by Lee Ferran
November 11, 2011
An aerial view
shows the quake-damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant
in the Japanese town
of Futaba, March 12, 2011.
The hunt is on for the source of low
level radiation detected in the atmosphere "across Europe" over the
past weeks, nuclear officials said today.
Trace amounts of
iodine-131, a type of radiation
created during the operation of nuclear reactors or in the
detonation of a nuclear weapon, were detected as early as three
weeks ago by
Austrian authorities and then two
weeks ago by the Czech Republic's
State Office for Nuclear Safety.
Today the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA) released a statement revealing similar detections
had been made,
"in other locations across Europe."
The IAEA said the current levels of
iodine-131 are far too low to warrant a public health risk, but the
agency still does not know the origin of the apparent leak and an
official with the agency would not say where else it has been
Considering iodine-131 has a radioactive
decay half-life of about eight days, continued detection means the
leak occurred over a period of several days at least and is possibly
The IAEA said it does not believe the radiation was left over from
nuclear disaster at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi
plant in March and the Czech Republic's State Office for
Nuclear Safety said it was unlikely to have been caused by an
incident at any nuclear plant's core.
A meltdown there, the Czech agency said,
would have released several other radioactive isotopes in addition
The IAEA has been unable to determine from which country the
radiation is emanating, and both Czech and Austrian officials said
it was unlikely their countries were the source. Austrian officials
said in a statement that a study of
the dispersal cloud indicated the radiation is most likely coming
from somewhere in southeastern Europe.
In addition to nuclear plants, iodine-131 is used in many hospitals
and by radiopharmaceutical manufacturers as it can be used to
help treat thyroid problems in
"Anywhere spent nuclear fuel is
handled, there is a chance that... iodine-131 will escape into
the environment," the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says
on its website.