MOSCOW - A reported accident at a nuclear power plant in central Russia spread panic Friday, as residents rushed to buy radiation antidotes despite official assurances that the malfunction was a minor glitch.
Fears spread in the regions surrounding the Balakovskaya nuclear power plant, some 800 kilometers (500 miles) southeast of Moscow, after reports that a leak forced one of its blocks to shut down on Thursday.
One reactor at a Russian nuclear power station was closed down after a malfunction. Russian news agencies reported on November 5, 2004. 'What happened at (Balakovskaya) power station was not an accident. It was just a malfunction,' RIA Novosti news agency quoted a spokesman for the Russian atomic agency as saying. It said the malfunction happened on November 4, 2004. (Reuters Graphic)
"As a result of turbine malfunction, block number two of Balakovskaya nuclear power station underwent an emergency shutdown at 1:24 p.m.on November 4," said a press release from Russia's federal nuclear agency.
"There was no increase of radioactivity," it said. "The event does not endanger security and under international standards of nuclear events is classified as zero."
On Friday, officials said that the shut-down block had been restarted, ITAR-TASS reported.
"There is no cause for concern," said Viktor Bychkov, a deputy head of the emergencies ministry in the Saratov region, where the nuclear power plant is located.
"The situation is under control, security measures at Balakovskaya plant are high and in line with international norms," he said.
But, with haunting memories of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, residents in the surrounding regions rushed to pharmacies to buy up iodine, which doctors recommend in cases of exposure to radioactivity, witnesses and news agencies said.
Teachers in Saransk, some 300 kilometers (180 miles) northwest from the station, advised parents to administer iodine to their children, according to a regional internet site. Several pharmacies had run out of the substance, RIA Novosti reported.
Meanwhile universities in Samara, 300 kilometers northeast from the plant, were closed and businesses advised employees to stay home and close the windows.
A representative of Greenpeace Russia said reactions by the school threw doubt onto official assurances about the accident.
"It's not the first time that the reactor has stopped," said Vera Pissaryova. "Why this panic? It makes you think that there was a leak."
The accident revived the memories of April 1986, when a reactor at the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine exploded and spewed radioactive material into the air for 10 days, contaminating large swaths of Europe.
The Soviet government did not acknowledge the disaster for days.
According to UN figures, between 15,000 and 30,000 have died since the disaster and nearly six million people continue to live in contaminated zones.
© 2004 Agence France-Presse