Trace amounts of radioactive Iodine-131 have been detected in seven countries in Europe ranging from Norway to Spain, possibly prompting the deployment of a US military nuclear detection plane to help isolate the source of the radiation which has baffled European authorities.
The increased radiation levels, found in low-lying regions of Europe’s atmosphere, were first detected in early January in northern Norway, according to France’s Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN).
France’s IRSN stresses the amounts of radiation detected pose no health threats, but says its “detection is proof of a rather recent release”.
By the end of January Iodine-131 was detected in Finland, Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, France and Spain.
#IODINE-131 Why high levels in #Poland ?
Radioactive Iodine over Europe first measured in Finnmark vi
BarentsNews</a> <a href="https://t.co/WwPJBKmuML">https://t.co/WwPJBKmuML</a> <a href="https://t.co/bs6ewwy6hQ">pic.twitter.com/bs6ewwy6hQ</a></p>— Håkan Molander (phakanm) February 19, 2017
Iodine-131, as described by the IRSN, is of anthropogenic origins – meaning an environmental pollutant originating from human activity. It has a relatively short half-life of eight days.
Only particulate traces of the radioactive element were found, says the IRSN.
The findings have been reported to the Ring of Five, an informal European network of organisations which monitor airborne nuclear levels throughout the continent.
The mysterious origin of the radioactive element has baffled authorities, some of whom claim its presence could indicate either a secret Russian nuclear missile test launch, or a leak from a nuclear power plant.
Iodine-131 has historical links to United States and Soviet nuclear tests during the 1950s. It has also been found among the radioactive contamination following Japan’s Fukushima reactor meltdown, as well as the Chernobyl accident in 1986.
The element is also commonly used in medicine to treat hyperthyroidism among other diseases, leading to speculation of a yet unidentified, or reported, leak at a pharmaceutical plant.
Rumors are going around of nuclear incident in the Arctic after Iodine-131 spike in Europe. U.S air force plane made inspection flight— Gregor Peter (@L0gg0l) February 18, 2017
Just as spikes in radiation were being recorded in Europe, a US military “nuclear sniffer” plane was deployed to the UK.
According to The Aviationist, the plane could be investigating the spike in radiation levels.
The plane, called WC-135 Constant Phoenix, is capable of identifying nuclear explosions from the air and has been used to track radioactive contamination after Chernobyl and Fukushima.
According to the Independent, a US Air Force spokesperson said the plane was deployed as part of a “preplanned rotational deployment scheduled far in advance.”
Nuke sniffer – Constant Phoenix— CivMilAir ✈ 🚁 (@CivMilAir) February 22, 2017
Airborne from RAF Mildenhall
🇺🇸 US Air Force – WC-135C
62-3582 FLORY58 pic.twitter.com/sCGWqCKPJa
Tracking over the North Sea— CivMilAir ✈ 🚁 (@CivMilAir) February 22, 2017
USAF Rivet Joint
USAF Constant Phoenix
62-3582 FLORY58 pic.twitter.com/swe26yWJiI
Tracking north off the east coast of Scotland.— CivMilAir ✈ 🚁 (@CivMilAir) February 22, 2017
RC-135W & WC-135C + 3 accompanying KC-135 tankers… pic.twitter.com/y8LIAxRpoh
Two of the Constant Phoenix / Rivet Joint supporting KC135 tankers returning to RAF Mildenhall
TheAviationist</a> <a href="https://t.co/LCBiZb03bX">pic.twitter.com/LCBiZb03bX</a></p>— CivMilAir ✈ 🚁 (CivMilAir) February 22, 2017
That’s the 3rd USAF KC135 tanker returning to Mildenhall – Heading south, UK east coast… pic.twitter.com/LnihjmGSy3— CivMilAir ✈ 🚁 (@CivMilAir) February 22, 2017
Get a different perspective
Every story can be told in many ways: see the perspectives from Euronews journalists in our other language teams.