Russians protest over plans to build road near Soviet-era radioactive waste site

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian environmental activists and residents are sounding the alarm over government plans to build a motorway near a Soviet-era radioactive waste site in southeast Moscow that they fear could spew dangerous particles into the air.

The 34-km (21-mile) road, which city authorities say is safe and will help ease traffic, is set to pass the Moscow Polymetal Plant and a fenced-off site where it disposed of radioactive substances decades ago.

On a frigid afternoon in the capital’s southeast last week, activists were out testing the subsoil near the planned road and took radiation readings they said were many times higher than they should be.

Vasily Desyatkov, a senior city construction official, said surface and underground tests carried out where the foundations of the road were due to be laid had turned back normal readings that show there is no risk.

But that has not placated activists who have led a series of protests in recent months.

“It could lead to the release of radionuclides contained in the soil which will be dispersed with the dust. They will be spread everywhere - on people’s feet, car wheels, anything,” said Igor, a protester at a small demonstration last month.

“People will breathe them in and we all know full well what that leads to,” he said.

Some Russians remain suspicious of the government’s handling of potential risks posed by radiation following the meltdown at the Soviet Union’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986.

Resident Maria Kryuchkova said she felt that clear safety risks were being hushed up and broadly ignored by state television.

“The thing is, the presence of this nuclear waste dump and its danger are not being acknowledged by the people in charge of construction,” she said. “But it’s obviously not safe for the people living here.”

Reporting by Peter Scott; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Nick Macfie