Iodine-131 is a radioisotope that plays a major role in the medical and pharmaceutical arena. It is a by-product of a nuclear fission, a heat-producing atomic reaction of the splitting of atoms into smaller parts. I-131 is produced in medical reactors and nuclear power plants. This radioisotope has a half-life of 8.02 days, which is the time it takes for one-half of the amount of the isotope to decay. I-131 produces a beta particle and is used in high doses to kill cancerous thyroid cells. However, low doses of I- 131 can lead to increased chances of thyroid cancer and therein lies the potential problem.
Low-Level I-131 Detection
Hungry, Poland, Slovakia, Sweden, Austria and the Czech Republic have confirmed a detected abnormal level of I- 131 in the air over the last few weeks. Although, the IAEA does not believe the amount presented adds any public health risk, it does warrant further investigation. So the question then becomes, where did it come from? And will it continue?
At these barely detectable levels, it is hard to identify a source, but both the IAEA and the Czech State Office for Nuclear Safety agree that the radiation did not have its origins from Fukushima or a nuclear reactor. With this short-lived radioisotope, the Fukushima accident, which occurred months ago, should not be a consideration. But a recent report on the forty year old Karachi Nuclear Power Plant suggests an incident occurred in late October, while the plant, located in Karachi, Pakistan, reports no damage or radiation leakage. The mystery continues. Some reports suggest medical laboratories, while others blame pharmaceutical companies. Even the transportation of medical isotopes, and possibly nuclear submarines, have been added to the list, but the low levels of radiation make it hard to determine where the point of origin is, and how long it will continue.
Political Questions Surrounding Nuclear Radiation
The I-131 release raises yet another related question for the future of nuclear power. The Czechs are relying heavily on nuclear power, and plan to double their generation capabilities in the near term future. Conversely, Germany and Switzerland are phasing out nuclear energy, while Austria already has eliminated it. Therefore, significant opposition to the Czech plan to expand exists. It is no wonder that the Czech Republic strongly disagrees that the I- 131 release came from a nuclear plant, but the question needs answered, and soon.
Radiation in Europe: Investigations Continue
The IAEA states that similar measurements have occurred in other locations throughout Europe. They conclude that the released I-131 does not pose a health risk, and did not come from Fukushima, but they will research to find the answer. Coupled with the future of nuclear power in Europe, the answer may be important to determine.
IAEA. Low Levels of Iodine Detected in Europe, (11 November, 2011). Accessed November 14, 2011.
Sylvia Westall and Fredrik Dahl. Low levels of radioactive particles in Europe. IAEA, Reuters. (11 November, 2011). Accessed November 14, 2011.
KIMT. Pakistan on alert after leak in nuke power plant. Accessed November 14, 2011.
Breitbart. Abnormal radioactivity also in Hungary, no risk. 12 November, 2011. Accessed November 14, 2011.
Daily Mail. Riddle of the radiation sweeping across Europe: UN nuclear agency mystified by soaring levels. (November, 2011). Accessed November 14, 2011.
Decoding Science. One article at a time.