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Japan radiation fears spark panic in Russia's Far East

16 march 2011, 19:24
0
Residents of Russia's Far East are stocking up on iodine and nervously checking radiation levels despite official reassurances there is no danger from Japan's quake-damaged nuclear plant just 1,000 kilometers to the east, AFP reports.

Russia's emergencies ministry says radiation levels remain normal and there is no risk for human health, but many are not convinced.

In the regional capital Vladivostok that is no more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) west of the Fukushima nuclear plant, pharmacies were sold-out of iodine. Dosimeters -- instruments that measure the amount of radiation -- flew off the shelves and people queued up to purchase tickets to Moscow.

"All the medications were sold out yesterday and it is unclear how soon the new supplies will arrive," said a salesclerk at a local pharmacy, referring to iodine, a standard anti-radiation treatment.

Pensioner Tatyana Zaitseva said she looked for iodine at several pharmacies in the city but could not find it anywhere.

"I believe that our authorities are telling the truth about what has happened in Japan," she said. "But you never know what may happen: today the situation is this but tomorrow the wind will change and we will get all the radiation."

Another city resident said he could not buy medicine a doctor prescribed to his wife. "Those who really need this have been left without it because of a handful of alarmists," said Mikhail Obukhov, a 20-year old student.

The local authorities were at pains to tell residents there was no need to panic after experts insisted that the prevailing winds at this time of year would blow any radiation away from the Russian Far East.

"There is no risk of radiation in the Far East. For that reason, residents should not fall for the general rush to buy and take iodine products," the RIA Novosti news agency quoted a spokesman for the Far East region emergency ministry as saying.

But Roman Vilfand, head of Russia's Gidromettsentr state weather service, said the situation could change depending on air circulation.

"If the wind suddenly changes, then Primorye, Kamchatka, Sakhalin Island and the Kuril Islands would end up being the most vulnerable in our country," he said in comments published in the pro-government Izvestia daily.

As of 1000 GMT, radiation levels in Primorye averaged at 13 microroentgen per hour compared with a maximum accepted norm of 30 per hour, the emergencies ministry said.

Radiation levels on Sakhalin, a large Pacific island close to Japan, averaged at 11 microroentgen per hour, the ministry said.

"An unhealthy atmosphere has grown among residents of the region," the head of the Sakhalin regional emergency ministry, Taimuraz Kasayev, told journalists on Wednesday, RIA Novosti reported.

"These rumors are trivial and ridiculous," Kasayev said, adding that even if the weather conditions were the worst possible, the emissions of radioactive particles would not create a "serious risk" for residents.

"I can say with full confidence that there is no need for evacuation of our residents now," Kasayev was quoted as saying.

Coastguards at sea are monitoring radiation level and updating the ministry on the situation every two hours.

The Far Eastern military district has also said it was closely watching the situation and was ready to evacuate the Kuril archipelago -- the southernmost part of which is still claimed by Japan -- and Sakhalin to the north.

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