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Cesium-137 contamination in Europe

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#495
07/08/1998
Article

(August 7, 1998) At the end of May high measurements of radioactive Cesium-137 activated alarm systems in southern France, Switzerland, Italy and south Germany. Not knowing where the cloud had came from, it caused a lot of consternation. During the next days the concentration of cesium were a hundred times higher than normal. On the mountain Ceneri (Tessin, Switzerland), the cesium level even was a thousand times higher.

(495.4895) WISE Amsterdam - Only on June 11 it was made public that the escape of radioactive material came from the Acerinox metal company at Algeciras in the Cadiz region (south Spain). Officially the escape of radioactive material was revealed to the Spanish Nuclear Security Council (Consejo de Seguridad Nuclear, CSN) on June 9. The Andalucian environmental organization Agaden, however, said that the accident actually occurred on May 25, - a date the company neither confirmed nor denied, but which is more accurate, according to the detected measurements in the other countries.

The Acerinox factory processes metallurgical scrap metal to extract steel for reprocessing. The scrap metal is from the Netherlands, the United States, Canada and Germany.
On June 17, the Spanish Minister of Industry and Energy Josep Piqui declared that the radioactivity emitted from the factory of Acerinox came from medical X-ray equipment. The environmental group Aedenat considered it "very improbable" that this was the cause. Later CSN confirmed that it "is impossible" that an X-ray apparatus had caused the release from the Acerinox plant. Aedenat is studying the possibility of initiating a criminal suit against the company, the CSN and the provider of cesium-137.

On June 18, CSN issued an official notice that the cesium-137 has also irradiated two processing plants to which the steel mill sends its wastes for decontamination. The plants in Huelva and Badajoz are contaminated "to the same measurement as the Acerinox plant". The zones most affected by the contamination in all cases are those that are inside the process machinery. Plant personnel received no radioactive exposure, the council advisory said. The CSN has ordered inspections of the rafts in which Egmasa deposits its production waste. Both plants are stopped and isolated; the access of personnel to the contaminated zones has been forbidden.
Decontamination of the three factories is to be done under the supervision of CSN. They would not be able to resume activity until the council gives its permission.

The French independent laboratory CRII-Rad (Commission de Recherche et d'Information Indépendantes sur la Radioactivité) has detected high levels of radioactivity coming from ashes of the factory of Acerinox: between 640,000 and 1,420,000 Bequerel per kilo. This is 640 to 1,420 bequerel per gram; the new Euratom norm is 10 Bc/g. The levels are high enough to be a threat to the public, and according to CRII-Rad the ashes should be handled as radioactive waste. The report on the data CRII-Rad, found in samples, was first received by CSN with irritation. However in a later official notice, it was recognized that the values of contamination spread by the French Laboratory were the same as those of CSN. CSN, however, did not want to give the values because "the terminology is too complicated for people".

Sources:

  • die Tageszeitung (Germany) 15 June 1998
  • El Mundo (Spain), 19 june 1998
  • La Vanguardia (Spain), 3 July 1998
  • CRII-Rad communiqué, 2 July 1998 (version 2)

Contact: Aedenat, Campomanes 13, 28013 Madrid 13, Spain
Tel: +34-1-541 1071; Fax: +34-1-571 7108
Email: aedenat@nodoso.ix.apc.org