Radioactive Iodine Found in Russia’s Primorye Region

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Mar. 31 – Traces of radioactive iodine-131 from Japan have been found in Russia’s Primorye region, the head of the local meteorological service, Boris Bulai, said on its web site.

“Its concentration is more than 100 times lower than the acceptable level, and thus presents no threat to people’s health,” he said.

Primorye is the southeasternmost region of Russia bordered by China, North Korea, and it also verges on the sea with Japan.

According to the results of the air tests conducted from last Saturday to Tuesday, radiation levels detected in the region have ranged between 7 and 16 microroentgens an hour during that period, which is within the normal range, the service said.

Russian authorities say up to 30 microroentgens an hour is considered safe.

Primorye’s capital Vladivostok, a city of 600,000, lies across the Sea of Japan, about 500 miles northwest of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Alexander Ivelsky, an Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman in Sakhalin Island, another Russian region close to Japan, insisted “there is nothing to be afraid of” and that Russians should trust official announcements.

Sakhalin Island is located immediately north of Japan in the North Pacific Ocean.

“Some people are just freaking out,” Pyotr Laduzhin, a computer engineer in Vladivostok, told the Associated Press in a message. “It’s an old Soviet fear of a nuclear attack.”

He added that he has been measuring radiation using a meter he bought in 2007, shortly after North Korea tested its nuclear weapons.

“I feel safer when I see with my own eyes that radiation is normal,” Laduzhin said.

Right after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, worried residents in Russia’s Far East snatched up iodine pills to protect the thyroid gland, and set up a string of forum sites to monitor radiation.

Clerks at pharmacies throughout Vladivostok say they sold out all medical drugs containing iodine, as well as facemasks and gauze, national media reports.

Health experts are insisting the radiation threat is minimal and warn that an excessive intake of iodine is not only useless but could even be harmful.

National media, meanwhile, reported a spike in sales of red wine on Sakhalin.

Red wine is considered to increase red blood cell production, boosting the immune system. Soviet authorities recommended red wine to boost the body’s defenses against radiation following the Chernobyl disaster.

“I am not afraid,” said Mikhail Glumov, a computer network administrator in Vladivostok. “This is nonsense blown up by the media — just like swine flu or atypical pneumonia.”

Primorye’s meteorological service spokeswoman Varvara Koridze said wind patterns since the disaster meant the iodine-131 detected in the region had drifted eastward from the plant and all the way around the world.

“The winds blew west-to-east and the air masses moved across the United States and Europe,” she told Reuters.

Trace amounts of iodine-131, below levels of concern for human health, have turned up in areas including Iceland, Canada and several U.S. states since the magnitude 9 earthquake and tsunami severely damaged the plant in Japan.

Since March 11, Primorye residents keep bringing the flowers to Consulate office building in Vladivostok, which will hold 24th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in 2012.

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