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Kazakhstan wants Russia to pay $60 million in damages for Proton crash

Kazakhstan is seeking 1.5 billion rubles ($60 million) from Russia in compensation for a rocket crash on its territory, a Kazakh regional governor said Monday.

ASTANA, October 8 (RIA Novosti) - Kazakhstan is seeking 1.5 billion rubles ($60 million) from Russia in compensation for a rocket crash on its territory, a Kazakh regional governor said Monday.

On September 6, a Proton-M rocket was launched from the Baikonur space center, which Russia leases in Kazakhstan. However, engine malfunction and second-stage separation failure led to its crash 40 kilometers (25 miles) southeast of the town of Zhezkazgan in the Karaganda Region with almost 219 metric tons of toxic fuel on board.

"By our estimates, the damage is worth 7.327 billion tenges, or 1.5 billion rubles," Karaganda Region Governor Nurlan Nigmatulin said. "Of this sum, 3 billion tenges is intended for health monitoring among the local population over a period of three years."

He said there are serious concerns that people exposed could develop health problems. The Proton is a heavy rocket which uses highly toxic heptyl as fuel.

The governor said part of the funds would be used to decommission affected land plots.

"The endangered zone covers 32,000 hectares of agricultural land," Nigmatulin said, adding that 19 farms would not be able to continue their activities due to a pasture ban.

The Kazakh side also insists that residents of the risk zone receive compensation. "This will require 2.13 billion tenges. Such a practice exists in the Russian Federation, and we are ready to submit our calculations," Nigmatulin said.

Russia meanwhile announced the completion of decontamination work on the crash site. "All the main work has been completed with positive results," Anatoly Perminov, the head of the Federal Space Agency, said at a meeting of an intergovernmental commission.

Search teams have surveyed a total of 1,743 square kilometers (1,083 sq miles) of territory around the crash site and have found 119 rocket fragments. Russian experts cleared the area where the rocket's booster came down four times, after post-decontamination laboratory tests revealed that toxic fuel concentration in more than a half of 20 soil samples taken from the site exceeded permitted levels.

The Kazakh emergency situations ministry said last week that the ban on Proton launches from Baikonur, suspended after the crash, should be lifted when Russia takes further environmental protection measures and makes payments for the "excessive damage to the environment."

Perminov said the commission would work throughout the night to draft a mutually acceptable decision by morning.

The incident was the sixth Russian rocket crash after takeoff from Baikonur. Preliminary estimates say the crash was caused by a thrust steering mechanism failure.

Last year, a Russian Dnepr rocket crashed on lift off from Baikonur, after which a special commission was formed to assess the resulting environmental damage. On the basis of its findings, Russia paid Kazakhstan $1.1 million in compensation.

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