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Fire burns near defunct Moscow nuclear reactor

posted 5 Feb 2012, 08:30 by Mpelembe   [ updated 5 Feb 2012, 08:30 ]

After fire breaks out at Moscow nuclear institute, Russia says no risk, nuclear agency says no threat of radiation leak.


MOSCOW, RUSSIA (FEBRUARY 5, 2012) (REUTERS) - A fire broke out on Sunday (February 5) at a Moscow nuclear research centre that houses a non-operational 60-year-old atomic reactor, an emergency official said, and Russia's nuclear agency said there were no open flames and no threat of a radiation leak.

The environmental group Greenpeace Russia expressed serious concern about the incident.

Sergei Vlasov, spokesman for the Moscow branch of the emergencies ministry, said the fire was in the basement of the Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Physics in southwestern Moscow. He said no casualties were reported.


Grey smoke rose above the institute, which is encircled by a wall, and an acrid smell filled the air. Some 30 emergency vehicles, including fire trucks and ambulances, stood inside and outside the main gate, witnesses said.


Sergei Novikov, spokesman for Russia's state nuclear agency Rosatom, said there were no open flames, only smoke that came from an area housing power cables and could not affect any nuclear materials at the institute. He said the institute's heavy-water research reactor was no longer operational adding that firefighters were pumping foam into the

affected area.


A Greenpeace Russia official said the incident was potentially very dangerous.

Russian news agencies issued conflicting reports. Interfax cited a police source as saying fire brigades were denied access to the facility for "a long time" before being

allowed in.


Vlasov said he could not confirm the report, but said the fire had not been extinguished as of 2:45 p.m. (1045 GMT). State-run RIA reported earlier that that the fire had already been put out.

State-run ITAR-TASS cited an unnamed source at the institute who said by late afternoon the fire had been extinguished.


Safety at Russia's nuclear facilities has been a concern since the deadly 1986 accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, then a Soviet republic. The Soviet authorities did not announce that disaster had taken place for two days.


A fire aboard a nuclear submarine in the northern Russian port of Murmansk in December severely damaged the vessel, but authorities said radiation levels remained normal.


Russia has suffered several accidents which observers say were the result of negligence and corruption, problems that have hindered modernisation of the civilian and military

infrastructure.


The Moscow institute is named after its founder, Abram Alikhanov, one of the designers of the Soviet atomic bomb, and houses the Soviet Union's first heavy water reactor, designed in the late 1940s as part of dictator Josef Stalin's programme to develop nuclear arms, according to its website.

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