Global General

Putin orders review of Russia's nuclear sector

Updated: 2011-03-15 21:37
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MOSCOW -- Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ordered checks at Russian nuclear facilities and a review of plans to develop atomic power on Tuesday as Japan grappled with the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

Russian officials tried to reassure the population that the threat of contamination from Japan's nuclear crisis was minimal.

Radiation levels rose briefly in Russia's Far East on Tuesday but stayed well within norms and later fell back, though panicked residents snatched up iodine tablets and the Russian military was put on alert to evacuate people if necessary.

"We must be ready for action no matter what happens," Putin told a meeting of senior officials including Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of Russia's state nuclear corporation, Rosatom, at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow.

"I ask the Energy Ministry, the Natural Resources Ministry and Rosatom to analyse the state of the atomic sector and the perspectives for its development within a month and to present the findings to the government," Putin said.

Russian officials have tried to calm fears that Japan is facing a repeat of 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Soviet Ukraine which soured appetite for nuclear power for more than a decade and haunted a generation of Soviet citizens.

Almost all of Russia's 32 working nuclear power reactors are Soviet made though Russia plans to spend billions of dollars over the next decade on building new reactors to reduce reliance on the oil and gas which fuel Russia's $1.5 trillion economy.

Radiation levels in Vladivostok, a city of 600,000 people some 800 km (500 miles) northwest of Japan's stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, rose to 13 microroentgens an hour at 0400 GMT before falling back to 12 later in the day.

Up to 30 microroentgens an hour is considered safe, according to a spokeswoman for the regional emergencies ministry, though pharmacies in Vladivostok said they had run out of iodine, which can protect the thyroid gland from radiation.

"It is obvious that they are buying anti-radiation equipment because of the events with Japan's nuclear station," a pharmacy salesperson told Reuters.


Kiriyenko, who holds sway over most of the former Soviet Union's vast civilian and military nuclear facilities, said Japan's nuclear crisis posed little threat to Russia even in the worst case scenario.

But he said he was worried about a meltdown at all six reactors at Japan's Fukushima plant because the cooling system had failed and criticised what he called patchy and often out of date information from Tokyo on the situation at the plant.

"All six can pose a threat unfortunately," he told Putin in an exchange shown on state television. "But even if there is a meltdown at all six then this will still not lead to a nuclear explosion."

"It is bad for the territory of the station and around it but even if you add to the worst case scenario the worst possible winds in the direction of Russia at high speeds, then there is no threat to the (Russian) Far East," he said.

Kiriyenko also said Japan had not accepted help from a group of Russian nuclear specialists -- including a professor who dealt with the Chernobyl disaster -- who were waiting in the Far East for permission to travel to Japan.

Russia's military said it was on alert to evacuate people if required from Russia's Sakhalin island, whose southernmost tip is visible from northern Japan, and the Southern Kuril island chain which is at the heart of a territorial dispute with Japan.

Called the Northern Territories by Japan, the Southern Kuril islands are inhabited by Russians and one of the islands, Tanfilyeva, is just 6 km (4 miles) from Japan's coast.

Sakhalin island holds Russia's biggest proven gas reserves in the Far East and Putin ordered officials on Tuesday to accelerate a Rosneft-ledSakhalin-3 oil and gas project to cope with future Japanese demand for energy.

Putin said Japan would need alternative supplies to cope with the generation it had lost due the 9.0-magnitude earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.

"It is obvious that this is a long-term loss of generation so we need to think how to speed up plans for developing hydro-carbon production including gas in the Far East," he said.