Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/11/14/mystery_radioisotopes_over_czech_republic/

Mystery radioisotopes in Czech air are not from Fukushima

Who has a secret nuclear plant?

By Brid-Aine Parnell

Posted in Science, 14th November 2011 10:32 GMT

The International Atomic Energy Agency has said that traces of radioactive isotopes have been detected in the atmosphere over the Czech Republic.

The State Office for Nuclear Safety in the country reported to the UN watchdog that very low levels of iodine-131 had been measured in the last few days.

"It was detected by our radiation monitoring network, with probability bordering on certainty the source is abroad. It is iodine-131 and we have asked the IAEA if they know what the source could be," Czech State Office for Nuclear Safety chief Dana Drabova told Reuters.

The IAEA said in a brief statement that it did not think that the amount of radioisotope in the atmosphere could harm people. The UN nuclear body also said it had learned about similar measurements in other locations across Europe.

It added that the radioactive materials were not caused by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in Japan.

In fact, the agency actually doesn't know where the stuff came from and said it was "working with its counterparts to determine the cause and origin of the iodine-131".

Iodine-131 is a short-lived radioisotope with a decay half-life of around eight days.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency:

Both iodine-129 and iodine-131 are produced by the fission of uranium atoms during operation of nuclear reactors and by plutonium (or uranium) in the detonation of nuclear weapons.

Anywhere spent nuclear fuel is handled, there is a chance that iodine-129 and iodine-131 will escape into the environment. Nuclear fuel reprocessing plants dissolve the spent fuel rods in strong acids to recover plutonium and other valuable materials. In the process, they also release iodine-129 and -131 into the airborne, liquid, and solid waste processing systems.

The isotope was a health hazard after the open-air atomic bomb testing in the '50s, for a period following the Chernobyl disaster and potentially in the first few weeks after Fukushima. ®