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Detection of radioactive iodine at trace levels in Europe in January 2017 (irsn.fr)
308 points by ge0rg on Feb 18, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 87 comments

The releases of January 2017 are 10,000 times lower than those observed (in France) following the Fukushima incident[0]

CRIIRAD[1] believes that the meteorological conditions (and air pollution actually in Europe) and (legal) authorizations of iodine-131 releases by the industry are the cause of this event which could have passed unnoticed[0]

It is an unimportant event.

[0] http://www.criirad.org/balises/CRIIRAD_170214%20_I131_Europe...

[1] http://www.criirad.org/english/presentation.html

Might not be an important event concerning public health. It is extremely important if there was an accident or anything more serious we haven't been notified about.

It's good that the equipment is so sensitive that we can detect this sort of thing. I suspect they'll take maps of the readings and eventually trace it back to the source.

The (much higher) concentration detected in Poland, IMHO definitely points east. The readings in Spain are baffling, though.

Spain might indicate that it happened in the water/sea off the coast?

Maybe unimportant from a health standpoint. I'm not worried at all for safety but I sure as hell want to know the root cause. It is extremely anomalous.

Same thing happened in 2015.

Same thing with or without known cause?

"The area concerned, which extended from Poland to Lithuania and across the whole of Scandinavia, indicated a distant source, in all likelihood somewhere in Russia"


Do you have any more info about the authorized iodine-131 releases? Was there a single underlying event?

Many installations in Europe and neighboring countries are allowed to reject iodine-131 in the air. From Nuclear power plants (nuclear power stations, nuclear fuel reprocessing plant, etc.) to medical field (isotope reactors, nuclear medicine, waste incinerators, etc.).

source : http://www.criirad.org/balises/CRIIRAD_170214%20_I131_Europe... (french)

> Many installations in Europe and neighboring countries are allowed to reject iodine-131 in the air.

Given the very short half-life of 131I being just 8 days and the daughter isotope 131Xe being stable this is a really weird policy.

There's no good reason to force nuclear installations to keep 131I in storage for, say, 80 days to dilute its activity down to 0.1%. Heck there's no good reason to release it it all.

The decay product is a noble gas, so you even get the separation chemistry for free. Iodine is a halogen so just let it react with some alkaline (pass it through some caustic solution) upon which is forms ionic bonds and turns into saline solution. As soon as the 131I decays into 131Xe it will recombine with an electron and gas out.

The term to google for is "Avogadro’s number"

A mole of some chemical is a cardinal number and its a gross simplification but a "handful of stuff" has about ten to the twenty forth molecules or atoms. All to less than one sig fig. The exact number doesn't matter because enough half lives to dilute that much stuff to being statistically unlikely to contain less than 1 molecule is very large indeed. So at some point, where the radioactive activity is lower than say, a banana, or the ore it was dug out of, or a granite countertop, you just dump it. It takes a lot of half lives to take a banana down to zero radioactivity...

Probably the accident is somebody dumped the wrong bucket. You're supposed to dump bucket #32525 which has been aging for 100 half lives but accidentally bucket #64256 got dumped which was fresh. Or they reused buckets and markings (whoops there's two buckets labeled #15415)

Are you certain you have your scaling factor correct? Your Link and also https://www.bfs.de/DE/themen/ion/umwelt/luft-boden/spurenmes... report ~50micro Becquerel/m3. Not sure how you calculated 10000 as the scaling factor.

9 mBq/m3 mesured for Fukushima (France, Valence). IRSN reports 1.5 µBq/m3 (gaseous + particulate fractions) or 0.31 µBq/m3 (particulate) for this event.

Ah ok, Thanks for the clarification

The '10,000 times' is a quote from the CRIIRAD PDF: "It detected the fallout from Fukushima which was about 10,000 times higher than those measured in January 2017 on France."

  Il a permis de détecter les retombées de Fukushima qui étaient environ 10000
  fois supérieures à celles  mesurées  en  janvier  2017  sur  la  France.

> Die Grafik wird wöchentlich aktualisiert.

Unfortunately, the BfS charts are updated weekly... Do they publish latest readings in raw format somewhere? I couldn't find anything other than the delayed raster chart.

I'm in Germany and I have a Geiger counter running 24/7. I just looked at the data for January and February and the only thing that I notice is a VERY slightly higher reading on February 4th with 0.1727 microSievert/hour. Average for January was 0.1674, lowest was 0.1631, highest was 0.1703. So February 4th was less than 6% higher than the lowest value from January.

The difference was so small that I had just attributed it to normal fluctuations when I first saw it. Whatever caused this, so far it looks like it was a very small event.

I could probably provide a CSV-file with the raw data if anyone is interested. My Geiger counter stores a value every 5 minutes.

Could it be related to the accident in France? The date fits.



Could you pleae provide the CSV file?

Tab-delimited CSV with the raw-data:


The timestamps are in UTC+2. I keep the clock in the Geiger counter on daylight savings time. Too lazy to change it. :)

Out of total curiosity what does your setup look like? Do you have a mode # of what you use? Never read anything about this before. Thanks.

Not sure about Op's setup, but an easy one to get into is uRad[1]. Along with logging it'll share it around the globe for finding any kind of event like this. Though I'm not sure that they've got any kind of statistical analysis going on.


How expensive are those sensors?

Their indiegogo put it at $90 for a kit to solder, and $120 assembled. No idea what the cost is now since you've got to email them on their website to get one it appears


I have the GammaScout Alert: https://www.gamma-scout.com/EN/Home.php

It stores the data in its internal memory which I then transfer via its USB port to my computer once a week.

Can someone describe the significance/insignificance/context of this?

The ISRN appears to be a French government agency. They are claiming to have detected non-natural levels of radioactive iodine across Europe.

The implication is that someone, somewhere had a nuclear accident and did not report it.

There was a recent incident in late Jan - explosion at nuclear power plant Flamanville in France: https://www.wsj.com/articles/explosion-at-edf-nuclear-power-...

That plant is a PWR, the water/steam in the turbine loop never contacts the fun stuff in the reactor core, there's a heat exchanger in between.

Hydrogen cooled turbogenerators are a thing, although I don't know if this plant used them, probably did. Nice and cool, high efficiency. The press release claims an alternator cooling fan overheated or whatever and that caused symptoms that sound like a hydrogen cooled turbogenerator having a nice leak and subsequent fire. Doesn't mention a steam leak. So that's like one more heat exchanger away from the fun stuff.

Explosions and fires and fire fighting can cause disruption and raise dust in theory, but the isotope detected has a very short half life so this wasn't a leak from a decade ago getting washed into the environment by a fire hose.

Its not seeming very likely.

This incident was not located in a nuclear area and it hasn't been classified as a nuclear incident. Can't be responsible for iodine emission in the atmosphere.

Yes, it stands for "institute for radioprotection and nuclear safety"

"Iodine-131 is a radionuclide with a short half-life (T1/2 = 8.04 day)."

Short half life, a nuclear event of some sort happened recently and nothing has been reported. I-131 is an isotope of Iodine and the source could be natural gas related, medical diagnostic OR a product of uranium and plutonium used in nuclear fission. [0]

Which countries have access to plutonium?

"only particulate iodine was reported."

What is the source of the particles?

"first found during week 2 of January 2017 in northern Norway."

What countries have access to plutonium that are active near Norway?

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iodine-131

Here's a map of countries known to have or are pursuing nuclear weapons, from January 2015.


Doesn't list sweden, so the map is not interested in completeness.

looks like the US "WC-135 Constant Phoenix" atmospheric testing aircraft is being deployed. ~ http://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/7758/has-there-been-a-n... and https://twitter.com/CivMilAir/status/832716747035680768

Iodine has a short half-life (8 days) which is the time for half of the material to decay. This means that somewhere in europe, recently, someone is creating / releasing radioactive iodine. However, the levels are extremely low, so it isn't dangerous.

I guess something happened in the eastern part of Europe, possibly Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Poland etc. The event was small, yet it was certainly nuclear due to a sudden increase of iodine, even if within range considered still healthy. Obviously nobody reported anything before it was picked up by detectors.

Poland does not have any significant nuclear industry, only single small research reactor (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_reactor).

French version of the news mentions that it has no health impact: http://www.irsn.fr/FR/Actualites_presse/Actualites/Pages/201...

"Ces niveaux sont sans aucune conséquence sanitaire"

I suppose the interest is in understanding the source of it.

It is amazing to me how effective the Earth is becoming at relaying globally-affecting information to (for lack of a better term) stakeholders.

Why the month delay?

From what I read in the comments this is a non-threatening event, so there's no uregency and no need to panic the population.

> The detection of this radionuclide is proof of a rather recent release.

Three questions

After rain?

Could be Iodine being generated directly in place from other compounds or being seeded by suspended dust in clouds?

Could be this "Ukranian war" related?

2015: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9644685

Can this be related to explosion in French nuclear power plant a week or so ago?

Since this was measured in early January, it certainly can't be caused by an event more recent than that, absent a temporal anomaly that would be a bigger deal than the nuclear event.

> absent a temporal anomaly that would be a bigger deal than the nuclear event.

It's good we are considering all options... :)

That explosion was in a non-nuclear part of the facility, so even if the timing would match, it couldn't be that.

Of more significance, it occurred in an unfinished reactor; one which had no nuclear materials in it, and is not due to be started until 2018.

2nd week of January, so unlikely.

Does anyone know why there is no data for some countries like Sweden?

I think the readings originate from non-gov detection sources so that might be the cause that simply no one picked it up there.

Similar incident was reported last October.

News in Finland's national broadcasting: http://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/radiation_safety_watchdog_...

This article talks about France, but highlights also Sardinia which is part of Italy.

Could this possibly be the result of damage to a Ukrainian nuclear power plant during Russian's recent incursions?

There are no nuclear power plants in areas of Ukraine that are affected by the conflict. The closest one is the Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant, but it's located in a stable area with no current military activity. Other three are further to the west and equally unaffected.

If someone had secretly tested a nuclear weapon in Asia or Russia, is this the sort of evidence we might expect to see?

Satellite imagery and seismographs would be more useful.

Probably related to this recent incident http://nypost.com/2017/02/09/explosion-rocks-nuclear-power-p...

As someone said below, this incident took place 2 weeks ago in a non-nuclear part. And half-life of iodine-131 is 8 days.

What happens with the other half?

It continues to decay; the active fraction is the reciprocal of 2^n in the number of elapsed half-lives.

Thus, then you could be seen the remain survivor Iodine released from an earlier episode, that for some reason went unnoticed (or undisclosed) before.

You could expect to have 25% still at 16 days (I said expect because this is a game of probabilities still).

True, but if it's been detected at this level of activity, why wouldn't it have been detected before now at a higher level of activity than this? There are privately operated and often networked sensors all over Europe.

Exact. This is the right question here.

Maybe we do not have sensors in the right places that could detect them.

I'll suggest to place some sensors in regular airlines and see what happens for example.

::the noise one's head makes when hitting the desk::

Your guess doesn't match this incident declared nature nor the concentrations peak. Thus probably not the root cause.

Poland has the highest reading - something going awry at Chernobyl or somebody testing low yield nukes?

I am also really disappointed this wasn't anywhere in the news, at least people could have taken some iodine. I understand the level is low but there is still non-zero probability of somebody going ill from it.

> I am also really disappointed this wasn't anywhere in the news, at least people could have taken some iodine.

Edit: I know this is harsh, but the OP should realize their post is somewhere on the anti-vaxxer-Facebook-post-scale. It's somewhere around a millipost, but it registers on the scale.

What should the news flash say? "Run from the nearest banana, person, airplane, or mountain."

I'm really disappointed at your disappointment despite an absolute lack of critical thought on your part. What fraction of a banana would you have to eat in order to have the same effect? How many nights would you need to sleep next to someone instead of alone to get the same dose? How many minutes at 30,000 feet does that correspond to?

Back-of-the envelope calculations: the half life is about 8 days, remembering your infinite series from high school, 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 ... = 1. So, the total dose over an infinite time frame is the same as 2 half lives at the initial level, so 16 days = 1,382,400 at 1.5e-6 Bq/m^3 works out to about 2 decays per cubic meter over an infinite time frame.

Even assuming you absorbed any decay from 10 cubic meters of air around you, I'm too lazy to look up the difference in number of Joules between Iodine and Potassium decay and work out what fraction of a banana you'd have to eat to get the same dose, or how many days of sleeping next to someone that works out to, but even assuming at steady state you absorb every radioactive decay from 10 m^3 of air (gigantic over-estimate), this is an absolutely tiny dose.

The danger of someone panicking and accidentally overdosing on iodine, or suffering a heart attack/stroke from the increased stress following such a news announcement is almost certainly higher than the risk of someone getting cancer from this.

I live in Hong Kong, where a fair number of people in finance moved from Tokyo following the Fukushima disaster out of radiation concerns. The natural background radiation levels in Hong Kong are higher in Hong Kong by more than the additional radiation in Tokyo due to Fukushima.

You've done literally over a hundred things in the past 24 hours that pose much more danger to you than 1.5 uBq / m^3 of iodine decay.

Other sources indicate something that might be related - arrival of a "sniffer" WC-135 plane from Florida to UK that detects and monitors radioactive events. So there might be something going on (or not).

Anyway, why is it so bad to be concerned about health impact of even negligible radioactive release (are you sure newborns/sick do have the same threshold?) as an ordinary citizen, given the massive dishonesty of governments in the past in cases like Chernobyl or Fukushima? Why can't we just read in the newspapers within 2-3 days "we detected a minuscule amount of radiation, probably related to bad weather" or something, rather than keep a lid on it? Don't we deserve better? Or do we have to be handled like kindergarteners with somebody else deciding what is good for us to know?

And please stop with the banana examples, it's getting tiring. You 100% know there are various radioactive elements emitting different types of radiation, some way more dangerous than the others. Iodine by itself is just a first indicator but it's not the only element that gets released; some of the others are way more dangerous and we deserve to know. Not to mention there is a very different outcome if you just get some element on your skin or if it gets incorporated (cumulatively!) into your bones, organs or gets stuck in your lungs.

>What should the news flash say? "Run from the nearest banana, person, airplane, or mountain." //

The news story should say "slightly elevated background radiation levels detected across Europe" and have an spokesman from the nuclear industry and a doctor quoted saying it's about as harmful as walking past a banana.

The fact we can't trust the media to report on something without inciting chaos is pretty awful.

Your position appears to be: we can't let the press report on interesting environmental anomalies because it could cause a panic. Meh.

I think the way the information was published was appropriate. The OP was openly criticizing the fact that the information went through through the normal review and publishing process instead of some urgent channel that would have given some non-negligible number of members of the general public the opportunity to take potassium iodide tablets.

My position is that it's detrimental to society to pressure the media into prominently covering non-issues that sound scary on the surface, without first taking the tiniest amount of effort to attempt to asses the level of danger. Such people should expect to be called out.

People are generally over-concerned about scary-sounding things of little to no danger, and vastly vastly under-concerned about mundane lifestyle issues that statistically pose the greatest threat to their health and lives. Those who openly criticize the media for lack of urgency in coverage without first checking if there's any actual danger of note should be made aware that they're contributing to the problem.

"What should the news flash say?"

"Has There Been a Nuclear Incident in the Arctic?" ~ https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13683110

This is a map of air pollution in Europe.


Poland is struggling right now because of huge smog. This makes me believe in this part of an article, which says that higher iodine detection might be caused by accumulation in smog.

That sounds somewhat reasonable for the high readings in Poland, but why in Spain?

Is even more interesting if we take in mind that just last week, Spanish government was talking about to extend the lifetime and reopen one of the oldest nuclear plants located not far away from where those high measures were taken.

I think we can rule out low-yield nukes, those test would still create a noticeable signal.

If I had to place a bet, then I'd put it on some low to medium accident at a nuclear power station in Russia that led to an emergency release of contaminated steam.

Somewhat of a digression, but this very technical discussion about nuclear test monitoring by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization is really interesting: http://omegataupodcast.net/185-nuclear-test-monitoring-and-t...

I don't think there's much point in guessing.

Yeah, but taking too much iodine also results in a non-zero probability of side effects (I mean it is already not recommended to take pills for anyone over 45). If there is no real risk assumed, such news would only serve to spread panic and sensationalism. As long as it is not buried, I rather prefer it like this.

Poland has the highest reading

I wondered so as well, but the second-highest was from Spain, and I struggle to form a consistent picture from that.

You would need to merge the map with wind readings to try to figure out where it came from.

But due to the fact that they have not done so I assume it's harder than it looks.

Is there a non zero risk from that dose? I don't know how to apply that result to an individual, but it would seem a likely big extrapolation on the linear no threshhold model. When was the shield moved over Chernobyl, could that have stirred things up?

    When was the shield moved over Chernobyl?
November 2016, although the side walls won't be up until August this year: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_New_Safe_Confinement

How about a shield UNDER Chernobyl? Isn't the core still unstable & prone to heat-up / meltdown still?

  How about a shield UNDER Chernobyl?
They recognised the issue right away. Firstly, the bubbler pool was emptied of water (there was fear that if the core reached the water, it would cause a steam explosion). They started using liquid nitrogen to freeze the ground beneath the reactor, then scrapped that idea and filled the bubbler pool with concrete instead.

They started digging a tunnel in May 1986 [1] (7 days after the accident), with a void below the reactor. They planned to fit a heat-exchanger into the void. It's not clear whether it was ever installed, but the consensus is that if it was installed, it was never used, and the core didn't reach the void [2].

[1] https://wiseinternational.org/chernobyl-disaster

[2] http://knowledgeglue.com/amazing-un-seen-photos-chernobyl-di...

Regarding Chernobyl, they've just put in place a new sarcophagus in late 2016 after years of work. One would rather expect the radiation to get lower (but I am not an expert). Interesting anyway.

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