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Russian Worker Killed in Nuclear Plant Accident

December 19, 2005

St. Petersburg-- A 33-year-old worker died from injuries he received after being splashed by molten metal from a smelter at a nuclear plant near St. Petersburg.Two other workers at the site were severly burned and are in critical condition.

The Federal Atomic Energy Agency said that radiation levels remained normal because the reactor inside the Leningrad nuclear plant about 50 miles west of St. Petersburg was being repaired. A plant spokesman blamed violations of technical and production regulations for what it called "a splash."

This accident is the latest to hit Russia's nuclear-related industries, raising new questions about how the country stores, handles and disposes of nuclear materials and radioactive waste.

"The level of nuclear safety -- although it has been significantly increased since the Chernobyl disaster -- is still not sufficient," said Vladimir Slivyak of the Ecodefense environmental group.

The atomic agency initially called Thursday's incident at the smelter at a plant in the closed nuclear town of Sosnovy Bor, in the Leningrad region, an explosion.

It said the smelter -- which was operated by a scrap metal reprocessing company called Ekomet-S -- was on the grounds of the plant's second unit, which had been shut down for planned major repairs in July. The nuclear plant has four reactors in all, one of which is the same type as the one at Chernobyl.

Plant spokesman Sergei Averyanov said the smelter was less than a mile from the reactor, but Oleg Bodrov, a physicist who heads the Green World ecological group in Sosnovy Bor, said the smelter was close to a covered radioactive waste pond.

Besides scrap metal from the plant, Ekomet-S reprocesses metal from Russian nuclear submarines and disassembled oil and gas pipelines from the Russian Far North, Bodrov said. He said Ekomet-S workers told him 2 1/2 tons of molten metal were in the smelter at the time of the accident, and that several hundred pounds splashed out.

When Ekomet-S was founded two years ago, the only environmental monitoring laboratory in the town of 65,000 was shut down for lack of funding, he said, adding that the firm was operating in violation of environmental laws.

"There is no independent environmental monitoring in the nuclear city of Sosnovy Bor," Bodrov said, who said he had visited Ekomet-S on Friday afternoon and found radiation levels normal.