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Wednesday 19th June 2019

Radioactive iodine detected in Europe

15th November 2011

Nuclear energy agencies in Europe have begun to detect elevated levels of iodine-131 from an undetermined source.


While the Fukushima nuclear disasters of earlier this year produced the radioactive element in abundance, the recent emission source may well not be the same.

The Czech Republic's nuclear security watchdog tipped off the UN nuclear energy agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Sweden followed suit in noting higher-than-usual levels of the element in the atmosphere.

To date, officials in Spain, Russia, Ukraine, Finland, France, Britain, Switzerland, Poland and Norway have not detected elevated levels of radioiodine.

The element has been linked to cancer, and can contaminate fruit and vegetables, but governments are insistent that the recently noted levels of iodine-131 do not pose a human health risk.

Paddy Regan, a professor of nuclear physics at the University of Surrey, said the suggestion that the radioiodine may have inadvertently leaked from a manufacturing process sounded very sensible and totally reasonable.

He said that it would be very unlikely for the recent spike in atmospheric radioiodine to have come from Fukushima, since the accident was so many months ago and iodine-131 had a brief half-life.

Massimo Sepielli, head of the nuclear fission unit of Italy's national alternative energy body, said that the material could have come from a hospital.

Malcolm Sperrin, director of medical physics at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, said that the iodine may be the result of excretion by patients undergoing medical treatment.

He said that, while such patients were carefully controlled, some release of iodine into the environment would probably occur.

In an official statement, the IAEA said that it had learned about similar measurements in other locations across Europe, and that the organisation was working with its partners in order to determine the source of the emission.

The Czech watchdog, which originally noticed the emission, said it had first detected radioiodine late last month.

Dana Drabova, Czech State Office for Nuclear Safety chief, said that her organization had decided with probability bordering on certainty that the source was outside the Czech Republic, and that they had asked the IAEA if they know what the source could be.

Austria's Environment Ministry said that the estimated dose for citizens there was a fraction of a percent of that received during a transatlantic flight.

Earlier this year, the world's worst nuclear accident since 1986 occurred following an earthquake and tsunami, ejecting radioactive material from the Fukushima nuclear plant that was later detected around the world.


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