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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Must End Nuclear Secrecy Now

As the world learned at the time of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, secrecy and radiation combine to produce a particularly harmful atomic cocktail. The Tomsk incident this week demonstrated that this country has not learned all the lessons it might have from the fallout from Chernobyl.


While the Russian authorities provided information this week far more readily than they did in April 1986, the radiation release at the Tomsk-7 plutonium reprocessing facility raises the question of why Russia's nuclear program still remains so deeply shrouded in secrecy - and why the Tomsk installation exists at all.


Nestled deep in the Siberian heartland, Tomsk-7 is so secret that it does not appear on ordinary maps. It is one of three facilities still producing plutonium in Russia; the others are located near Chelyabinsk, in the Urals, and Krasnoyarsk in Siberia.


The Tomsk and Chelyabinsk plants were built during the Cold War to produce plutonium for Soviet nuclear weaponry. At that time, secrecy was the rule both here and abroad. Now, however, with the United States no longer producing plutonium and with Washington and Moscow committed to trimming their nuclear arsenals, the secrecy surrounding plutonium production does not make sense.


Worse than that, it is dangerous. Plutonium is so toxic that ingestion of a tiny quantity can be fatal. It appears that some form of plutonium may have been released into the atmosphere by the Tomsk-7 explosion, but this has not been explained properly to the public or the press.


Greenpeace Russia on Wednesday received a statement from the head of Russia's Emergency Committee saying that the explosion had led to "a dispersion of uranium and plutonium salts into the atmosphere". Other experts said they had no evidence of a plutonium release, but that if this had occurred it would be very grave.


As for the amount of plutonium produced at Tomsk and the other facilities, this too is a secret. Greenpeace says that Russia has the world's largest plutonium stockpile, although it can only estimate the amount, putting the figure at 180 tons.


"It is madness for the Russian government to continue to separate plutonium in these secret plants held over from the Cold War", Dmitry Tolmatsky of Greenpeace Russia said in a press release. "We are already awash in plutonium".


Greenpeace says that Russia should stop producing plutonium immediately, and it is right. More than that, Russia should lift the veil of secrecy from its nuclear installations in the interests of both Russians and the world.