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Wednesday 19th June 2019

Radioactive iodine spreads from Japan

29th March 2011

Radioactive elements from Japan's nuclear crisis are making their way eastward and westward across the US and Europe, according to readings taken across thousands of kilometres (miles).


But experts in all countries say that the current levels of radiation do not pose a health risk to humans.

Airborne iodine-131 was found in the atmosphere above South Carolina, North Carolina, and Florida.

Traces of radioiodine have also been detected above Glasgow and Gloucester in the UK, above eastern Russia, and above Iceland.

California, Colorado, Hawaii and Washington also reported detecting small amounts of radioactive material that seemed to have come from Japan.

Drew Elliot, a spokesman for Progress Energy in the US, the company that owns the nuclear plants in Hartsville, South Carolina and Crystal River, Florida, where some of the readings were taken, said that other nuclear stations throughout the US East Coast had all begun noticing low levels of iodine-131 within the last week.

He said that the plants in his region did not produce iodine-131, suggesting that the material came from overseas.

Duke Energy, another company operating in the same region, reported low atmospheric levels of iodine-131 above its plants in North and South Carolina.

Rain samples from Massachusetts also showed small amounts of radioactive iodine, though air samples from the same region did not.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently collecting samples at more than 100 sites around the country.

Additionally, the Desert Research Institute (DRI) is taking readings at 29 different sites in Utah, California, and Nevada.

John Auerbach, the public health commissioner of Massachusetts, said that state authorities would carefully monitor the drinking water for signs of elevated iodine-131 levels.

In Nevada, experts at the Las Vegas Atomic Testing Museum also recently noticed extremely small amounts of the radioactive isotopes iodine-131 and xenon-133.

Ted Hartwell, manager of the Desert Research Institute's Community Environmental Monitoring Programme, said he was certain that the isotopes had come from Japan, because they were not usually found in Nevada.

Eric Matus, radiation physicist for the Nevada State Health Division, said that any material released by the disaster in Japan would have to travel 10,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean, during which time it would become diluted to the point of posing no health risk.

Scientists at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas also detected tiny amounts of the radioactive isotope caesium-137 over a period of several days.

And traces of radioiodine have been detected in eastern Russia, in the Primorye region.

Boris Bulai, the head of the region's meteorological service, said that the concentration of radioiodine above eastern Russia was more than 100 times lower than the maximum acceptable level.

Vladivostok, the capital of Primorye, lies across the Sea of Japan, 800 kilometres (497 miles) northwest of the disaster zone.

Experts in Japan also recently found highly radioactive water outside one of the reactor buildings at the Fukushima nuclear complex, where technical teams are still struggling to contain the plant's nuclear reactions.

Experts detected low levels of plutonium in the soil around the plant, raising fears that the disaster could have grave consequences for the environment.

The drive to buy bottled water in Tokyo has depleted stock at grocery stores, forcing residents to drink tap water contaminated with what officials claim are safe levels of radioactivity.

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