Metal spurt in smelter at Russian nuclear plant

Molten metal splashing from a smelter at a Russian nuclear plant killed one worker and severely burned two others, but no nuclear reactors were affected, the federal nuclear agency and a scientist said Friday.

Russia's federal nuclear agency, &to=' target=_blank>Rosenergoatom, said radiation levels remained normal because the reactor inside the &to=' target=_blank>Leningrad nuclear plant near St. Petersburg was being repaired. A plant spokesman blamed violations of technical and production regulations for what it called "a splash."

The mishap 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 after the Chernobyl disaster _ is still not sufficient," said Vladimir Slivyak of the Russian environment group, Ecodefense, referring to the world's worst civilian nuclear accident, at Chernobyl in 1986. "They used to think that there is no need for extra safety measures and they still think that now."

The mishap happened on the same day that Russian prosecutors opened a criminal investigation into the improper storage of radioactive materials by a state-owned company in the Chechen capital, Grozny.

Tests found that radiation levels at the Grozny Chemical Factory, located in Grozny's southwestern outskirts not far from some residential buildings and a bus station, had exceeded normal levels by tens of thousands of times, prosecutors said, calling it a "catastrophic radioactivity situation."

Rosenergoatom initially called Thursday's incident at the smelter at a plant in the closed nuclear town of Sosnovy Bor, 50 miles west of St. Petersburg, an explosion.

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