is consistent with the signature of the isotope of a specific type of pressurized water reactors of Russian: the series VVER. around the world, are currently operating approximately 20 reactors of this type VVER”, specifies Georg Steinhauser, of Leibniz. In Russia, operating five of them.

As the researcher explains in an email to ABC, the study “we focus on what happened during the accident, not the location of the launch. This has been done by several previous studies and they all came to the conclusion that the source was in the south of the Ural Mountains “.