Fears over nuclear plant blast.

An explosion in a scrap metal smelter on the site of a Russian nuclear power plant killed a worker and severely injured two others, but state nuclear agency Rosenergoatom said last night that radiation levels were normal.

The blast occurred yesterday at the Leningrad nuclear power plant in the closed town of Sosnovy Bor, outside St Petersburg. The blast threw a spotlight on what environmentalists called uncontrolled operations by such companies on sensitive sites.

"The enterprise ... functions illegally because there was no mandatory environmental impact assessment on its construction," said Dmitry Artamonov, head of the St Petersburg branch of Greenpeace.

Rosenergoatom said the smelter was in the grounds of the plant's second unit. Plant spokesman Sergei Averyanov said it was about 1km from the reactor. Oleg Bodrov, a physicist who heads the Green World ecological group in Sosnovy Bor, said the reactor was only 700m from the smelter, which also lies 50m from a liquid radioactive waste pond.

Three people were injured in the blast, Rosenergoatom said. The Emergency Situations Ministry said two of the injured had burns over 90 per cent of their bodies. A 33-year-old worker died of his injuries, said Yuri Lameko, chief doctor of the Sosnovy Bor hospital.

A plant spokesman said the blast had caused molten metal to burst out of a smelter. Usually operator Ekomet-S reprocesses scrap with low levels of radioactivity, but yesterday the metal was clear of radiation, he said.

He blamed the blast on violations of technical and production rules. Sosnovy Bor prosecutor Stanislav Rumyantsev said he had opened a criminal investigation into charges of violations of safety regulations.

In March 1992, an accident at the Sosnovy Bor nuclear plant caused radioactive gases and iodine to be leaked into the air.

One of the reactors at the 30-year-old plant is of the same type as the one at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant that exploded in Soviet Ukraine in 1986, in the world's worst nuclear accident.

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