3-3: On Meteors and Radiation

As the whole world is now aware, on February 15 at 9:20 AM (local time), a 15-meter wide meteor exploded over Siberia, releasing several kilotons of energy. The explosion occurred over Chelyabinsk, a region of Russia with almost 1.1 million inhabitants that is considered a center for nuclear facilities and the Russian military industry. Additionally, for years, Russia has used Chelyabinsk to bury thousands of tons of radioactive waste, and one of its nuclear facilities, Mayak, has a number of nuclear reactors and stores radioactive waste. So after the meteor exploded and caused many more massive explosions that collapsed infrastructure, the biggest fear in everyone’s minds was radiation. As Vladimir Chuprov, the head of the energy program at Greenpeace, explained, the situation is very grave: “there is storage for several dozen tons of Plutonium; in the case the storage becomes insecure, it would mean that Russia would lose the entire Ural region.”


In many ways, we’ve framed the debate over nuclear security in terms of diplomacy—we don’t want nuclear technologies to get into the wrong hands. But after this week’s events, does it not seem that we are placed at equal risk from accidental release of nuclear materials? — Madhu