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Russia's Tearful Isotopes

Russian atomic regulator's foray into meme-making fails to quench rumors of nuclear leaks. From Global Voices. by Christopher Moldes 6 December 2017

After weeks of denial, Russian authorities finally admitted that September’s radiation cloud detected across Europe was centered around the Mayak Manufacturing Group in Russia, which has a history of contaminating the surrounding areas and populations with radioactive waste.


However, they stopped short of naming this facility as the origin of the cloud, which was notable for containing Ruthenium-106, an isotope that does not occur in nature. To further dispel the notion that Ruthenium-106 came from Mayak, while at the same time emphasizing its harmlessness, Rosatom (the Russian state atomic regulator) posted a meme on its Facebook page, having the isotope itself play the role of conciliator.


The post reads:


“Anyone can pick on someone small!


There’s been so much stupidity and hysterics around Ruthenium-106. We found out what it thinks about this situation. “I’m no simple metal, I’m from the platinum family. I don’t occur in nature. I’m so useful that smart people all over the world create me on purpose. They say that I appear if there’s an accident at a nuclear power plant or at a spent fuel processing facility, but this isn’t true.


I’m only produced in my pure form at the GNTs NIIAR research facility in Dmitrovgrad in the Ulyanovsk oblast. It’s quite a complicated process. It’s difficult to obtain me because I’m not a byproduct of isotope production or any other technological process. After production, they send me as a chemical solution in safe packing to Germany, the U.S. or to the GNTs RF-FEI research center in the city of Obninsk in the Kaluga Oblast.  So far no one has complained about problems with delivery or packing.


The image accompanying the post, via Rosatom's Facebook page


I’m not complaining, I just don’t understand why they’re saying such bad things about me. In Obinsk and abroad, smart people use me to make ophthalmological applicators. I give people their sight back!  People depend on me, for example, in the ‘Eye Microsurgery’ scientific complex in Moscow.

They say that I recently appeared in various places from Normandy to the Urals all at the same time…For now, I’m made to order in Obnisnk. There’s not a lot of me, maybe ten units a year. Maybe these are my twins?! I have a lot. I have relatives abroad, even some very famous ones, who’ve been flying around in space for a long time. 


I don’t even know some of them because they’re secret. Believe me, though, they are all really useful and haven’t caused anyone harm.”


The meme seemed to fall flat. A popular Facebook reply states:


“No one is chastising Ruthenium, or even Ruthenium-106. They’re chastising Rosatom for contradictory information and for jokes like this instead of a serious investigation into the accident.”


Rosatom then directed the user to their “serious” answer stating that all Russian nuclear facilities were and are working nominally.


A few days earlier, Rosatom announced a tour of the Mayak facility, inviting journalists and bloggers to apply to visit the site and learn about the existence of alleged Ruthenium leaks. By 28 November, Rosatom announced that it had accepted only 17 applicants, a mix of Russian and foreign journalists, due to space limitations at the plant.


One user pointed out that since no specialists had been invited, verification would be impossible. Rosatom replied saying their goal was to explain nuclear science to those who don’t have a background in it. Nevertheless, many began to doubt that the tour would even take place.


On 29 November, the press tour was indeed canceled, yet Rosatom refuted these claims:



However, so far the promised press tour hasn't materialized, and Rosatom's forays into meme-making did little to quench the rumors.

This article written by Christopher Moldes originally appeared on the citizen journalism site Global Voices, and is republished under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial 3.0 International license.
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