November 17, 2011 / 1:48 PM / 8 years ago

Hungary isotope lab likely radioactive source - IAEA

VIENNA (Reuters) - Hungary has said the source of low levels of radioactive iodine detected in Europe over the past few weeks was probably an isotope maker in Budapest, the U.N. nuclear agency said on Thursday.

Hungary’s nuclear authority told the International Atomic Energy Agency that iodine-131 had been released from the Institute of Isotopes Ltd from Sept. 8 to Nov. 16.

“The cause of the release is under investigation,” the Vienna-based IAEA said in a statement.

“The levels of Iodine-131 that have been detected in Europe are extremely low. There is no health concern to the population.” Iodine-131, linked to cancer if found in high doses, can contaminate products such as milk and vegetables.

The Hungarian institute, which produces radioisotopes for healthcare, research and industry, said earlier on Thursday that it had suspended production.

However, Mihaly Lakatos, director of the institute, said that despite the higher than usual emission of the isotope, Hungary could not have been the source of the leakage registered in several European countries over recent weeks.

“The amounts of iodine-131 measured in neighbouring countries cannot have much to do with this, because the distances involved rule out that the amount we emit could be registered over there,” he told Reuters.

The reason for the discrepancy between his and the IAEA’s statements was not immediately clear. Budapest’s envoy to the U.N. agency said he could not rule out that the lab was the source.

The IAEA, the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog, announced on Friday that the traces had been detected in Europe, after it was tipped off by authorities in the Czech Republic.

Authorities in Austria, Slovakia, Germany, Sweden, France and Poland have measured very low levels of iodine-131 in their atmospheres over the past few days.

The IAEA said that if a person were to breathe in the levels for a whole year, they would receive an annual radiation dose of less than 0.1 microsieverts.

In comparison, average annual background radiation is 2,400 microsieverts a year, it said.

(Reporting by Sylvia Westall and Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Robert Woodward)

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