Authorities activated a radiation monitoring system in Moscow on Friday after a radioactive canister allegedly planted by Chechen rebels was found buried in a city park.
At the same time, Russian leaders scrambled to reassure the public there was nothing to fear and the ITAR-Tass news agency said the monitoring system had not detected any more hot spots.
“The container found in Moscow is not dangerous in any way,” Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov told the news agency.
Independent NTV television unearthed the container of cesium 137 in a Moscow park on Thursday, and said Chechen rebel commander Shamil Basayev had revealed the location to NTV earlier this month.
The Federal Security Service, a successor to the KGB, recovered the material Thursday night and is investigating. The container “doesn’t pose a danger to the environment or to people,” spokesman Alexander Mikhailov said.
He thanked NTV for turning it over, but chastised reporters for uncovering it on their own. He said it could have been booby-trapped.
NTV has been highly critical of the Kremlin’s 11-month war against separatist Chechnya, which has killed thousands of people.
The kind of radioactive isotope found in the container is used in cancer research and radiation therapy. It was not clear if or how the Chechens intended to use it.
“This radiation level is not dangerous for passersby, but if you keep it in your pocket for two weeks, you will get cancer,” said Vladimir Asmolov, head of the Nuclear Safety Institute at the Kurchatov nuclear center.