No danger to human health in Germany
The source of the recently detected slight increase of radioactive ruthenium-106 in the atmosphere remains unclear. It is, however, most likely located in the Southern Urals, as calculations by the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) have indicated. However, other regions in southern Russia still have to be considered as potential sites. As no substances other than ruthenium-106 were detected, an accident in a nuclear power plant can be ruled out. The radioactivity does not pose any health risk to the population in Germany since the concentrations are very low. With Russia being the most likely source of the release of the radioactive substance, the Federal Environment Ministry expects the competent Russian authorities as well as the IAEA to contribute as quickly as possible to clearing up the issue and to deliver reliable information regarding the cause of the increased levels of ruthenium.
Radiation in cancer therapy is one of the uses of ruthenium-106 (Ru-106). Ruthenium-106 is also, although seldom, used in radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs), which serve as energy supply for satellites. It can also be released during the reprocessing of nuclear fuel elements.
Slightly increased levels of airborne ruthenium have been detected at several monitoring stations in Europe since 29 September 2017. These stations include six operated by the German Meteorological Service and several European stations, for example in Austria and Italy. It is possible to limit the areas from which the release originated by back calculation of the dispersion of radioactive substances in the atmosphere. According to estimates, the release of the radioactive substance occurred during the last week of September.
The concentrations detected in Europe are very low and therefore not harmful to human health. In Görlitz, where the highest level of ruthenium in Germany was found, the concentration was 5 millibecquerel per cubic metre. This concentration, even if inhaled constantly over a week, is still lower than the natural background radioactivity absorbed during one hour. The levels detected at the other monitoring stations (Arkona/Rügen, Greifswald, Angermünde, Cottbus and Fürtenzell/Bavaria) are lower still.
The BfS continuously evaluates all available data on radioactive substances in the atmosphere.