AN abandoned Russian chemical plant could cause cause a disaster on the scale of the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe, an official has warned.
The Usolyekhimprom plant produced chlorine and other chemicals in the remote Irkutsk Oblast region of Siberia.
It was deserted due to bankruptcy in 2017 – but has been found to still contain vast tanks of deadly toxic waste.
Svetlana Radionova, the head of state environment watchdog Rosprirodnadzor, made the shocking discovery after a visit to the factory.
In a chilling warning, Radionova told pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia on Wednesday: “This is essentially the territory of an environmental catastrophe.
“We need to act now otherwise we will have an ‘ecological Chernobyl’.”
Nuclear catastrophe: What was the Chernobyl disaster?
THE horrifying nuclear catastrophe in Chernobyl claimed 31 lives and left thousands of people and animals exposed to potentially fatal radiation.
When an alarm bellowed out at the nuclear plant on April 26, 1986, workers looked on in horror as the control panels signalled a major meltdown in the number four reactor.
The safety switches had been switched off in the early hours to test the turbine but the reactor overheated and generated a blast – the equivalent of 500 nuclear bombs.
The reactor’s roof was blown off and a plume of radioactive material was blasted into the atmosphere.
As air was sucked into the shattered reactor, it ignited flammable carbon monoxide gas causing a fire which burned for nine days.
The catastrophe released at least 100 times more radiation than the atom bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
Soviet authorities waited 24 hours before evacuating the nearby town of Pripyat – giving the 50,000 residents just three hours to leave their homes.
After the accident traces of radioactive deposits were found in Belarus where poisonous rain damaged plants and caused animal mutations.
But the devastating impact was also felt in Scandinavia, Switzerland, Greece, Italy, France and the UK.
An 18-mile radius known as the “Exclusion Zone” was set up around the reactor following the disaster.
In 2005, the World Health Organisation revealed a total of 4,000 people could eventually die of radiation exposure linked to the blast.
About 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer have been seen since the disaster – mainly in people who were children or teenagers at the time.
The meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in April 1986 was the world’s worst nuclear accident.
It forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate as it spewed clouds of nuclear material across Europe.
The Usolyekhimprom plant is in the town of Usolye-Sibirskoye just north of Irkutsk – the regional capital with a population of more than 600,000 people.
Its wells of toxic oil and chemicals could burst and flow into the Angara – a major 1,105-mile-long Siberian river .
This is a huge, chemically dangerous enterprise which is in a half-destroyed state
Radionova added: “No one knows what’s there (at the Siberian site).”
She said she had seen a huge amount of mercury residue there that needed to be “de-mercurised”.
And pressurised containing dangerous unknown chemicals were also found.
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Radionova said: “This is a huge, chemically dangerous enterprise which is in a half-destroyed state.
“Its negligent owners exhausted its final resources and chucked it.”
The factory’s owners have not responded to the allegations.
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