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'Catastrophic' radiation levels found in Chechnya

Endowment Comment: Catastrophic Radiation Levels Found in Chemical Plant

By Andrew Osborn in Moscow

"Catastrophic" levels of radioactivity have been detected at a chemicals factory in Chechnya, prompting Russian investigators to open a criminal case.

Though nobody is reported to have died from exposure so far, scientists are warning that human lives may be in danger. Levels of radiation at the plant, in Grozny, the Chechen capital, are reported to be half of those recorded at the stricken Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986 and 58,000 times the legal norm.

Prosecutors say the authorities have done nothing to remedy the "catastrophic" situation. "It's a threat to the population because the leadership of the plant is taking no steps whatsoever to remove the radioactive material or isolate access to the plant," said a Chechen lawyer, Valery Kuznetsov.

The revelations have stoked fears that radioactive material is being carelessly handled in a republic that has been torn by a brutal armed struggle for independence since 1994. The prospect of Chechen militants getting hold of a "dirty bomb" is a nightmare scenario for Moscow.

Russian media reported that the factory, which belongs to the Chechen Oil and Chemical Industry Complex, contains up to 29 uncontrolled radioactive elements, including the isotope cobalt-60.

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