Russia Blames Nuclear-Accident Doctor’s Irradiation on Mushrooms

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(Bloomberg) -- Russian authorities said traces of a radioactive isotope were detected in the body of a doctor who treated victims of a deadly blast at a remote military facility. They insisted, however, that his irradiation had nothing to do with the explosion.

Instead, mushrooms, fish, lichens or seaweed were the likely sources of the Cesium-137 found in the man’s muscle tissue, according to officials in the Arkhangelsk region. The Federal Medical and Biological Agency had concluded with “a fair degree of probability” that he absorbed the material linked to nuclear fission in his food, according to a statement on the regional government’s website.

The statement adds to controversy over the Aug. 8 incident involving the weapons test on an offshore platform in the White Sea. Radiation levels in the nearby port city of Severodvinsk spiked as high as 16 times normal immediately after the blast, which the state meteorological service said was due to a radioactive cloud, although it didn’t identify any source. City officials who first reported the spike deleted the statement from their website shortly after.

Russia Blames Nuclear-Accident Doctor’s Irradiation on Mushrooms

While the Russian Defense Ministry initially reported two dead, the state nuclear agency Rosatom later said that five of its researchers were killed in the test that involved “isotope power sources.” Amid a lack of information, pharmacies in nearby cities and towns reported a run on sales of iodine to residents, a form of which helps prevent against radiation being absorbed into the thyroid gland.

President Vladimir Putin responded to international concern by saying there was “no threat,” and that the accident had occurred during “work on promising weapons systems.” U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted that the weapon being tested was the SSC-X-9 Skyfall, known in Russia as the Burevestnik, a nuclear-powered cruise missile that Putin unveiled last year.

Doctors at an Arkhangelsk hospital told the Moscow Times that they weren’t initially informed that they were treating irradiated patients and were made to sign non-disclosure agreements. Latvia-based news outlet Meduza also reported that first responders were unaware they were dealing with radiation.

Russian radiation-monitoring stations stopped sending data to international agencies in the days that followed the explosion, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization reported. Russia isn’t obliged to share the data and the incident had nothing to do with the treaty, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said, adding that there was no risk to people living in the region.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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