Russian radiation leak: everything you need to know

Photo of Russian radiation leak: everything you need to know

‘Extremely high’ levels of a radioactive isotope were discovered in parts of Russia in September. But where did it come from? And is it dangerous?

Russia’s meteorological service has confirmed that “extremely high” concentrations of a radioactive isotope, ruthenium-106, were found in several parts of the country in late September. Ru-106 is a decay product from nuclear reactions: the initial fuel is typically uranium or plutonium, and this splits into smaller nucleii, which decay through a series of different radioactive elements. Most of the isotopes in the sequence have very short half-lives, meaning they exist for only a few seconds or minutes, but Ru-106 has a half-life of just over a year. That means if it leaks, it sticks around long enough to be detected.

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