Radioactive cloud detected in France

Nuclear watchdogs identify source of Iodine-131 gas which has caused alarm across Europe despite assurances that there is no risk to public health

17 November 2011

A CLOUD of radioactive gas has been detected over France and large parts of Europe causing alarm in several countries.

Low levels of the gas - iodine-131 - was first officially revealed to have been detected in the Czech Republic last week and also in Sweden, Slovakia, Hungary, Germany and Austria. It is thought to have been spreading for about two weeks.

It has now been traced to a health and pharmaceutical laboratory in Budapest, Hungary but although the French nuclear watchdog IRSN and the International Atomic Energy Agency say there is no public health risk there have been widespread media reports on the alert.

The IAEA said Iodine-131 is a short-lived radioactive isotope that has a half-life of about eight days and France's Institut de Radioprotection et de Sûreté Nucléaire said the levels of radioactivity were too low to cause any risk to the public.

However, low levels Iodine-131 have been linked to increased thyroid problems.

The IAEA said to The Connexion: "The levels of iodine-131 currently being detected are extremely low. If a person of any age were to breathe in iodine at the current levels for a whole year, then they would receive a dose of less than 0.1 microsieverts for the year. To put this into perspective, the average annual background radiation is 2400 microsieverts for the year."

In a press release the IAEA said Hungarian Atomic Energy Authority said the source was most probably a release to the atmosphere from the Institute of Isotopes in Budapest, which produces radioisotopes for healthcare, research and industrial applications.

The HAEA said the release occurred from September 8 to November 16, 2011. The cause is still under investigation.

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