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The European radioactive cloud - what you need to know

27 November 2017

Radioactive ruthenium detected in the air throughout Europe in late September 2017 poses no risk to the health of people or the environment.

Trace levels of ruthenium-106 have been detected on air monitoring networks throughout most of Europe. ARPANSA and other international organisations have modelled air movement and estimate the origin of the release to be in the Ural Mountains, in a region between Russia and Kazakhstan.

Rutheniun-106 has a half-life of 374 days.  After one year only half would remain. Ruthenium-106 is typically produced by nuclear fission and is found in nuclear reactors. It’s used in medicine for cancer radiation therapy and has been used to power satellites.

The origin of the ruthenium-106 is still unknown. A nuclear power plant accident can be ruled out because such accidents release many different kinds of radionuclides. Only ruthenium-106 was detected.

ARPANSA modelling of air movement predicts that ruthenium-106 from this event will not be detectable in Australia. ARPANSA continuously monitors the air for radioactive material throughout Australia as part of the global Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty network. 

The chance of imported food being contaminated is very low and would pose no risk to health if consumed. Similar advice has been issued in Europe.