Fukushima fallout reaches Europe, but traces tiny
Wednesday, March 23, 2011; 6:32 PM
VIENNA -- Minuscule particles of fallout from a damaged power plant in Japan have reached Iceland and are expected in France and elsewhere in Europe, experts said Wednesday, but stressed they don't pose a health risk.
Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex was hit March 11 by a huge earthquake and massive tsunami, causing it to release radiation, and sparking fears of widespread contamination.
A plume carrying trace amounts of radioactive iodine has been detected in Iceland, the country's Radiation Safety Authority said. However, it added, the concentration was "less than a millionth" of what was found in European countries in the wake of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster that spewed radiation over a large distance.
Recollections of the accident's aftermath continue to haunt many Europeans, putting them on edge as they watch the Japanese nuclear crisis unfold.
"We thus conclude that there is no reason to worry about radioactivity levels in Iceland, nor anywhere in Europe, resulting from the nuclear accident in Japan," said Sigurdur Emil Palsson, head of emergency preparedness.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said Wednesday that the overall situation at the Fukushima plant remains of serious concern. The deposition of radioactive iodine and cesium varies across 10 prefectures on a day to day basis but "the trend is generally upward," said Graham Andrew, senior adviser to IAEA chief Yukiya Amano.
In contrast, environmental radiation monitoring in the Fukushima prefecture outside the 20 kilometer evacuation zone shows mostly decreasingly values, he added.
French authorities said very weakly contaminated air is expected to reach France on Wednesday while Germany's Federal Office for Radiation Protection said if and when radiation arrived it would be in marginal amounts that would pose neither a risk to humans or the environment.
"The measurements will also be much lower than those after the Chernobyl disaster," it said in a statement.
Karl Kienzl of Austria's environment agency told local television that the readings will be so small that "if we didn't know that this accident had happened in Japan we would disregard them."
Gerhard Wotawa, an expert at Austria's Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics, said the amounts of radiation detected thus far were a fraction of what people are normally exposed to, adding that doctors, pilots and others are often confronted with much higher concentrations.
For those close to the crippled Japanese plant, the situation is very different - and could keep getting worse.
According to the Austrian institute, local weather conditions at the end of the week could bring more radioactivity inland instead of out into the Pacific.
Cassandra Vinograd in London and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.