Russian nuclear blast injures 3

A furnace at a Russian plant for processing radioactive metal exploded this morning near St. Petersburg, injuring three workers, the company that runs the facility said. A furnace used to melt stainless steel that has been exposed to radiation exploded at 3:20 a.m. local time, Ecomet-S, the company that runs the plant, reported on its Web site. Russia's Nuclear Energy Agency said radiation levels at the facility and at the neighboring Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant are normal.

``Don't worry about radiation levels, it's nothing compared with the burns those three people received,'' agency spokesman Nikolai Snegerov said today by telephone in Moscow. One of the three injured workers is in critical condition at a local hospital, Ecomet-S said in the statement.

The power plant and the processing facility are located in Sosnovy Bor, a suburb of Russia's second-largest city. Estonia and Finland are about 70 kilometers (44 miles) and 100 kilometers away, respectively. ``Our radiation monitors don't show anything abnormal'' Jarmo Lehtinen, spokesman for the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, said today. ``The Russian authorities haven't contacted us.''

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant, located about 80 miles north of Kiev in the Ukraine, had the world's worst nuclear accident on April 26, 1986. A chemical explosion immediately killed 30 people and released radiation into the atmosphere, which later spread across the region, exposing 8.4 million people.The government of the then Soviet Union released no reports on the disaster until after Swedish authorities detected enhanced radiation levels in Europe and announced a nuclear accident had occurred somewhere in the Soviet Union, on the third day after the disaster, according to a United Nations report.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog, said it's monitoring the event and will request information from Russia, reports Bloomberg. I.L.

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